Anne of the Thousand Days ★★★½

Expansive, intimate chronicle of the doomed rise to the throne of one Anne Boleyn is one of those films, like The Alamo, Dr. Dolittle and the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, that's legendary for having been bought and paid for at the Academy Awards, voters wooed into putting it on an admittedly insane ten ballots (it only won a single category, Costume Design). But unlike those films (at least the two I've seen so far), this one is actually good -- or at the very least, extremely competent and engaging, though it really gets a lot of mileage out of impeccable casting. Richard Burton is as hammy a Henry VIII as Charles Laughton or Robert Shaw and considerably less fun, but Geneviève Bujold brings stunning emotional range to her characterization of Boleyn, and she fully looks the part. The supporting cast is equally impressive, with Anthony Quayle carving such a believably slimy and eventually pathetic figure as the wily Cardinal Wolsey you could almost swear he was a Republican politician. John Colicos somehow improves on the formidable Leo McKern's variation on Thomas Cromwell from A Man for All Seasons because he's actually more menacing than campy. The whole thing is supremely addictive popcorn, managing to fly by at nearly two and a half hours and giving us plenty of gaga costume and production design to gawk at along the way.

Burton's performance is an interesting contrast to his work six years earlier as Mark Antony in Cleopatra, which seemed almost like a lampoon of the typical dramatic content of Hollywood historical epics; clearly a lot had changed since movies like that had burst the bubble of a trend begun with The Robe and such, to varying degrees of histrionic sincerity and goofiness. He's frozen in time, but the movie-world surrounding him has clearly transformed. I don't have much more affection for the mid-to-late-1960s trend of staid, talky, deeply self-serious historical dramas about the British crown initiated (near as I can tell) by Becket in 1964, from which spawned this film as well as The Lion in Winter and A Man for All Seasons, which covers a lot -- too much, perhaps -- of the same ground, but I find myself really engaged in this despite myself. Something about the way Charles Jarrott, a director I don't know, moves things along at such a nice clip and plays up the dramatics so that one feels privileged to witness what comes next? The compositions and camerawork are easily as good as Zinnemann's, too. Inevitably I still find myself feeling silly for caring about the King's bed-hopping, especially in a film that never undercuts his masculinity to the degree Alexander Korda did despite its cynicism about him, but there I continue to sit, totally engrossed.