Anne of the Thousand Days is the kind of movie always associated with the Academy Awards – long, historical, British. And a lot of times, these kinds of movies are not only a big hit with the Academy but also with critics and movie fans alike – The Lion in Winter, A Man for all Seasons, Becket or something more modern like Elizabeth all have secured a comfortable place in movie history. Anne of the Thousand Days somehow did not age that well – despite its ten nominations, the most of any movie that year, critics did not really care for it and the fact that Academy members were served champagne and filet mignon during private showings of the movie made those nominations look even more suspicious. But on the other hand, a lot of its nomination can hardly be complained about – the technical values are quite good, the movie is nice to look at and the cast is also up to their tasks – mostly. Elizabeth Taylor did not even try to hide her anger and disappointment when she presented the Oscar for Best Picture that year after her husband Richard Burton had lost the Oscar for the sixth time but she really did not need to be upset – his uncomfortable and over-the-top portrayal didn’t have any business to receive Awards attention, even though his status as an often overlooked actor might soften this opinion a bit.
And what about the leading lady of Anne of the Thousand Days? I am not very familiar with Geneviève Bujold as an actress (in fact, the only other movie I have seen her in was Earthquake, made in a time when she was apparently still famous enough to be cast in those all-star disaster flicks). And even despite her Golden Globe win, I was not looking forward to this performance – how many new and young actresses have received undeserved Golden Globes over the years just for being new and young? Probably too many. But oh, what a wonderful feeling to discover that a performance you expect to dislike is actually quite a strong and memorable piece of work.
Geneviève Bujold’s enters Anne of the Thousand Days just as you would expect in a movie like this – dancing in a great hall, displaying an expected coquettish charm and that way attracting the attention of King Henry VIII. But right from the start, Geneviève Bujold avoids to overstate this charm or fall into the trap of turning Anne Boleyn into either a childlike dreamer or manipulative shrew as so easily could be done with a part like this. Instead, she shows a refreshing maturity as she challenges both the King and convention when she refuses to become another mistress after she has seen her sister being pushed aside by the King once he got enough of her. Geneviève Bujold is never as playful in those scenes as you expect her to be and she does not seem like a little girl trying to see how far she can go with this man – instead, there is a lot of honesty in her objections and she makes it quite clear that Anne feels that she has the right to decide her fate and her life for herself. Geneviève Bujold lets Anne become much more relaxed and loveable in her few scenes with the man she would actually want to marry – when she quite frankly tells him that she is not a virgin anymore, Geneviève Bujold displays that little spark in her character that also fascinates King Henry.
The script of Anne of the Thousand Days follows basically every aspect you would expect from it – there is love, intrigue, death and carefully constructed sentences that make sure at every moment of the story that they are telling something ‘important!’. At the beginning, Geneviève Bujold gets to deliver a lot of juicy lines in which she constantly defies the King and tells him very honestly and openly what she thinks of him and his plans for her – and she does so again with a lot of honesty, but also a lot of fire and intensity. While most other actresses would probably have wallowed themselves in those lines, emphasizing every little insult and making it clear how much Anne is enjoying herself in these moments, Geneviève Bujold almost rushes through her lines, spitting them out angrily without losing the dignity and grace that women of her stand must possess – she isn’t playing with the King, isn’t trying to charm him or denying him what he wants to drive him into a state of mad passion. Instead, Geneviève Bujold lets Anne keep her own character – Anne Boleyn must follow a certain path, not only as the chosen mistress of King Henry VIII but also a character in Anne of the Thousand Days and it would be very easy for her to get lost in the proceedings because everything is just so clear and expected right from the start, not allowing any surprises in the character or the acting. So it was a wise decision by Geneviève Bujold to build this strong, dedicated and fiery foundation which makes her a much stronger presence next to Richard Burton’s more central character.
In her role, Geneviève Bujold has a remarkable talent for getting the audience on her side – she does not play Anne as an over-ambitious social climber but a woman who is fascinated by both the man and the power he represents. She makes her Anne surprisingly understandable and there is something very entertaining about watching her getting Henry to marry her, testing her own influence over him and others or getting a house by making Henry take it away from somebody else. Sometimes, Geneviève Bujold did decide to play a more coquettish side in Anne which unfortunately did not work as well as her more mature moments but overall, she very effectively shows how men are driven by desire and women take advantage of that. Geneviève Bujold has also the right looks for this kind of role and interpretation – her face and body may appear almost doll-like in some moments but she never appears like a little girl, emphasizing the will-power and maturity of her character at every moment. Just as she refused in the beginning to become a mistress to the King, she later refuses with the same dedication to be turned into a woman like his first wife – who was brushed aside for a new lover. Geneviève Bujold is almost thrilling to watch when she calmly but very decisively informs Henry that she has sent one of her maids away after she has seen him lusting over her too many times.
Geneviève Bujold not only constructed Anne very carefully but also develops her with wonderful instincts. The maturity she shows once Anne has become Queen is quite different from her earlier maturity when she denied the King the pleasure of her body and during the second half of the movie, she begins to show how Anne is slowly starts to become afraid of her future while never giving in during her confrontations with Henry. After the birth of her daughter she asks Henry if he does not want to kiss his child, trying to ignore how much he wanted a boy. And later, she takes Anne to an almost frightening level of intensity when she loudly cries after she had a miscarriage, knowing how much her life is in danger now.
If there is something working against Geneviève Bujold in Anne of the Thousand Days it is the already mentioned structure of the story which does not allow her character a real arc - Geneviève Bujold is in the strange situation of playing a title character without ever truly being allowed to expand Anne and herself beyond the written page. Just like Anne’s fate is decided by others, Geneviève Bujold depends on the kindness of her director and the script to really shine. She does get a lot out of her role and commands the screen with the kind of ease and determination that is desperately needed when playing a member of the royal class who has to carry a historical epic like this but her character is often presented as almost negligible – Anne is mostly pushed aside and is mostly never allowed any action. In that way, Anne Boleyn is a role that requires Geneviève Bujold mostly to re-act and even though it is a juicy part that gives her the possibility for high drama it is also a limited part that keeps the actress in certain boundaries. Geneviève Bujold finally gets to do some more active acting during her court scenes in which she shows how much Anne holds on to her pride while she also cannot hide her disbelieve and anger at the accusations that are thrown at her.
During her final scenes, Geneviève Bujold takes Anne back to the start – as the woman who denies the King his wishes. She again portrays Anne with strong determination but this time she adds more drama to the scenes as she and Henry do not discuss a love affair during their final scene together but nothing less than her own life. Geneviève Bujold uses all those final moments to display, again, an expected but still very effective amount of emotions.
Anne Boleyn is not truly a great role – an actress is not allowed to go truly deep into a character in historical dramas like this because they are more interested in showing history and events and for this cause, all characters must go the expected steps from A to B to C and so on. But characters like this also give the opportunity for a lot of emotions, drama and maybe even comedy – it may be acting on the surface but if done right, it can be both very entertaining and also impressive. And with her believable display of royal status and of strength in a woman who must constantly hold her own against a man who wants to control every aspect of her life and her easiness of delivering Anne’s constructed lines without losing their emotional core and her ability to display charm and happiness just as effectively as anger and fear, Geneviève Bujold surely got a lot out of a part that could easily have been lost in a movie that is actually about her. And for this, she receives