‘Anna Boleyn’ by Ernst Lubitsch


Year of Première 1920
Format 35mm/1.33:1 original aspect ratio

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Fred Orbing
Hanns Kräly
Cinematography by Theodor Sparkhul
Production design by Kurt Richter
Costume Design by Ali Hubert


Henny Porten Anna Boleyn
Emil Jannings Henry VIII
Paul Hartmann Sir Henry Norris
Ludwig Hartau Duke of Norfolk
Aud Egege-Nissen Jane Seymour
Hedwig Pauly-Winterstein Queen Catherine
Hilde Müller Princess Marie
Maria Reisenhofer Lady Rochford
Ferdinand van Alten Mark Smeatin
Adolf Klein Cardinal Wolsey
Paul Biensfeldt Jester
Wilhelm Diegelmann Cardinal Campeggio
Friedrich Kühne Archbishop Crammer
Karl Platen Physician
Erling Hanson Count Percy
Sophie Pagay Nurse
Joseph Klein Sir William Kingston

Anna Boleyn “The Court Jester” by David Cairns, 2010

Anna Boleyn is in many ways a sister to the previous year’s epic Madame DuBarry. But while both films dramatise the rise to prominence of royal consorts, this only emphasises the contrast between the heroines. DuBarry, embodied by a wildeyed and rampant Pola Negri, is mistress of her own destiny until political history ignites her playground, but Henny Porten’s Anne is placid, honest and simple, and the pawn of powerful forces from the start. We first meet Anne en route to England, bobbing into frame as her vessel rocks on the waves: a powerless passenger, buffeted by the tides of history. Some modern viewers find Porten too passive. But even the most aggressive characters here are virtually impotent. Henry VIII, hedonistic and childish, tries to bully his way through the social conventions restraining his appetites. But laws take forever to overturn. Everything is always too late: by the time he’s divested himself of one wife, he’s getting bored with her replacement. Lubitsch’s trademark doors, a comic device in his farces, here allow a memorable “meet cute” between Henry and his future wife. She gets her dress caught in a door while hiding from him. He opens the door and finds her. She flees towards the opposite door, but he summons her back, slamming the first door behind him to exclude his wife and her maids. Thus his flirtation with Anne takes place in a kind of airlock. The moment is comedic, tinged with the drama of social embarrassment, and the foreboding that comes from our knowing a bit of history. Lubitsch also plays with iris effects, enclosing shots within black archways, boxes, circles, ringing down a curtain of black at the end of a scene and winching it up to usher in the next. Just as the elaborate sets, magnificently solid, enclose and control the actors, Lubitsch’s framing limits their options. If his protagonist is a shade insipid, Lubitsch is borne aloft by the vigour and bite of Emil Jannings’ powerhouse Henry. Essentially a giant baby, he pivots on a hinge between psychopathic petulance and doglike joy (with a grin so wide it threatens to separate skull from body as neatly as any headsman’s axe). The performance is too detailed to be dismissed as barnstorming, but it’s certainly big. Painstaking reconstruction of monumental slabs of period pageantry may seem an incongruous task for Lubitsch the comedian, but it’s even more surprising in the context of depression-struck Germany. When Friedrich Ebert, president of the Weimar Republic, visited the set, the crowd scene being shot turned into a riot in fancy dress: two layers of historical turmoil, briefly superimposed.

David Cairns is a writer and filmmaker based out of Edinburgh, and author of the blog Shadowplay (http://dcairns. wordpress.com)

  • File created on 21th March 2021 with Handbrake free open source software for archive of theoryreader.org
  • Silent film with German intertitles, music encoded in 320bit AAC
  • Subtitles in English
  • Video is 2h 3min 55sec in length, H.264 10-bit (x264) encoded, with cropped black edges
  • The file is 11,1 GB in size, contained in Matroska .mkv, uploaded and hosted on mega.nz encrypted cloud storage
  • Video Lan Client (VLC) video playback software recommended for .mkv on Linux, Windows, Mac and Android.

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