Anne of Cleves in Movies and TV

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Anne Boleyn got all the attention for ages. Something about a break with the Catholic Church and the Reformation, perhaps? Historical manic pixie dream girl Jane Seymour got an award-winning book and TV series named after her family’s house (even if the story was all about Cromwell). Catherine of Aragon got two seasons of a Starz TV series that glorified her as warrior queen. The last two Catherines get played as a sexpot and a nerdy religious nut, respectively, while this Anne in the middle is naught but a fat, ugly footnote in Henry VIII‘s marital history. #JusticeForCleves people!!!

On January 6, 1540, Anne of Cleves married the English king and was, for a short six months, queen of England, till their marriage was annulled, and she became “the King’s Beloved Sister.” Anne lived out her days in England until her death in 1557, outlasting Henry and any his other wives. Yet she’s gotten cursory appearances in film and TV, mostly focusing on her Germanic fashions that differed from the English court and are only shown in the few contemporary images of Anne.

Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1539, Louvre Museum.

c. 1539 – Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger at the Louvre Museum.

Anne of Cleves by workshop of Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder, c. 1570s, via Wikimedia Commons.

1570s – Anne of Cleves by the workshop of Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder, via Wikimedia Commons.

When Anne of Cleves shows up onscreen, it’s required that she’s dressed in something faintly resembling one of these two images. But what else do we get? Let’s take a look.

 

 

Elsa Lanchester in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

Elsa Lanchester, The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

The costume looks pretty darn good for the ’30s!

Elsa Lanchester, The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

This whole film plays Henry & his wives as a kind of madcap romp, & his dissatisfaction with Anne is likewise played for laughs.

Elsa Lanchester, The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

Elsa Lanchester was married to Charles Laughton, who played Henry, so maybe that made it more fun?

 

 

Elvi Hale in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

This is the BBC’s take on the story, where each wife gets a one-hour episode. That puts them on equal footing in a way that doesn’t often happen.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Also, the costumes look amazeballs (even if they’re probably glued-on bits of random stuff, due to budget constraints).

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Not only does this Anne dress fabulously, she’s smart & canny, realizing where she stands with Henry & figuring out what she needs to do to get the best out of the situation for herself.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

But let’s admire the costumes again.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

 

 

Jenny Bos in Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

This movie did NOT go with a strict portrait recreation for Anne. Though the hat is Germanic of some sort, & the gown is similar to the first Anne portrait.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

But this Anne is made ugly & like a “country bumpkin” (to borrow Kendra’s description). Not cool.

 

 

Catherine Siggins in Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001)

Catherine Siggins, Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001)

This is a David Starkey docu-drama, & I generally ignore those for SO MANY REASONS. But since there’s a dearth of Anne of Cleves onscreen, & this one’s costumes seemed familiar, here ya go.

Catherine Siggins, Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001)

I suspect the costumes for this docu-drama were recycled from The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970). There’s a lot of similarities, like the little scalloped pearling on the collar.

Catherine Siggins, Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001)

This one was on display as from the Starkey series, but the hat looks like it’s from the ’70s series IMO.

 

 

Pia Girard in Henry VIII (2003)

Pia Girard, Henry VIII (2003)

I actively hate this series. It’s a waste of time for everyone involved, & the costumes are all recycled. Nobody was even trying with Anne of Cleves’ wardrobe here.

 

 

Joss Stone in The Tudors (2009-10)

Anne of Cleves, The Tudors (2007) - Snark Week 2016

Obviously, the costumes in The Tudors are ridiculous, especially for Anne of Cleves.

2007-10 The Tudors

That’s an Indian lengha skirt that costume designer Joan Bergin used here (& then reused in A Little Chaos, 2015!).

Joss Stone, The Tudors (2009-10)

But it’s not as weird as the headdresses! I thought we had an old Snark Week meme about ‘better cell reception’ with this pic, but I can’t find it now.

The Tudors

This mishmash makes zero sense.

Joss Stone, The Tudors (2009-10)

Shitty costumes aside, The Tudors has a really sympathetic & nuanced portrayal of Anne of Cleves. Henry’s dismissal of her is treated like more of a personality conflict than “she’s ugly!” or other cruel BS. Afterwards, she attends court & is friendly with Catherine Howard, Elizabeth, & Mary. She has several scenes with Henry, playing cards & giving him advice, showing them as friends & her as a thoughtful person who’s respected by the king.

 

 

Rebecca Dyson-Smith in Six Wives with Lucy Worsley (2016)

Rebecca Dyson-Smith, Six Wives With Lucy Worsley (2016)

Is this hat recycled from the 2001 or 1970 productions above? Discuss in the comments!

Rebecca Dyson-Smith, Six Wives With Lucy Worsley (2016)

This is another docu-drama, so the portrayal of Anne of Cleves is mostly talked about instead of fully acted, but Lucy Worsley has an infinitely more interesting & comprehensive POV than Starkey.

