Frock Flicks Guide to Catherine of Aragon on Screen

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When we were just starting this blog, I wrote a post ranking screen portrayals of Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), queen of England, first wife of Henry VIII … but that was early on, and I no way did my favorite of Henry’s six wives justice. I’ve meant to go back and do a proper overview, but was stymied by the fact that there were a few key portrayals I hadn’t seen. Well, editing our 16th-century video put me in the right frame of mind, so I went and watched the two 1970s productions that were really needed — so here we are!

As many are more aware these days due to the Philippa Fucking Gregory travesty The Spanish Princess, Catherine (Catalina) of Aragon was a daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, ruling monarchs of those two countries that made up much of Spain. She was married to Henry VII’s heir, first son Arthur, Prince of Wales (1486-1502) in 1501 — but he died 5 months later. She was left in limbo for EIGHT years in England, with King Henry VII and her father, King Ferdinand, bickering about her dowry and prospects. When Henry VII finally died in 1509, new king Henry VIII married her.

Catherine of Aragon, 16th century, Lambeth Palace

Catherine of Aragon, 16th century, Lambeth Palace

Catherine and Henry had many children, but most were miscarried or stillborn. Only the future Queen Mary I lived to adulthood; their son Henry, Duke of Cornwall died just under two months old. Catherine was older than Henry, and when it was clear she was past childbearing age, and he fell in love with Anne Boleyn, Henry famously divorced Catherine, breaking with the Roman Catholic church in order to do so and founding the Church of England.

Attributed to Joannes Corvus, Catherine of Aragon, early 18th century, National Portrait Gallery

Attributed to Joannes Corvus, Catherine of Aragon, early 18th century, National Portrait Gallery

Catherine was a badass. She served as regent for Henry while he was fighting in France, and under her watch the English trounced the Scots in battle. She was super educated, charitable, and much beloved by her people. She also had a will of iron, refusing to divorce Henry because 1. she knew the idea that their marriage wasn’t valid was a lie, 2. because it would endanger both of their souls, and 3. because it might disadvantage her daughter Mary’s claim to the throne. I used to LOVE the fact that she dug in her heels with Henry; now that I’m older, there’s a part of me that wishes she would have been slightly more pragmatic, if only so that she and Mary could have had a relationship in her later years (Henry kept the two apart for the final years of Catherine’s life). But you can’t rewrite history, can you?

Lucas Horenbout, Catherine of Aragon, 1525-26, via Wikimedia Commons

Lucas Horenbout, Catherine of Aragon, 1525-26, via Wikimedia Commons

So, let’s look at Catherine on screen!

 

Anna Boleyn (1920)

Who played her? Hedwig Pauly-Winterstein, German stage and film actress

What’s it about? A silent film focusing on Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately I can’t find any images of Catherine/Hedwig!

Is it any good? I’m a good person, but not good enough to go watch an early silent movie that will only have a blip of Catherine.

1920 Anna Boleyn

That’s Henny Porten as Anne Boleyn.

 

The Sword and the Rose (1953)

Who played her? Rosalie Crutchley, British actress known for playing foreign and/or sinister roles

What’s it about? Henry VIII’s younger sister, Mary, who married (briefly) the French king before marrying Henry’s best friend, Charles Brandon.

Is it any good? Trystan says it’s pretty Disney-fied, and given that Catherine must be a minor character, we’re going with that.

1953 The Sword and the Rose

The gable hood could use some tweaking.

1953 The Sword and the Rose

As could the cut of that gown!

 

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)

Who played her? Irene Papas, Greek actress known for The Trojan Women among other films

What’s it about? Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall, told very sympathetically from Anne’s perspective. Catherine is regal but cold in this version.

Is it any good? It’s a great film, and quite gorgeous, although I wouldn’t go to it first if I was focused on Catherine.

1969 Anne of the Thousand Days

Dark hair, olive skin — completely unlike the real Catherine.

1969 Anne of the Thousand Days

The costumes have a few minor issues, but overall they’re relatively accurate and nicely made!

1969 Anne of the Thousand Days

Irene as Catherine is queen of side-eye.

