‘Firebrand’ Review: Ahistorical Look at Henry VIII’s Last Wife

Tudor, or not Tudor. That is the query in “Firebrand,” a revisionist royal portrait of Henry VIII’s final spouse, Katherine Parr (performed right here by Alicia Vikander), that options all of the pageantry you’d anticipate from a lavish costume drama, whereas exhibiting the ahistorical audacity to name “Time’s Up” on the gluttonous king (Jude Law). Never thoughts that Henry VIII died — of very completely different causes than the film depicts — all of 476 years in the past. When it involves artwork, there’s no statute of limitations on taking poisonous masculinity to activity, which will be each encouraging (since historical past has excused no scarcity of monsters) and irritating.

There’s an enormous distinction between exposing the reality and rewriting what got here earlier than to go well with a recent political agenda, the way in which this film does. Liberally tailored from Elizabeth Fremantle’s fast-and-loose historic fiction “The Queen’s Gambit,” director Karim Aïnouz’s tony British manufacturing needn’t attempt onerous to reveal that Henry was a notoriously unhealthy husband.

He had two of his wives beheaded, and saved his sixth — in addition to a lot of the court docket — on their greatest habits by permitting them to consider that they could possibly be subsequent to have their necks and/or lives shortened. Far from any fairy story, Aïnouz’s movie begins not “once upon a time” however “in a blood-soaked and rotten kingdom” the place “history tells us a few things, mostly about men and war.” In its corrective trend, this handsome-looking movie does a high quality job of reclaiming Parr’s real-life achievements: She was a realized lady, who printed a number of books and advocated for the schooling of ladies, introducing Protestant concepts to patriarchal England and paving the way in which for her stepdaughter Elizabeth to turn out to be queen.

Compared with Katherine, who hides her improbably ultra-white tooth to mix in with the commoners (and simply as improbably reveals an curiosity in what the individuals assume in any respect), Henry is a horrible gargoyle of a person: Like Mike Myers’ Fat Bastard squeezed into kingly finery, golden-boy-turned-character-actor Law seems as repellent as potential beneath ham-hock prosthetics and oozing leg ulcers. Paranoid of the innumerable plots towards him, Henry calls for nothing in need of loyalty, asking Katherine, “You don’t want any harm to come of me?”

But if “Firebrand” is to believed, “the one who survived” was really Henry’s best menace. The story begins whereas Henry is overseas and Katherine is standing in as his regent. Challenging church authority, she sneaks away to go to Anne Askew (Erin Doherty), a controversial Protestant preacher and longtime buddy whose totally fashionable sermon appears to be preaching on to the transformed among the many movie’s viewers. Later, at nice private danger, Katherine insists that Anne settle for a worthwhile necklace that Henry had given to her, successfully underwriting her heretical trigger.

“What is the point of my being queen if I don’t have the courage of my convictions?” Katherine asks at one level, defiantly telling Stephen Gardiner (Simon Russell Beale), the conniving bishop decided to unseat her, “God would never have intended for anything to stand between his people and him — not a bishop, not a priest, not even a king.” Katherine’s repeatedly proven as a sufferer of Henry’s boorish and borderline abusive habits: the way in which the overweight king practically suffocates her in mattress, or his disrespectful behavior of flirting with potential mistresses immediately in entrance of her. Herstory could have its revenge.

An entire crop of current tasks in regards to the British monarchy — and particularly Princess Diana — has tried to reshape the general public’s understanding of that outdated establishment, however within the yr 1546, when “Firebrand” takes place, the king was nonetheless perceived as a divine determine. Henry had damaged with the Roman Catholic Church over its refusal to grant an annulment of his first marriage, and now he and his non secular advisers frightened that Protestant reformers would possibly undermine the whole system. They weren’t fallacious, and “Firebrand” is intelligent to reframe Catherine as an essential determine in England’s change. It simply goes too far.

Vikander brings intelligence and poise to the function, however she appears to be like misplaced in Aïnouz’s grungy view of Tudor England — as do practically all stars after they essay these royal roles. “Firebrand” follows within the custom of Josie Rourke’s not-especially-good “Mary Queen of Scots” film from a couple of years again, bringing stylish new ideas to its depiction of much less enlightened occasions. Quite a lot of each movies is spent observing how nobles and church leaders of the royal court docket maneuver to their greatest benefit, but it surely’s all quite tiresome until you already know a good quantity about these characters.

Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth’s script oddly leaves out key data, corresponding to how, in marrying Katherine, Henry interrupted a blossoming love story between Thomas Seymour (Sam Riley) and the two-time widow. The king seems jealous of Thomas, however the backstory — so central to Fremantle’s novel — is lacking. Thomas’ older brother Edward (Eddie Marsan) comes throughout extra strategic, however Aïnouz appears extra keen on showcasing Michael O’Connor’s costumes than in clarifying the mechanics of such arcane allegiances. After a supposed being pregnant and a number of other different inventive liberties, the film springs its most egregious invention, inserting Katherine on the ailing king’s bedside. The scene is pure fantasy, rewriting Parr’s legacy with flagrant disregard for the information. Historically talking, individuals have been beheaded for lesser heresies.

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