Sunday, 13 September 2015

Carry On Henry (1971)

Carry On Henry was perhaps the last of the great Carry On films. The franchise declined during the 70s as changing tastes forced the films to become more overtly crude, and as the regular cast members slowly dropped by the wayside. Carry On Henry has most of the old team still in place and and still at the top of their game. It also benefits from remarkably  high production values and a genuinely clever script by Talbot Rothwell.

I’ve always been particularly fond of the historical Carry On movies - they seemed to be ideally suited to the Carry On treatment.

Henry VIII, having disposed of one unwanted wife, is looking forward to his marriage with Marie of Normandy (Joan Sims). He has been assured that she is a rare beauty and it is also a politically advantageous match, Marie being a favourite cousin of the King of France. This time he is certain he has married wisely and everything seems to be going swimmingly until the wedding night when Henry makes a horrific discovery on his wedding night - his new queen is addicted to garlic. And Henry cannot bear the thought of even being in the same room as someone who has eaten garlic, much less sharing a bed with her.

Of course the marriage must be annulled but there are difficulties. In fact Rothwell’s script throws in a whole series of hilarious difficulties as Henry constantly changes his mind. He doesn’t want his new queen but he does want the very generous present the King of France has offered him to celebrate this illustrious marriage. Further complications ensue - the queen becomes pregnant but Henry knows that whoever the father is it certainly isn’t him. Suspicion falls on Henry’s equerry, Sir Roger de Lodgerley (Charles Hawtrey). 

And Henry has his eye on a new prospective queen - the voluptuous Bettina (Barbara Windsor).

Somehow his chief advisers, his Chancellor Thomas Cromwell (Kenneth Williams) and Cardinal Wolsey (Terry Scott), have to find a way to do the impossible - to keep Henry happy, to keep the King of France happy, to keep the Vatican happy and find a way for Henry to get his hands on both the French king’s 50,000 gold pieces and the luscious Bettina. They also have to deal with a plot by the disaffected Lord Hampton of Wick (Kenneth Connor) to overthrow the king.

For a comedy film it’s quite an involved plot but it sets up a whole series of inspired farcical situations. While the screenplay is filled to overflowing with sexual innuendo it’s all good-natured harmless fun that never descends into outright crudity. There are gags in abundance and they’re very very funny.

Barbara Windsor does have a couple of brief nude scenes but surprisingly enough they actually have something to do with the plot.

This was the 21st Carry On movie and by this time the regulars knew how to get the maximum in laughs from any script and this time they are given terrific material to work with. Kenneth Williams is in scintillating form and he and Terry Scott make a superb team as the hapless constantly conspiring advisers. Sid James is perfect as the randy but perpetually frustrated Henry. Barbara Windsor is at her bubbly best. Joan Sims gets one of her best roles in the series and delivers one of the ripest French accents you’ll ever hear. Charles Hawtrey gets a bigger role than usual and takes foppishness further than anyone could possibly imagine it could be taken. Kenneth Connor has a fairly small part but makes the most of it. The supporting players get their chances as well, especially Julian Orchard’s outrageous turn as the French ambassador, the aptly named Duc de Poncenay.

Gerald Thomas directed every single Carry On movie. Apart from being very good at directing comedy he was a master of the art of bringing in a low-budget movie on schedule and on budget. 

The film was shot at Pinewood Studios and makes use of some magnificent sets (presumably built for bigger budgeted movies). The costumes are quite stunning. Cinematographer Alan Hume made sixteen Carry On movies and knew how to get good results without wasting unnecessary time. Carry On Henry was a very cheap movie but it actually looks quite lavish and rather polished. It shows what can be done on a tight budget when you have a cast of crew of seasoned professionals who get on with the job.

The ITV Studios DVD, from their Carry On: The Ultimate Collection boxed set, includes a number of extras. There’s a extremely short contemporary “making of” featurette which is worth watching for a very brief but screamingly funny interview with Kenneth Williams. There’s also an audio commentary featuring cinematographer Alan Hume who remembers the making of the movie as being non-stop fun.

Watching the movie is also non-stop fun. It’s not only the best of the later Carry Ons, it’s also one of the best of the whole series. Very highly recommended.

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