 

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Who played her? Annette Crosbie, Scottish actress

What’s it about? A BBC TV series, with each episode focused on one of Henry’s six wives. This is probably the best production in terms of really focusing on Catherine’s perspective.

Is it any good? Yes and no. Story-wise – yes, very accurate to the real history, and the acting is great. Crosbie has the right look (pale skin, strawberry blonde hair), but even more so, she brings the right depth to the role. Unfortunately, this is an early TV production and so the sets/locations are limited, the lighting isn’t great, it’s on cheap video, Catherine only seems to own three dresses, and EVERYTHING in this episode is this weird brownish-green color.

1970 The Six Wives of Henry VIII

I feel like this gown, while not terrible, is about 20 years too early. It’s pretty washed out on screen, so you can’t see the weird muddy painting (??) on the main gown fabric.

1970 The Six Wives of Henry VIII

I’m also confused as to why Catherine wears her hair down, even after her marriage? Ok, and maybe that’s a brocade, but it’s weird. (Photo by Rolls Press/Popperfoto via Getty Images)

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

The later costumes are much better in terms of historical accuracy, although I’m still not loving the fact that EVERYTHING is mud-colored. Except for Anne Boleyn (symbolism much?).

 

Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)

Who played her? Frances Cuka, English actress known for TV work

What’s it about? A feature film version of The Six Wives of Henry VIII, with the same actor playing Henry VIII (Keith Mitchell), except this time there’s MONEY and things are told much more from Henry’s perspective.

Is it any good? A mixed bag. It’s beautiful, and it’s lovely to see so many SPOT ON historical costumes, but I much prefer the women’s perspective. Cuka does well as Catherine (she’s got the right look for sure), but because it’s a feature film she doesn’t get enough screen time to do her story justice. Look for a longer review very soon!

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

They start with slightly older Catherine — no Arthur/happy early days here.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

The costumes are REALLY well done in terms of accuracy, fit, etc.

 

Henry VIII (1979)

Who played her? Claire Bloom, English stage and film actress

What’s it about? A TV film based on the Shakespeare play.

Is it any good? Ok, I found this available from my local library on Kanopy and was going to do it until I found out it was the Shakespeare play. Don’t hate me, but the stars have to align for me to enjoy Shakespeare (great acting, great production, etc.) — otherwise it just feels like work.

1979 Henry VIII

Clearly this is well costumed, however.

1979 Henry VIII

And Bloom looks the part, even if that French hood is way too sticky-uppy.

 

Mad Love/Juana la Loca (2001)

Who played her? Nerea García, Spanish actress who doesn’t have much of a profile these days

What’s it about? Catherine’s older sister, Queen Juana of Castile, known as Juana la Loca (Juana the Crazy) – who is a fascinating figure, although I’m not sure this film really does her justice. Catherine is just in the background in one scene as a little girl.

Is it any good? Not if you’re focused on Catherine, but like I said, Juana’s story IS fascinating … but this film is a mixed bag. Read our full review!

2001 Mad Love

As I said in my ranking post, wait, she wasn’t always a dried-up old husk?

 

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001)

Who played her? Annabelle Dowler, English theater actress

What’s it about? A David Starkey (British semi-pop historian) documentary.

Is it any good? Gah, it’s been too long since I watched it, and Starkey annoys me with his barely veiled sexism, so I can’t do it.

2001 The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Not bad, minus the hood on steroids!

 

Henry VIII (2003)

Who played her? Assumpta Serna, Spanish actress and author

What’s it about? A two-part British TV miniseries starring Ray Winstone as a thug version of Henry VIII and Helena Bonham Carter as Anne Boleyn.

Is it any good? It’s not terrible, but the characterizations aren’t great and the costumes, while not horrible, are only about 60% acceptable. Catherine is older and bitchy and not given much depth here.

2003 Henry VIII

I always think she looks like a vampire queen, which, what?

2003 Henry VIII

I’m pretty sure she only gets one dress, too.