Rebecca Dyson-Smith, Six Wives With Lucy Worsley (2016)

Anne gets a second gown, still Germanic, but not ripped-from-the-portraits, that she wears while watching Henry make the moves on Catherine Howard.

 

 

 

What’s your favorite onscreen version of Anne of Cleves? Do you want to see a proper biopic of this queen?

28 Responses

  1. Fran in NYC

    Alice of Sherwood has a channel on Youtube where she discusses each wife and rates their appearances in movies and TV for accuracy. I think she rated the 1970 version of Anne as the best one. She has more than 1 video for each wife, at least 1 covering the life and 1 for rating the portrayals. She’s up to Catherine Howard now.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Thanks for the Alice of Sherwood rec. I’m fond of Elsa Lanchester’s interpretation; I’m fond of Elsa, period. 1970’s Anne is probably my fave, but that was simply a great series, one that hit all the important marks, including the great black and gold dress.

      Reply
      • MoHub

        Love Lanchester’s interpretation. The fact that she practices making faces in the mirror to look ugly and keep Henry off of her is a nice reflection of Anne’s intelligence.

        Reply
        • Roxana

          Lanchester is an absolute hoot. I just love the wedding night. One actually feels sorry for Henry. 😁

          Reply
  2. Katie O.

    I love Six Wives with Lucy Worsley. She gave depth and weight to all of the queens equally, and didn’t play favorites like some do.

    Reply
    • Frances Germeshausen

      Did you see her Tudor Christmas episode? She dresses as “her favorite” Anne of Cleves in one part. (But Lucy as Henry . . . I said to my hubs, “She’s having way too much fun with this.”)

      Reply
  3. Roxana

    As we can see from her portrait Anne was not ugly at all. She was in fact much better looking than Jane Seymour, also painted by Holbein, and arguably better looking than Katherine Parr just as Chapuys claims. Her rather stolid personality and abundant curves simply didn’t appeal to Henry.
    Her German fashions would certainly have struck the English as gaudily overdone and absurd. Being badly dressed by English standards was just the final straw. Contemporaries note how much better she looked after adopting English clothes, which she seems to have done after the divorce. She is also described as being merry and socially popular. Being released from the pressures of marriage to Henry VIII apparently made her blossom. Henry was delighted by her cooperation and they became quite friendly once they were no longer married.

    Reply
    • MoHub

      It’s been claimed that Holbein had kind of a crush on Anne and painted a rare flattering portrait of her to show Henry.

      Reply
      • Roxana

        So it has but I don’t believe it. The ambassador to Clever considered it an excellent likeness and Anne’s looks favorably impressed a number of English people who met her on her progress to England.
        No, the trouble seems to have boiled down to her not being Henry’s type. Anne was tall and voluptuous and Henry liked his women slender and petit. Anne was also ‘brown’ olive skinned and dark haired and Henry preferred fair skinned blonds or redheads. Anne Boleyn was the sole exception and reminders of her may have been even more off putting.

        Reply
        • A

          But when he was looking for a wife after Jane died, he apparently really wanted to marry Marie de Guise, who was tall and statuesque. He claimed that as a big man, he needs a big woman. She really didn’t want to marry him, though, and Married James of Scotland instead.

          Reply
          • Roxana

            I know. I wonder if he’d have been disappointed in her too? Maybe not, Marie was French and sophisticated and would have known how to play the courtly game.

            Reply
    • Karen K.

      Came here to say this! I loved it and she was my favorite character. She has the last laugh and probably had the best life in the long run. (Also LOVED Haus of Holbein!)

      Reply
  4. Bee

    For those interested in a more thorough, yet still fun and fictiony, look at Anne of Cleves, check out Alison Weir’s book on her. Of course it’s not super historically accurate, but it does explore how interesting her story really was and flesh out all the political manuevering ignored in most biopics of her life.

    There’s a lot of potential in the “awkward immigrant manages to outwith the King of England and get far more freedom than other women in her time period” concept, and it’s a shame more modern media doesn’t explore it.

    Reply
  5. Michael McQuown

    I’d go for Lucy Worsley’s more even-handed version. The trouble is, we can never really know the full story of any historical personage, only what the chroniclers of the times and modern historians interpret. Sometimes, there are diaries, but even they have a bias. As for the modern media treatment of our contemporaries, they are hardly even-handed either.

    Reply
  6. Colleen

    Anne of Cleves has always been my favorite of Henry’s wives. She was beautiful and seemed to be fine with her role as being in the background. I haven’t seen many portrayals of her, but I love her scenes in The Tudors.

    Reply
  7. India

    Thank you. She always was my favourite of the wives. Not badass. Not ambitious. Just an intelligent woman who knew what she wanted, what was achievable for a woman in that time and got it.

