Friday 20 May 2016

Joan Carries On ... As Queen Marie


This blog is part of a new regular series on Carry On Blogging. I'm going to attempt to blog about each of Joan Sims' wonderful roles in the Carry On films. Joan was the most prolific of all the actresses involved in the series, clocking up 24 films. Indeed, only Kenneth Williams made more Carry Ons. 

Today I am going to write about Joan's role in another landmark Carry On film. In October 1970 filming began on the twenty first film in the Carry On series. There was much talk of this in the press at the time and the Pinewood publicity machine sprang to life as a handpicked team of favourites regrouped at the studios for Carry On Henry. Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas felt that such a regal film, the tale of Henry VIII and his two extra wives (!), was only fitting for such an important point in the series' history. By 1970 the Carry On brand was firmly established and a much loved part of British life. 

Henry VIII was also a subject matter thriving in popular culture with Keith Michell giving a superb performance as the legendary king on television and Richard Burton starring in Anne of a Thousand Days on film. Indeed the original alternative title for Henry was "Anne of a Thousand Lays". Moving on...I believe certain costumes used in this Burton epic were actually monopolized by the Carry On crew for their own take on the great monarch. Some things never change!


Joan Sims takes centre stage in Henry and gives us one of her best later performances in a Carry On. She is, quite simply, majestic. Joan loved acting in period costume and Henry sees her looking her absolute best in a stunning range of gowns. You can tell she is comfortable and confident in the part. As Queen Marie, Joan also gets to indulge in her love of accents, providing a very convincing French accent throughout the film. Joan is central to the plot of Carry On Henry, playing Henry's latest wife who he quickly tires of and looks for endless ways to get rid of her. Henry is of course played by the great Sid James in what must be one of the stand out roles of his Carry On career. James is on barnstorming form, clearly relishing the plum role of Henry and is very convincing, particularly in the dining scene where his temper gets the better of him.

As always, Sid and Joan create moments of cinematic magic together. They are a joy to behold and their on screen chemistry crackles along. They are at the heart of the entire film. Sid's main reason for trying to ditch poor Joan is Queen Marie's love of the garlic, something she pops in her gob at every conceivable opportunity! This, to put no finer point on it, gets right up Henry's 'ooter! Soon King Sid is lured away from his rather stinky bedchamber by the buxom Bettina (who else but Barbara Windsor) while Joan finds a rather unlikely love interest in none other than Charles Hawtrey, playing a gleefully camp Sir Roger. Sir Roger is the King's official taster and as Marie puts it, must try everything before he does!

Apparently all the business with the garlic resulted in another practical joke from the infamous Carry On crew. Echoing the wine tasting scenes in Carry On Regardless nearly a decade earlier (when the "wine" was substituted with neat gin for poor Joan at 8.30 in the morning), there was similar horseplay at work when Joan goes for the garlic. While bits of peppermint were used in rehearsal, by the time it came to the close up shot of Joan, real raw garlic had taken its place! Poor Joan got the surprise of her life but ever the professional, it didn't show on screen!

Carry On Henry is a prime bit of Carry On magic. The cast - notably Sid, Joan, Charles, Terry Scott and Kenneth Williams - are all on fine form. Talbot Rothwell's script is glorious, the costumes and sets are a cut above the norm and Eric Rogers provides an excellent film score, as always. There are lovely supporting turns from the likes of Barbara, Julian Holloway, Kenneth Connor and Margaret Nolan (making her first Carry On since Cowboy five years before). At the heart of the film is Joan's role as Queen Marie. Of course her role involves a fair bit of the usual nagging wife material, but once again Joan plays a strong, intelligent woman who can quite easily play King Sidney at his own game. Queen Marie will always be one of my favourite Joan Sims Carry On performances.

Do you agree?

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