Thursday 31 March 2016

Carry On, Henry

Carry On Henry is one of those films in the series that I always enjoy but hardly ever watch. As it was on ITV3 this Easter I thought I would give it another look and I really enjoyed it. I have always loved period costume Carry Ons and I think Henry is one of the best.

For a start they actually spent some money on this film! It was the twenty first film in the series and there was quite a fanfare in the media at the time. Therefore it was felt the film should look the part and it really does. As always though, the production company made use of costumes, props and sets from other, more richly furnished films - this time it was Richard Burton's Anne of a Thousand Days. This led to Carry On Henry having the alternative title "Anne of a Thousand Lays". Ahem.


Henry moves along at a spanking good pace. The story, such as a Carry On ever really had a plot, works well and the main team are all on good form. Henry boasts a fine array of regular cast members and they all play their roles to perfection. Leading the pack is of course Sid James. Sid plays the role of Henry VIII with lusty relish and I think it's right up there with his best performances in the likes of Cleo and Khyber. He is on terrific form and is actually very convincing as the marauding monarch. Yet again Joan Sims is on hand to play his nagging spouse. However this time Joan has a lot more to do that just shriek at Sid. First of all she looks fantastic in the period gowns and her French accent is terrific. She also embarks on a rather unlikely romance with Charles Hawtrey's Sir Roger!

Henry marks a glorious return to a major role for Charles after several all too brief Carry On cameos. He really makes the most of his part (!) in Henry and although the Sir Roger's retraction scenes may go on a bit too long, it's great to see more of Charles than in the likes of Jungle and Loving. Further outrageous camp is provided by the sublime Kenneth Williams, giving us his definitive Thomas Cromwell. Kenneth is on barnstorming form, charging about the palace, toadying to the King and plotting behind the scenes against him. Kenneth also makes a wonderful bickering double act with Terry Scott who plays Wolsey. The pair are almost Laurel and Hardy-esque as they squabble and misunderstand each other throughout the film. I'm not normally a fan of Scott but I think he is perfectly cast here.


Also popping up is Barbara Windsor, in what I understand to be her favourite role as Bettina. Barbara, as always, plays the object of Sid's lust and much of the film sees Sidney attempt to woo her whilst getting rid of Joan's Queen Marie, lover of the dreaded garlic. Barbara is great in Henry and as with Joan, looks at her best in those gorgeous period gowns. Barbara didn't appear in many costume Carry On capers which is a shame as she really does look the part. Finally, there is a brief supporting role for original Carry On player Kenneth Connor. Connor had returned to the Carry Ons after a five year hiatus the previous year and it's great to see him back with the gang, even if this role is rather small. 

Carry On Henry also boasts a superb supporting cast of familiar faces. There are a few stand out performances for me, none more so than a larger than usual role for the superb Peter Gilmore as Francis, King of France. Peter looks terrific in this film and forms a lovely double act with Sid. Sadly this would be his last appearance in the series until he returned almost twenty years later for the briefest of supporting roles in Columbus. Also in good form is Julian Holloway as Sid's second in command, Sir Thomas. Rather frustratingly Julian yet again has restricted screen time but proves a welcome addition to the cast. 

Another welcome returning face is the glamorous Margaret Nolan, playing the object of King Henry's affections in a rather bizarre twist on the traditional hunting scene! This marked Margaret's return to the series five years after her debut in Carry On Cowboy. She would go on to make several more appearances during the 1970s. Playing her father in that sequence is the wonderful character actor Derek Francis. He was always excellent value in a Carry On. 


So do I have any niggles about Carry On Henry? Of course I do. For a start there are two cast members who are woefully restricted to a mere cough and a spit and get off! At the very start of the film we see Patsy Rowlands playing Sid's unfortunate Queen, about to have it off, as it were. Apparently Patsy had quite a dramatic speech during this scene but it was eventually cut. What a shame! I never understood Patsy's billing in the Carry Ons as other films around this time gave her much more to get her teeth into - think of Miss Dempsey in Loving or Miss Withering in Convenience. Still it's great to have her involved. Peter Butterworth also appears as Bettina's father Charles. Again he is only in one scene and doesn't even get a credit for it. 

Apart from that I love the film. I think it is visually one of the best Carry Ons to watch, it looks rich and elegant and the cast are all on top form. What's not to love?

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