I do love a good historical documentary, and Lucy Worsley’s are right up at the top of my favorites… so I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to watching her Six Wives (“Six Wives of Henry VIII” in the UK, “Secrets of the Six Wives” in the US). I was in need of some comfort watching, so I fired it up this weekend, and I definitely enjoyed it. It was pretty to look at (costume- and location-wise), I thought in general it was well-cast, and I always find Worsley charming (although there were fewer chic coats this time around!). Most importantly, I thought they did a good job presenting the history, and I’m glad they went for what seems to be the current historical consensus rather than dated perspectives. And I loved how they integrated Worsley into the story, having her take on the role of various servants who just happened to be overhearing/witnessing one of the scenes take place.
Sarah is planning another post where she’s going to do a deep dive on the costumes, and since she knows this period WAY better than me, I’m just going to give you my random thoughts on the production, touching only occasionally costumes and focusing more on history and casting.
She’s cute! She’s smart! She’s a wascawy wabbit!
I was thrilled her costumes were so well done, because she’s worn some clunkers in earlier series…
Red hair — props!
However,I thought the aging jump was too abrupt. I’m glad they didn’t just put the first actor into old age makeup … but they could have aged him a bit before they went to Old Henry with Anne of Cleves.
Catherine of Aragon
I WAS SO HAPPY WITH THIS SEGMENT!!!!
Even more, though, I loved that the show didn’t just mention that Henry and Catherine had been married for decades, and that they had been In Love, they showed it!!!!! I’m not saying that the whole divorcing your wife/queen and quitting Catholicism isn’t dramatic. But Catherine’s early life is also super dramatic, so I hate when books/movies/documentaries cut right to the end. I think it does Catherine a disservice, making her forever the old, barren shrew. I remember my mind being blown when I first learned that Henry and Catherine were known across Europe for being a love match. Yay for telling the fuller story!
It also made me really happy that they got into Catherine and Henry’s first son, Henry Junior. I’ll bet if you polled people, 99% would say she never gave birth to any live children, and if she did, then only a girl (Mary Tudor). But Catherine did have at least one live son, who if he had lived would have changed everything.
I thought this section was made more interesting by being intercut with Catherine’s story, which was, of course, going on at the same time. I do wish they had gotten a little bit more into Anne‘s initial situation with Henry. I definitely buy the argument (brought up in the doc) that Anne was in a way trapped — the king wants you, you don’t say no. There’s a great book (Divorced, Beheaded, Survived by Karen Lindsey) that makes a compelling argument that Anne was essentially a victim of sexual harassment.
I liked the casting here, too. A good pick for someone very elegant.
I wished they had gone a little bit more into Jane‘s family connections, who was pushing her into the king’s way and what they had to gain from it. Otherwise, though, I was quite happy, except…
I thought the actress they chose was great, looks-wise, for Jane, but I was annoyed that the portrait they kept showing was a prettified version. Most of the other wives’ portraits look pretty spot-on for copies, but the classic Holbein portrait they showed of Jane was definitely redone to minimize her receding chin. I’m not saying they had to cast an actress with a similar chin! But versimilitude, people!
Anne of Cleves
SO. GORGEOUS. Costume-wise.
Again, I loved that they showed the whole Henry-surprising-Anne thing, instead of just going for “Anne was dumpy and smelled bad.” I find the whole incident hilarious — what, Henry, was Anne SUPPOSED to keel over in lust for some stranger who burst into her room? (I know, she was supposed to know it was THE KING and simultaneously keel over in lust). Henry. Time to have a talk about reasonable expectations.
I was a little bit confused why Anne would still be wearing Germanic clothing months later. Sure, she would have come with a wardrobe, but whether or not things were going well, I think Anglicizing the queen would have been a pretty high priority. If she can now speak fluent English, she should probably be dressing the part too.
I wish they would have focused a bit more on the psychology of someone who was sexually abused that young, and how that tied in to her later affairs. Worsley brings up the point, but I felt like it needed some more explanation. Catherine started being sexual around age 13, but it was in the context of peer pressure and lack of parenting. Worsley argues that Catherine was possibly being blackmailed by one of her while-married lovers, but beyond that, and beyond mentioning that Catherine was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, she doesn’t talk at length about the connection.
Casting-wise, I felt like this actress looked the least like the real deal (although as we have said before, we know that they aren’t just casting for looks…). The real Catherine is very rosebud-y and full-cheeked, and I thought this actress’s features didn’t match my mental image. Nonetheless…
Yay for showing Parr’s intellectualism! But, boo for not getting into her life post-Henry. Okay, so the whole Thomas Seymour grooming/molesting her ward Princess Elizabeth is a complicated story. But I find it the ultimate irony — she’d given up love so many times for duty, and then she finally got to marry her “true love,” and he turned out to be a dick. HOW is that not fascinating?
What did you think of Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives, history and casting-wise?