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4.7 out of 5 stars31
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 27 April 2009
David Starkey weighs in again with a captivating, dazzling account of the great monster. It is, I think, Starkey's best work, timed to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession in 1509.

The great irony is that Starkey once espoused a republican line (in a television studio debate on the future of the British monarchy shortly after Princess Diana's demise). He subsequently made monarchy his life's work, and appears both magnetized and repelled by it.

It's a masterpiece of modern historical docudrama, managing to retain freshness despite the (over)familiarity of the topic. How DOES the Puckish historian do it?

First, brilliant visual use is made of primary sources. With exquisite calligraphy (Secretary Hand with some Chancery Cursive thrown in, unless I'm much mistaken) flowing across the screen, and actors peering with amused, sardonic, or agonised faces into camera, the words of such contemporary eyewitnesses as George Cavendish (Wolsey's servant) and Eustace Chapuys (devoted supporter of Katherine of Aragon) come alive. Of course it's WORDS that are important, so that calligraphy is a visual imperative.

Second, there is the charisma of Starkey himself. He's everywhere! In libraries and archives, and of course in all the prestige locations - sometimes only to deliver a sentence or two. E.g., Avignon, Westminster Hall, St Peter's Rome, etc. etc. Gosh! Gives the European perspective to the Henry VIII story and puts us, the audience, in the locales. And Starkey's unique accent, as he struggles to square his conflicting attitudes about the monarchy - or trying to contain loathing for Henry? - makes for some strange articulations: "EU-ropp" "LODG-ik." There is also that huge coat, in which Starkey, for all his looming intellect, looks vulnerable.

I too have some conflict, because despite Starkey's idiosyncrasies, I like him. He shows both anger and understanding at Henry's trajectory from shining slim Prince, coarsened by his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, through to monstrous, murderous tyrant.

Starkey has said he feels he will never exhaust Henry VIII as a subject. In this marvellous series, he certainly provides new perspectives.
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on 25 November 2009
A truly remarkable presentation of a fascinating period of English history. David Starkey's commentary is beautifully composed and presented and the historical facts are researched and accurate historical facts and not the latest in "politically correct" updates. Full credit, too, to the camera script, the shots being right up to the mark. One comment to Dr Starkey: Why leave out any reference to Katherine Parr, Henry's last, and surviving spouse? She was a remarkable women (as well as being my second cousin 13 generations removed!)who probably understood and controlled Henry better than all the others put together! At least she survived............... Nevertheless, a must-buy recommendation is rightfully and fully deserved.
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on 24 January 2013
I bought this DVD a couple of years ago when studying the reign of Henry at A level, and found it simply brilliant. It is filled with key facts and details, some of which weren't in my textbooks. As well as being vastly useful to my course (and a much better way of revising than reading through notes!) it was also interesting and entertaining, and I've watched it for my own pleasure several times even after the end of my exam. A documentary that looks behind the infamous tyrant and shows the kindness and humanity that also resided there, this DVD is a must for any who love the Tudor reign!
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You'd think that after all he has already said on the subject, David Starkey might not have anything new to discuss about Henry VIII. But this series disproves that theory straight away. Starkey re-examines primary source material to peel back the layers of Henry's character. He goes far beyond examing the 'what when where and who' of the history, and instead delves deep into the 'how' and most importantly 'why'. It's excellent television: educational and entertaining.

Henry may well be England's most famous king; famous for all the wrong reasons (demolishing the RC church, beheading wives, oppressing his subjects and eating way too many pies). Yet he was lauded like a returning King Arthur when he came to the throne (doubly ironic given that his dead elder brother was actually named Arthur!). Starkey does a brilliant job of explaining how a great shining light became known as a Tudor-era Stalin.

The series is made up of four episodes. The first looks at Henry's childhood and how his upbringing may have influenced his later life. The second reveals a happy period in his life during his first marriage, when he was an active young man with an appetite for foreign adventure. But in the third installment it all goes awry, his love for Anne Boleyn soon sours, and in the final part Starkey details the horror of the last years of Henry's reign when he oppressed and attacked his own subjects.

As well as explaining much about Henry's private life, this series also reveals an awful lot about English history and the direction this country has taken in the past 500 years. The UK's split from Europe, the development of the British navy, the evolution of the Church of England, the establishment of cabinet government -- all are remnants of Henry's reign.

