Carry On Henry VIII (1971)

“Thousands of men have been carried away after only an hour with me, Milord.”

Based on ‘lost manuscripts’, the British comedy film Carry On Henry VIII reveals the dark juicy fact that King Henry VIII really had 8 wives–not six as the history books tell us. Carry On Henry VIII is the story of these two forgotten wives. When the film begins, Henry merrily attends the beheading of one queen, and seconds later he rushes in to marry his next choice–Marie of Normandy (Joan Sims). The problem with Marie is she insists on chewing garlic before Henry comes to bed, and Henry is so annoyed, he decides he wants to get rid of her too. Since Marie is the cousin of the King of France, it’s not that easy to dispose of her. Henry calls on his loyal subjects–the sleazy Cardinal Wolsey (Terry Scott) and the crafty Thomas Cromwell (Kenneth Williams) to solve the situation.

Leaving his ministers with the task of finding a way to either get rid of Marie or ease him out of the marriage, Henry distracts himself by pursuing his favourite sport–hunting for wenches around the countryside. Meanwhile, back at the palace, Sir Rodger de Lodgerley, (Charles Hawtrey) the king’s official taster is sampling Queen Marie as well. This leads to sojourns in the tower, and confessions extracted by torture. Henry then casts his eyes on the luscious Lady Bettina (Barbara Windsor), and thinks she’d make a perfect new Queen–if he can just get rid of the old one.

Carry On Henry VIII shows the Carry-On team at their best. The story of Henry the VIII and his six wives is perfect for this type of comedy, and the plot isn’t shy about erroneously mixing up Guy Fawkes into the story. What’s so particularly funny about this film is that it distills the story of Henry VIII to its grosser, most transparent elements. The behind-the-scenes depictions of corrupt politics and negotiations are great fun, but the film stands firm on the talent of the Carry-On team. For those who are not familiar with Carry-On films, these films were a highly successful series produced over a period of three decades. The ‘team’ consisted of a core of British comedy talent, and then new comedians added to the fun with each film. The humour used in Carry-On films is not subtle–it’s bawdy, cliche-ridden and loaded with double entendre. Sid James and Barbara Windsor had a real-life love affair, and I think it shows.

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Filed under British, Carry On Films, Comedy

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