Carry On Henry (1971 Britain)

A curiously neglected entry, perhaps as it was made in a period when the series had generally started to go into decline, but in my view it’s one of the best of all, certainly in the top three. The historical outings were usually among the team’s funniest, and Talbot Rothwell provides perhaps his most audacious script with a real plot, told in his trademark puns and double entendres, but with a real abundance of panache and wit, attaining an almost poetic quality. Here the great tyrant, Henry VIII, is kinky haired Sid James – a pint-sized, dirty old man with a mug only a mother could love – chasing tavern wenches and princesses alike.

The production values are surprisingly good here, for a series that was basically a run of second features, with excellent candle-lit cinematography evoking the period, and everybody seems comfortable in period costume. Kenneth Williams pulls his usual turn as a cowardly schemer that you just know will get in the cogs of his own machine once the usual zaniness starts to get going. The wonderfully ample and lascivious Joan Sims, (my fave) as was often the case, is along to bring the production its occasional moment of class between calamities. Charles Hawtrey is endearingly inappropriate as the brave knight and lover who undergoes all sorts of horrible tortures for his Queen – the heterosexual potency of this obviously gay actor is an uproarious counterpoint to the macho King’s unsuccessful promiscuity.

Henry gets a couple extra wives in this one, dropped nicely between Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. One’s going to the block as the film opens. After that James gets a present of French princess Joan Sims, cousin of King Francis I of France, and that seems like a good bet to solidify an alliance. But on the wedding night it turns out Henry can’t stand her garlic breath. Not only is it on all that French food, but the woman uses it like chewing gum. James is set to fling her out and he lights on a new truly bosomy queen for his taste. But that upsets the balance of power in Europe. Not to mention the machinations of Kenneth Williams as Thomas Cromwell and Terry Scott as Cardinal Wolsey. I admit I’m no fan of Barbara Windsor though. Something about her face, and that Cockney voice, puts me off. She’s nasty.

This lively Tudor romp is hugely entertaining viewing thanks to a silly script that plays fast and loose with the facts. There is plenty of ribald innuendo, mincing poofs, lots of heaving bosoms, and spirited performances to sauce the delight of any Carry On fan. With jokes about the Labour government, and with King’s wenches who demand payment before favours, and whose fathers complain about taxation, the reduction here of English history to an aristocratic bedroom farce is a more profound insight than any ‘serious’ epic has ever managed. Probably the best joke is the running gag with Guy Fawkes constantly suggesting that the perfect answer to any plot is his stockpile of gunpowder. It’s a mildly amusing but handsome film, passing by entirely painlessly without lingering in the memory once it’s over.



  1. I remember enjoying watching this film years ago, but do agree that no particular scenes stand out in my memory now that time has passed! It’s definitely not bad, but not amongst Carry On’s greatest. Great review as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! I’m a sucker for the costumes they wear in this one.


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