The programmes show us plenty of gorgeous imagery; often using actual locations which still survive, like Eltham Palace where Henry grew up. Or we're shown similar buildings so we can get the feel of Tudor architecture and royal grandeur, very often with Starkey striding through a great hall, declaiming great long paragraphs of interpretation without any sign of an autocue.
There is, inevitably, a certain reliance upon 'reconstruction' scenes, which are largely pointless but remind us what jousting or feasting or cardinals look like. The filming in the national archives of the UK and other European countries is far more interesting to me, especially when Starkey uncovers evidence that Henry himself re-wrote some entries in one official log, or when we hear exactly what the Spanish ambassador thought of the English court. This is history brought to life; the old languages ably translated and the gist of their intent compellingly related to us by an historian who plainly revels in being the authority in this field.
The soundtrack to this series is pretty gorgeous too. It's certainly better than the irritating visual motif of calligraphy, which repeatedly demonstrates Henry's weird writing style. Interesting the first time: trying if you watch more than one episode at a time.
I suspect that if you enjoy David Starkey's other series then you'll be delighted by this one. But if you're not a fan then you'll need to be seriously intrigued with the subject matter to get past our host's idosyncratic delivery. There are some real gems of unlikely information tucked away in each programme, though, and I will enjoy watching them all again in a couple of years' time.
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on 22 November 2009
This series about Great Harry is absolutely brilliant.Starkey succeeds in telling this interesting piece of English history.He visits famous Tudor places as Hever castle and Windsor,where it all ends in 1547.Absolutely a must have,no doubt.I agree with others that the 4rd and fifth Queens are a bit rushed trough.And Catherine Parr is not mentioned at all.Yes in Holland we also DO KNOW something about English history.Starkey makes one mistake which I saw immediately:Cromwell was executed on July 28 1540 in stead of July 20!
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on 13 March 2012
The outspoken but colourful historian gives us an interesting new view of the infamous English King. Starkey concentrates on explaining how a positive-minded Prince - with a surprisingly gentle and intellectual upbringing, and a sunny disposition - was twisted by bad choices in love and war into the tyrant of countless films, documentaries and contemporary fiction. A Starkey triumph well worth the investment of time and money.
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on 5 August 2013
I read many books about Henry the eight and his wives, but never watched any documentary about him. This documentary from Dr. Starkey was very comprehensive and, at the same time, very easily understood. The author of the documentary travels all over England and shows the castles and mansions of Henry VIII, the portraits and clothes of his court, and mini-dramatizations about key-events in his life. Very good biography. A plus: it has subtitles in english, for me a great bonus because as a Brazilian I sometimes do not understand spoken english. I bought it together with the series Monarchy , Elizabeth and the six wives of Henry VIII, so, for me it was a week-end immersed in the histgory of the English Royal Monarchy. I recommend all of them (all of them has subtitles in english!)
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on 13 January 2016
David Starkey takes us through the life of Henry VIII from boyhood to death, charting the way his personality changed from being a gracious, fun-loving prince to becoming one of the most notorious monsters of English history. This is an accomplished presentation. David Starkey makes scholarship accessible with his use of appropriate primary materials, such as documents that have been annotated and altered by the hand of Henry himself. There were other devices designed to hold the attention of viewers. One was the use of actors to represent some of the key characters of Henry’s reign such as Catherine of Aragon, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn, and not least of all three different actors to represent Henry during three phases of his reign. For me, the greatest delight was the use of Tudor calligraphy, with a quill flowing across the page at regular intervals leaving behind a trail of letters that were both exquisite and cryptic at the same time.

Criticisms? Perhaps the series should have been entitled ‘The acts of a Tyrant’ rather than ‘Mind of a Tyrant’. I don’t think David Starkey really explored the mind of Henry VIII – rather he portrayed the man’s behaviour and allowed us to form our own conclusions. There was no in depth psychological analysis. For me many questions remained unanswered. How much did Henry actually ‘love’ any of his wives? Did his cruelty spring from insecurity and paranoia – or selfishness and ego? Was his monstrous conduct just a product of his age? Did he use his reign of terror with cold blooded calculation as a way of saving England from the horrors of another civil war? It would have been great if we could have heard some contribution by a psychologist.

In summary, David Starkey presents one of the most fascinating and repellent characters of English history. But the enigma remains.
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on 22 July 2013
With his incredible perception and analysis, his erudite way with words and his passion for the subject, consummate master historian, David Starkey takes on a journey of exploration, with new perspectives and insight, into the reign of the great tyrant and nation-builder Henry VIII.
Starkey varies his narration from the myriad of libraries and archives where he has diligently researched to the various castles and palaces where Henry played out his power, lusts and whims. As well as dialogue from a range of actors.
The first part explores Henry's childhood, his education and his closeness to his mother Elizabeth of York and his sisters. It explores the possible early reasons for his megalomania and lust for grandeur.

The series focuses on Henry's chief ministers (who if they displeased him did not fare better than his wives) , his intellectual development and friendship with the Dutch theologian Erasmus, his cruel suppression of any dissent from the English people: the cruel punishments of rebellions involved torture and execution of a part of the population. The story of his wives, covered more fully in the documentary by Starkey The Six Wives Of Henry VIII [DVD] here gives some focus to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn (who we see being led to her execution played by an attractive actress by the name of Sophie Hunter who very much resembles Anne Boleyn in her portraits).
The actors who play Henry capture his passion and lust for power, but seem on the thin side for the corpulent monarch. Definitely adds to the understanding of the subject matter for those interested in English history in general and Tudor history in particular.
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on 9 June 2009
Just want everyone to know that this dvd has english subtitles. I do not understand why Amazon doesn't inform this.
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