    Reply
  8. Barb Donaghey

    Ignoring the crappy costumes (which is difficult), I enjoyed the way she was portrayed in The Tudors. Until they got to the part where Henry has to sleep with her. Ugh, why?

    Reply
  9. Badalice

    Elvi Hale was delightful and put a satisfying spin on Anne and Henry by making her the instigator of the “King’s sister” ruse. Her costumes were nicely done and historically accurate. And I liked Joss Stone on The Tudors but can’t quite gloss over their conceit that Henry realized his mistake and slept with her on the sly.

    Reply
  10. Julia R

    I’ve always loved Anne of Cleves, talk about making the best of an impossible situation. I understand why she is overlooked, but it’s a real shame. It may not be the most accurate, but Elsa Lancaster’s performance is wonderful. Elvi Hale does such a good job fleshing her out in just an hour, and while the Tudors is a hot mess, I remember really enjoying Joss Stone as Anne too

    Reply
  11. Orian Hutton

    Lucy Worsley may have a more interesting POV, but David Starkey is the better historian. So I watch both…although my husband refuses to watch Worsley. For various reasons, he can’t stand her, so he misses good stuff as does anyone not watching Starkey. So far, I have refused to watch all of ‘The Tudors’ as the historical accuracy is so bad. Am I missing something? Does it improve?

    Reply
    • Liz

      The Tudors was never meant to be historically accurate. Michael Hirst who created it even says so, he stated showtime did not hire him to write a biography of Henry, but they hired him to write a historical fiction soap. So that is what he did. I actually love the Tudors, it has great acting and the costumes while not accurate are still pretty. If u get past the “not being historically accurate” thing I think u will enjoy it. Plus Natalie Dormer is the shit as Anne Boleyn!

      Reply
  12. Roxana

    Anne must have been a clever woman to have hit just the right note of poignant grief at losing Henry while at the same time obliging him. She seems to have been just as happy to end the marriage as he was, as soon as she understood she could do so safely. She did very well materially out of the divorce, remained a member of the royal family with precedence after the queen and the King’s daughters, and the annulment paper specifically said she was free to remarry. It probably would have suited Henry very well if she had remarried as long as her bridegroom was English, as it would have eliminated the constant rumours he would take her back. But Anne apparently had had enough of marriage, her position as a wealthy King’s Sister was very satisfactory.

    Reply
  13. Alys

    Lucy Worsley has an infinitely more interesting & comprehensive POV than Starkey.

    This could be said about just about anything. :-)

    Anne is probably my favorite wife. I go with the theory that Henry’s reaction was more about his ego than about her appearance. She didn’t respond the way he wanted to his disguise, and he took offense. She was clever to play the hand she was dealt in the safest way possible, by giving Henry a chance to save face the way he wanted.

    Also, as a SCAdian, I have dreams of one day wearing the Holbein portrait dress.

    Reply
  14. florenceandtheai

    I haven’t seen any of the portrayals listed. I have read the Alison Weir book. It was fine. Anne has always been my favorite, just based on the facts we do have. She was smart. She knew what’d happened to her forbears, and she maneuvered herself to a safe spot w/o triggering Hank’s “but I’m the King!” complex. Smart wins.

    Reply
  15. Charity

    ‘Catherine of Aragon got two seasons of a Starz TV series that glorified her as warrior queen.’

    That may be so, but I fucking hate that series and everything to do with it. Every time I see a gifset of that Catherine on tumblr (which is way too much) I want to punch her in the face. That series made her into such a colossal bitch. I thought nothing could be worse than the PFG book that inspired it, but I was wrong. I adore the real KoA and sitting through that monstrous inaccurate atrocity made me scream repeatedly into my couch pillows to avoid scaring my pets. :P

    That being said, has anyone else noticed that in The Tudors, the “slut wives” (Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard) get nude/sex scenes, and the “nice” wives (Katharine, Anne of Cleves, Jane Seymour, Katherine Parr) do not? Once I realized it, I couldn’t un-see it. Says a lot about how Michael Hurst thought of them, and wanted to portray them. I can’t figure out if it pisses me off or if I admire it as a writing technique, since it subtly infers their respectability or “lack thereof” in terms of character. (Scandalous rumors about them > sexualizing them.)

    Whomever mentioned Lucy Worsley’s bio on the wives — spot on. Terrific cast all around in that, although I felt a little biased toward the absolute bad-ass that was Katharine of Aragon in Part I. Finally, a DAMN REDHEAD.

    Reply
  16. Sharon in Scotland

    Anne of Cleves had always been my favourite queen, she held her nerve against that big bully Henry and came out of the whole experience with status, power and respect. And her portrait by Holbein is the most beautiful of all the queens

    Reply

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