Tuesday 31 July 2018

Guest Blog: Carrying On Historically with Carry On Henry

In this fabulous guest blog, regular blog reader Deborah Osborne writes about the historical aspects of the brilliant 1970 Carry On comedy, Carry On Henry. So how historically accurate was Henry or was it, as the film itself suggests, all cobblers! Read on to find out:

As a history lover the costume Carry Ons have always been some of my favourites. Part of that attraction is seeing how the past is presented in films that don't have to take themselves seriously.

I chose Carry on Henry for this post because the Tudors have always been some of the main historical players in our cultural identity and there have been a number of popular screen adaptations that were contemporary with Carry On Henry (specifically Anne of a Thousands Days which lent costumes to Henry) and recently, most notably Wolf Hall in 2015.

However in a world where Hilary Mantel’s portrayal of Thomases Cromwell and Moore are criticised, how accurate can a comedy be? Especially when the film itself opens by freely admitting that it is ‘all cobblers’.

The film starts with Patsy Rowlands beautifully playing a queen about to lose her head. We never find out which of Henry's six canon queens she is. (Possibly Anne Boleyn? But I challenge anyone to make this fit the rest of the film).

Which queen is not as important as the fact that everybody knows Henry VIII had six wives and executed some of them. In the same way everyone will recognise the names Cromwell and Woolsey, and know that Henry was having trouble Rome.

There are enough ‘facts’ in Henry to make it feel familiar and comfortable, even though those facts have all been screwed out of sequence and then melted down in the same pot. We can still recognise the flavour of the past and slide into the scenery like it's a well worn jacket.

The film plays on what we think we know and enables us to share the joke by pushing that to the very extreme of sanity. Henry and Cromwell don't even wait for Queen Patsy’s head to hit the scaffold before they are dashing through the tower to attend Henry's next wedding to Queen Marie, played by the glorious Joan Sims. Barely married a day and Henry is already plotting divorce.

This is also true of Sid James as Henry himself, which appears in the Independent’s 2015 top eight portrayals of the monarch along with Damien Lewis and Homer Simpson(!). There is bluster, overturned tables and summary executions a plenty, while at the same time Henry never really seems to be the one in control. It is great fun to see a Henry who is constantly being out maneuvered by the women (and lackeys) he is seeking to intimidate.  

There are some huge historical whoppers in Carry on Henry (Fawkes and his gunpowder, not to mention two extra queens) but equally there are some moments that make the film’s backdrop feel almost authentic.

There are several scenes between Cromwell and Woolsey that reek of (as well as lampoon) the conspiracy, intrigue and corruption traditionally associated with the Tudor Court.

My favourite bit is after Henry has married Marie, without seeing her face, and he asks Cromwell how she looks. I'd love this to be a nod towards the story of Anne of Cleves being misrepresented to Henry by Cromwell and the incident that contributed to his eventual execution.

Then again, perhaps it is all cobblers after all?

Thanks very much to Deborah for taking the time to write and submit this fascinating post. You can follow Deborah on Twitter @deboraheosborne. 

And if you fancy having a bash at a guest blog all of your own, drop me a direct message on Twitter and we'll have a chat! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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