So after watching The Bruce, I was in the mood for something good, especially since the previous two films I watched for this blog, Gods of Egypt and Sword of Vengeance were just as bad, though in different ways. And, as it turns out, there’s a lovely little film called I Am Henry (2015, dir. Jan Hendrik Verstraten) just waiting to be watched on Vimeo.
It’s a short film, only 23 minutes long. It takes place just after Henry VIII of England has died. His body is laying in state at Syon Abbey when Henry’s spirit (Sebastian Street) returns and encounters his first two wives, Catherine of Aragon (Maria de Lima) and Anne Boleyn (Fleur Keith).
The film explores Henry’s complex psychology, suggesting that he genuinely believed that God was punishing him for marrying Catherine, who was his late brother Arthur’s widow. Since five of their six children died either in miscarriages or shortly after birth, Henry certainly had some justification for the idea, and during his efforts to divorce Catherine, he cited Leviticus 20: 21: “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.” While there’s no way to be certain that this wasn’t just an argument Henry was offering to get what he wanted, some scholars have seen him as persuading himself that he genuinely had sinned by marrying Catherine. Given that most recent cinematic treatments of Henry VIII emphasize Henry’s romantic desires, it’s nice to see a very different take on the issue. And the conceit of the film allows this scene to have a really wonderful twist that I don’t want to spoil, but it gives the film perhaps its most powerful moment.
With Anne, the interaction turns around questions of whether he loved her and how he could claim to be a just monarch if he orchestrated her execution. Again, it’s nice to see a film that tries to get a little deeper into the tangle of issues around Henry and Anne’s marriage than just treating it as a love match gone sour. At the end, the viewers are left to judge for themselves what was really motivating Henry.
The film has lots of nice little touches (well, lots in terms of what a 23-minute film can do), such as Catherine’s Spanish accent and Anne’s singing in French. The costumes are a good step up from a lot of recent depictions of 16th century fashions (cough Reign cough). Some of Henry’s conversation with Anne is lifted from Henry’s love letters to her.
So I heartily recommend I am Henry. It’s a better movie in 23 minutes than most Hollywood films manage to be in 2 hours.
Want to Know More?
The film has won a lot of awards. At the moment, it’s available here on Vimeo. You can rent is for a day for $1.99, or buy unlimited viewings for $4.99. I strongly recommend it.
If you want to read my interview with Jan Hendrick Verstraten, you can find it here.