‘Firebrand’ puts spotlight on Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife

May 22, 2023 - 4:37 PM
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The 76th Cannes Film Festival - Screening of the film "Firebrand" (Le jeu de la reine) in competition - Red Carpet Arrivals - Cannes, France, May 21, 2023. Alicia Vikander, Jude Law and Director Karim Ainouz interact. (Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes)

 For Brazilian director Karim Ainouz the prospect of making a film about King Henry VIII’s court was particularly exciting, partly because it focuses on Catherine Parr, the wife who survived Henry.

Ainouz, who doesn’t have a special connection to England, said his aim was to bring Parr into the spotlight.

“The main reason is Catherine Parr and the fact that nothing had been made about her of relevance,” he told Reuters ahead of the premiere of “Firebrand” at the Cannes Film Festival.

“I was very excited with the possibility of bringing her to the light and bringing it to a place of protagonism in history, which was always either given to Henry or to the women that were dead,” he said.

“Firebrand,” which is competition for the Palme d’Or, stars Alicia Vikander as Catherine, Henry’s sixth and last wife as she navigates Tudor court politics towards the end of his life.

“The pain he was suffering was excruciating,” said Jude Law, who plays the king.

Law re-creates the physically imposing Henry, who at that time in his life was struggling with stiff, swollen legs, and a rotting wound. Law used weights to get Henry’s gait just right.

“How was he dealing with that? Probably through alcohol. So this drunkenness, there’s also this weight that he’s carrying because we know he was by that point grossly obese. All of that has an effect on physicality,” added Law.

Henry VIII, who ruled England from 1509 to 1547, famously divorced his first wife against her will, breaking with Rome and making himself the head of the Church of England.

“Firebrand, at its heart, is about an abusive husband, said Law. “And that, sadly, is an international and universal story that people, I think recognize and the power and the skills this woman had to tiptoe around this powerful figure was remarkable.”

The film, which is based on the 2013 novel “Queen’s Gambit” by Elizabeth Fremantle, marks Ainouz’s first time competing for Cannes’ top prize and is his first English-language film.

—Reporting by Hanna Rantala and Miranda Murray. Editing by Jane Merriman