 

The Other Boleyn Girl (2003)

Who played her? Yolanda Vasquez, Spanish actress who works primarily in England

What’s it about? An early TV adaptation of the Philippa Fucking Gregory book. As I wrote in my review, I think it’s actually better than the feature film version in terms of understanding the characters…

Is it any good? … but there’s not much money involved. Catherine is a very minor figure, as the story is focused on Mary and Anne Boleyn.

2003 The Other Boleyn Girl

The costumes definitely veer towards “clunky.”

 

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Who played her? Ana Torrent, Spanish film actress

What’s it about? The big screen adaptation of the Philippa Fucking Gregory book about Mary and Anne Boleyn. Catherine registers a bit more here, but she’s once again cold and bitchy, and there’s no real understanding of her position.

Is it any good? Sure, in a shlocky big budget historical DRAMA way? Just, again, not really focused on Catherine.

2008 The Other Boleyn Girl

Another dark-haired, olive-skinned Catherine, but at least her costumes are 95% plausible and fit well.

2008 The Other Boleyn Girl

I just wish they gave her something to do other than be bitchy.

 

The Tudors (2008)

Who played her? Maria Doyle Kennedy, Irish singer, songwriter, and actress

What’s it about? Oh god. Showtime’s attempt to sex up Henry VIII in a multi-year series. The first season gives a lot of time to the Henry/Catherine/Anne triangle, and I appreciated that they let Catherine be regal, beautiful, and have a spine-of-steel, even if the lovely Kennedy doesn’t have the right look and there’s nothing of her and Henry’s happy early years.

Is it any good? For the LOLZ? Sure! The costumes are mostly whack, with some aspects that work.

2008 The Tudors

Ok, so I like that Catherine isn’t a dried up old hag! Even if this would better suit the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

2008 The Tudors

This an interesting take on a loose gown, and the collar is pretty even if it’s WTF.

2008 The Tudors

This is actually one of the more historically accurate gowns in this sucker, although SO MUCH HAIR.

2008 The Tudors

I do want this jewelry set, even if there’s nothing 16th century about it.

 

Wolf Hall (2015)

Who played her? Joanne Whalley, English TV and film actress

What’s it about? Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, from Thomas Cromwell’s perspective, adapted from a novel. SUCH A GOOD PRODUCTION even if author Hilary Mantel doesn’t always get the historical motivations right. They really worked HARD to make this HISTORICAL, including trying to get the costuming as accurate as possible, which is lovely. Unfortunately Catherine doesn’t get too much of a role given the focus on Anne and Cromwell, but her scene in her divorce trial is really well done.

Is it any good? YES YES YES! Although again, not focused on Catherine.

2015 Wolf Hall

I wish they’d given Joanne Whalley a red wig, but otherwise, okay!

2015 Wolf Hall

This dress was really great, and I appreciated that they gave Catherine some screen time here.

 

Carlos, rey emperador (2015-16)

Who played her? Mélida Molina, Spanish actress

What’s it about? A Spanish TV series from the makers of Isabel (about Isabella of Castile), focused on Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain.

Is it any good? I tried watching a few episodes of Isabel and they were so terrible that I can’t go back. I assume Catherine must come up in terms of her negotiations for support from Spain. These costumes don’t look too bad, but others I’ve seen are pretty dire.

2015-16 Carlos, rey emperador

It’s a slightly weird gable hood, but at least it’s not a sticky-uppy French hood!

2015-16 Carlos, rey emperador

This must be Wolsey, Henry, and Catherine. I’m actually quite impressed with this!

 

Six Wives with Lucy Worsley (2016)

Who played her? Paola Bontempi, Spanish actress & TV host

What’s it about? A documentary by Lucy Worsley (historian and chief curator at the UK’s Historic Royal Palaces) about, natch, Henry’s six wives.

Is it any good? It’s REALLY well done. The history is spot on, the costumes are really well done, and I highly recommend this. I’ve watched it twice so far!

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

Older Catherine would have been curvier, but the actress is regal and the costumes are SO well done.

2016 Six Wives with Lucy Worsley

Beautiful!

 

The Spanish Princess (2019- )

Who played her? Charlotte Hope, English actress best known before this for a supporting part on Game of Thrones

What’s it about? Catherine of Aragon, based on the Philippa Fucking Gregory book, starting with her arrival in England and marriage to Prince Arthur.

