After taking a two-weeks break from writing about Carry On films, I’m back with Carry On #21: Carry On Henry (Gerald Thomas, 1971), which parodies the life of the notorious king of England, Henry VIII. Well, a “break” is not the proper expression since, so far, I loved reviewing the various films from the series. But with final assignments to submit and #noirvember, let’s say I was kept busy.
Having followed the TV series The Tudors a few years ago and read a bit about this illustrious royal family, I was looking forward to watching Carry On Henry and discover what the Carry On team had done to laugh a bit about the man and his story.
Unsurprisingly, Sid James is the one playing Henry VIII. Kenneth Williams and Terry Scott both respectively play Thomas Cromwell and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Well, they are hilarious reincarnations of these historical British men. The story revolves around Henry VIII’s two extra wives (of course, he didn’t really have two more wives even if, at one point we probably stop counting). The first one is Queen Marie of Normandie (Joan Sims), cousin of François I, King of France (Peter Gilmore). The marriage with Queen Marie is to ensure a safe partnership with France. However, due to Marie’s passion for garlic, Henry VIII is not too willing to approach her. Things will get complicated (really complicated) when a doctor announces that Henry VIII is about to have an heir who is, in fact, the child of Sir Roger de Lodgerley (Charles Hawtrey). Barbara Windsor sort of plays the second queen, Bettina, daughter of The Earl of Bristol (Peter Butterworth), although her wedding to Henry VIII never seems very legit. The film doesn’t focus on any of Henry VIII’s real wives, except for Patsy Rowlands who plays one of the to-be-executed queens. Considering the fact that Monica Dietrich appears as Katherine Howard, we assume that Rowlands might be Anne Boleyn or just another fictional queen. Anyway, in that context, it’s not so important.
The film strongly plays around gags about Henry VIII’s obsession with quick marriages and quick divorces. It’s a parody that seems barely exaggerated. Good old Henry…
The express weddings were among the gags that worked the best with me. Immediately after the Queen (Patsy Rowlands)’ death, Henry VIII runs to Wolsey to marry Marie of Normandie (a wedding that lasts approximately ten seconds). Later, when he marries Bettina (without the supervision of Wolsey) it goes like this:
Henry VIII [reading the Bible]: She does, I do. I now declare it. That’s it!
Poor Bettina doesn’t feel married! That’s a matter of understanding.
Just like Don’t Lose Your Head managed to do humour around head-chopping, Carry On Henry does it brilliantly around torture. Torture is not funny, but when a Carry On film depicts it, it can become quite a gag. Poor Sir Roger, because he had an adventure with Marie, is sent several times to the torture chamber in the Tower of London where he is “stretched”. That results in him becoming taller and taller each time he makes an entrance in the film. Kenneth William’s surprised reaction when he sees him adds a lot to the comedic effect.
Another of the absurdities established by Thomas Cromwell (Kenneth Williams) is the S.E.T., more precisely the “Sex Enjoyment Tax”, another bizarre way for the king to get even richer than he already is. The real Henry VIII probably had weird tax laws. At least, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Although it seems that Sid James was perfect as the English king, his performance or rather, his role, was criticized for its poor treatment towards women. (1) Sid James seemed to have been given the dirty old man etiquette since Carry On Cowboy, and I guess it worked for a while, but people eventually got tired of it. It might be more the role that caused problems because the performance itself was pretty good, I think. Interestingly, this was the second time Sid James was portraying a historical man previously played by Richard Burton (the first one being Julius Caesar in Carry On Cleo). Once again, he wears a piece of clothes previously worn by Richard Burton. This time, it’s a coat from the film Anne of the Thousand Days (Charles Jarrott, 1969). (2)
Even if her part in the film was relatively small, that was Barbara Windsor’s favourite role in the series. (3) It was perfectly constructed for her and gave her the occasion, once again, to shine with a sparkling performance. She embodies the lighter spirit of the film and, overall, her role is just a lot of fun.
Terry Scott and Kenneth Williams pretty much go on as a team as Henry VIII right and left arms. They worked quite well together as people who half-trust each other. Kenneth Williams perfectly shows is eccentricity, as always, and Terry Scott, once again, proves to be one of Carry On‘s most versatile actors.
I loved Joan Sims in that! Her interactions with Sid James are just perfect, and I loved how she plays a woman who sticks to her convictions. If she wants to eat garlic, well, she’s going to eat garlic! That is far from being realistic, but remember that this is Carry On material. I think her chemistry with Charles Hawtrey was among the best of the film. Hawtrey also plays a fictional character, and he’s quite unforgettable.
Kenneth Connor plays a man avid to abduct the king and take power. It’s a small but appreciated part because, well, it’s Kenneth Connor! Honestly, I would have liked to see a bit more of him but, at least, he was there for a moment. Interestingly, the last time Kenneth Connor and Kenneth Williams had appeared in a Carry On film together was in Carry On Cleo, which was made seven years prior to Carry On Henry. Of course, that makes us nostalgic about the good old days of Carry On Sergeant, Nurse, Constable, etc.
Interestingly, Mark Duguid makes us observe in an article for BFI Screen Online, that the film The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda, 1933) is ” no more ‘true’ than, say, Carry On Henry“. (4) Even if Korda’s film was not aimed to be a parody of Henry VIII’s life, it indeed has a ton of historical inaccuracies and also only focuses on a few of Henry’s wives. It’s also a film that includes a lot of humour. That is not a comparison I initially thought about, but it does make sense after all.
Before concluding your reading, you might like to check this little behind-the-scenes video!
Carry On Henry is a fun enough Carry On. Probably not the most memorable, but it presents a lot of Carry On-esque gags that work well and good teamwork between the actors.
Next, we’ll be reviewing Carry On At Your Convenience, which marked the most appreciated return of Bernard Bresslaw, Hattie Jacques, Richard O’Callaghan and Jacki Piper, and introduced Kenneth Cope to the franchise (after an uncredited role in Carry On Jack).
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Carry On Henry: Trivia.” IMDb, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066894/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv. Accessed Nov. 16, 2019.
(3) Ross, Robert. The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford, 1998. p. 93.
(4) Duguid, Mark. “Prive Life of Henry VIII, The (1933).” BFI Screen Online, http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/438828/index.html. Accessed Nov. 16, 2019.