(1933)4.5Dan JardineCharles Laughton's Oscar-winning performance as Henry VIII rises above the stuffy limitations of the period piece to give us a portrait as rounded and exuberant as any on film. Laughton is well-supported by fine actresses as his wives, particularly Wendy Barry as the doomed Jane Seymour and Merle Oberon as the dim but delightful Anne Boleyn. Director Alexander Korda is the chief beneficiary of Laughton's larger-than-life performance, as his conservative helmsmanship fails to provide the film with a distinctly personal stamp. However, the sensual gusto in the scenes of Henry's indulgences is enthusiastically presented, and Korda deserves credit for giving us a very human portrait of this controversial figure. The film also benefits from some insidious dialogue by Arthur Wimperis (based on the story by Lajos Biro) that punctures the pomp of the English costume drama with tongue-in-cheek humor. Particularly entertaining are the exchanges between Henry and his prospective and coquettish wives (and mistresses), while some of the minor characters deliver wickedly insightful social criticism directed more at the state of the world's economy in 1933 than at the film's period.