Is it any good? Oh dear god. SHE WEARS A WINDMILL DRESS. The timeline is all fucked up because Henry is too old. I don’t actually think they did a terrible job with Catherine’s character, but she’s surrounded by a whole lot of misinterpreted characters, the costuming is crazytown, the hair is a travesty, and the filmmakers just don’t seem to understand the historical context. That being said, those crazytown costumes are good for lolz!

2019 The Spanish Princess

Catherine of Aragon, power source for England?

2019 The Spanish Princess episode 8 finale

The timeline is all fucked up given that Henry should be 10 when he meets Catherine.

2019 The Spanish Princess episode 4

Inspiration for your next Wiccan Goddess Gathering.

The Spanish Princess 2019 ep1

They did try, here, which I appreciate. One of the few times they did so.

 

 

Which is your favorite portrayal of Catherine of Aragon on screen?

35 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m going with Annette Crosbie for the best KoA bc she’s amazeballs in it. Has the right coloring, and you can really sympathise with her plight. Both her father, Ferdinand, and father-in-law, Henry VII, used her shamelessly. My second favourite is Joanna Whalley and yes she should be in a red wig. Think Willow. The others were poor choices coloring wise and in the Fucking Spanish Monstrosity, history was tossed out the window like in FINDING FREEDOM.

    Reply
      • M.E. Lawrence

        Crosbie is the definitive Kathy of A. I was furious when the divine Irene Pappas was cast as the Cold Spurned Wife. (She might have made an interesting Anne Boleyn in her younger days; she was Helen of Troy in “The Trojan Women” for good reason.) O.T.: Some of my favorite scenes in Hillary Mantel play out between KofA and Cromwell. They are good opponents, both intelligent and shrewd, Katharine a conservative Catholic and Cromwell a born pragmatist.

        Reply
        • Susan Pola Staples

          I agree with you re Wolf Hall. Another thing about it, I felt that Cromwell respected and possibly liked KoA but he bc of his Protestant leanings was firmly in Anne Boleyn’s camp, but didn’t respect nor like Anne Boleyn.

          Reply
        • Shashwat

          Yes!Wolf Hall definitely managed to have a a wonderful interpretation of Katherine even from Cromwell’s perspective,which is actually accurate considering the good things the real Cromwell said about her.And Mantel’s Wolsey even acknowledged her stunning beauty in her youth.
          KoA was never a pivotal character in WH,but the book does treat her as a formidable,capable monarch.Sadly the series distilled those aspects a bit.

          Reply
  2. Boxermom

    I must confess that I quite like Irene Papas, even though she’s physically wrong for the part. Of course, if you don’t like Annette Crosbie, there’s something wrong with you. :)

    Reply
    • Shashwat

      I luuurved Annette Crosbie as KoA,even though Frances Kuka more closely resembles the available portraits(if you plan to do a review the six wives movie with Keith Mitchell,definitely do it!Atleast for the costumes,which take some theatrical liberties but are brimming with colours,details and textures,while being perfectly fitted to the actors).
      Basically any interpretation was better than what P*G did to my Katherine(unless I studied the history of some alternate reality,but she knows better about her cReAtIvE_LiBeRtY and as a woman knows better about her choices to make K fem_inist,as if she wasn’t in real life).I do wonder if the 21st century has actually forgotten that she was a curvaceous woman,in her old age AND youth?Physical similarity is not what casting directors aim for,but at least the actor should have a particular “presence” and demeanour.Nobody gets Anne’s complexion or eye colour right,but at least they get her elegant “exotic” personna.While poor Katherine gets repeatedly depicted as a particularly prudish and gloomy Victorian governess desensitized to the emotions of joy and devoid of the ability to smile,not the majestic queen she was.

      Reply
      • M.E. Lawrence

        “While poor Katherine gets repeatedly depicted as a particularly prudish and gloomy Victorian governess desensitized to the emotions of joy and devoid of the ability to smile, not the majestic queen she was.” Well said.

        Reply
  3. Saraquill

    As a gem geek, I’m squeeing over the pearls and diamonds in Catherine’s portraits. Also adore the accurate gable hoods in the screen caps.

    Reply
  4. Jose

    So Anette Crosbie and Frances Cuka win
    Claire Bloom in second
    Joanne Whalley in third for great costumes but unfit appearance
    Sounds fair to me
    But I remember there was a movie called Catalina de Inglaterra about catherine life starring Spanish actress Maruchi Fresno I remember seeing some stills and they looked fairly accurate to me

    Reply
    • Jose

      Waiting for a Post on Annette Crosbie as Queen Victoria she was regal and bitchy and wonderful in Ed VII she deserved her top billing

      Reply
      • Jose

        Also may recommend you a historical bitch? Polish Queen Bona Sforza she came from Italy married the much older King of Poland produced about 4 children and apparently killed 2 of her daughters in law there’s a beautiful miniseries about her called Królowa Bona (1980) that recreated very nicely the outfits the historical characters used in their known portraits

        Reply
  5. Jose

    Definitely I’ll never read P*G all the series based on her books hurt my eyes and the stories are more sex than story I may stand for trashy fiction if it’s consistent but Spanish Princess is as bad as the rest
    Annette Crosbie my ever favorite KOA

    Reply
  6. Frannie Germeshausen

    The Six Wives of Henry VIII, followed closely by Elizabeth R, were seriously the gateway drugs for me to this whole wonderful history/costume world we all play in. Just because I’ve parked myself firmly in the Deco era of late doesn’t mean those 2 series didn’t mean a lot (and a very important lot at that) to me.

    Reply
  7. Emma

    It definitely needs a well-cut production to be done well, but I highly recommend checking out Shakespeare’s Henry VIII if you get the chance – or at least some Katherine excerpts from the divorce trial. Katherine’s monologues are really wonderful! (even if the play as a whole is admittedly not Shakespeare’s best)

    Reply
  8. Katie O.

    I love Six Wives with Lucy Worsley! I love that they didn’t take the tack so many do where one of the wives is the “good one” and the rest were bad people. Also for a really long time all I knew about Catherine was about how the marriage ended, and almost nothing about how respected she was by the country, even by Henry for a while.

    Also, The Spanish Princess is a travesty on a historical (and kind of storytelling lol) level, but I kind of like that headband with the blue dress. Does it look like anything historical? Nope! But it does remind me of something Alexis Rose would wear on Schitt’s Creek lol

    Reply
    • SarahV

      This!! I really need that we all need a movie about the whole thing from Catherine’s perspective! The world is ready.

      Reply
    • Gail F.

      Why, when “The Spanish Princess” is about the mid-to-late teenaged years and early 20’s in Catherine of Aragon, did they cast a 30 year old actress to play her? The actress was certainly attractive, but she definitely looked older than the teenager playing Prince Henry (and I didn’t think they had any chemistry).

      Reply
        • spanielpatter14

          Well, “The Spanish Princess” series invested heavily in a passionate romantic attraction between young Catherine and her brother-in-law; so they present Arthur as a dork and young Henry as supposedly a year or two younger than Arthur (but looking like a cute young jock) rather than the child he actually was. But the story would have been far more interesting if they’d shown the years that Catherine had to wait, her struggle as a pawn caught between Henry VII and her own father, being reduced to near-poverty (at least from a wealthy princess’ prospective) while the child Henry grew from a very cute and athletic boy to a splendid young king, England’s darling, who wanted to marry Catherine and did.

          Reply
  9. Lily Lotus Rose

    I couldn’t stay with The Tudors past a few episodes, but I loved Maria Doyle Kennedy’s presence and bearing as Katherine (Also, I love her in everything.) I haven’t seen enough of the other productions to say much more. Of the costumes pictured here, I think that the wedding gown from The Spanish Princess is the prettiest. I agreed with the comment about wanting Maria Doyle Kennedy’s jewelry and that one of the actresses looked like a vampire queen.

    Reply
  10. Lily Lotus Rose

    Also, the actress from Anne of a Thousand Days reminds me very much of Alicia Borrachero, the actress who played the wife of the evil Telmarine leader Miraz in the 2008 version of Prince Caspian.

    Reply
  11. Katie

    Joanne Whalley, hands down. I actually wasn’t bothered by the hair, since based on portraits Katherine’s hair did darken quite a bit as she aged, which isn’t uncommon with repeated pregnancy.

    Reply
  12. Charity

    What bothers me a lot about 90% of these depictions is that they make her a frigid bitch. This is the woman who upset her husband because he was trying to be all serious and pious about the divorce and instead she’s partying in her antechamber. This is the woman who was so likable that the public was 100% on her side. So casting her as this dowdy, angry-looking, frowny woman is … totally inaccurate. And yes, this includes Joanne Whalley, where the most we see of her is snapping meanly at her daughter to suck it up and not whine because she doesn’t feel good.

    Also, it’s weird that in The Other Boleyn Girl they made her so cold on-screen — that’s the ONLY book PG wrote where I feel she was done right — a very likable woman, the ‘wronged’ woman, but then PG reversed it with her books on “Catherine.”

    Anyway, I must give Maria kudos because I started watching The Tudors for Anne Boleyn and walked away a Katharine of Aragon fan. She made me feel so sorry for her, she put such depth, maturity, and loveliness into the role, that I went forth and read everything I could find about Katharine and started a love affair with her and haven’t gone back.

    I’m afraid other than Paola Bontempi, I don’t like the rest (I like Maria, but she doesn’t look the part, sadly). She was marvelous. Thanks to Lucy Worsley for getting all the wives pretty spot-on and casting them with the right coloring.

    Reply
    • Gail F.

      I remember that scene in Wolf Hall where Joanne Whalley as Catherine admonishes her daughter not to complain – and it was one of the few scenes I did not believe. I think it was written to show that Cromwell had empathy for the suffering Princess Mary. Mary is not a child in the scene, she’s a teenager and would have been raised from early child to be aware of her rank, her royal dignity. She was very proud and strong-willed. I cannot believe that Mary would whine about her “woman’s trouble”, even mention it, in front of Cromwell, who was a blacksmith’s son.

      Reply
      • Charity

        Wolf Hall seemed to have it out for the women. It portrays Anne Boleyn as a bitchy shrew and Catherine as an ice queen. I’ve heard the argument — well, it’s cuz it’s from Cromwell’s POV and that’s how he saw them, but eh, I ain’t buying it.

        Reply
  13. Roxana

    C of A was many things, opinionated, intransigent, self deceiving, and so on but never, ever ‘bitchy’ she was a great lady through and through and for all her maddening defiance, from Henry’s POV, flawlessly courteous.

    Reply
  14. Stephanie

    Six Wives with David Starkey – is this the one he’s discussing Henry’s and Catherine’s age differences and he shows mini portrait and says she’s “wearing badly”? Or is that another one of his? I GRRRR’d so hard when that bit came on! And he says nevertheless way way way too much. But that might be in something else too LOL. He just bugs me.

    I do like how Maria Doyle Kennedy portrayed her, even if her look was off. Helped that they kept her as a badass that wouldn’t give in, and that the people loved her.

    Reply
  15. Jose

    I was waiting to someone to point out that Rosalie Crutchley played Catherine Parr in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) and Elizabeth R (1971)

    Reply
    • Gail F.

      You beat me to it! (pointing out that Rosalie Crutchley also played Catherine Parr – so she played two of Henry VIII’s Queen Catherines.

      Reply
  16. Gail F.

    My favorite onscreen Catherine of Aragon is Annette Crosbie. I remember how happy she was as Henry VIII/Keith Michell’s bride after the penury that plagued her during the last years of Henry VII’s reign. And then we see her withering in her own body due to miscarriages, stillborn babies, the loss of Henry’s love, without losing her strength of will. Annette Crosbie definitely looked the part; light-haired and curvy. A strong Honorable Mention to Maria Doyle Kennedy for doing a great job in the role of the older Catherine in “The Tudors”, how believable she was as the gracious queen, the loving mother of young Mary, and the wife who would not give up her marriage no matter how Henry pressured and demeaned her.

    Reply

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