Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cinema Royals: Annabelle Dowler

Annabelle Dowler as Queen Catherine of Aragon in the Channel 4 documentary "The Wives of Henry VIII" was a fast favorite with me. Dr. David Starkey presented this documentary based on his work on the Tudor women around Henry VIII and the filmmakers struck gold in casting Annabelle Dowler as Catherine of Aragon. Having studied Spanish and lived in Madrid for two years, she was able to be totally convincing as a Spanish princess brought to England. She also brought youth and beauty to a role that is usually seen as one of a rather plain, older woman who simply fusses and prays. Dowler shows us the real Catherine of Aragon, a strong and faithful woman who stood up to immense challenges. Dowler herself has quite a job in the film, meeting a variety of acting challenges. In the small scenes inherent in a documentary she effectively portrays the giddy excitement of a young girl about to be married, depression on the death of loved ones, coupled with shame when one loss is that of the child Henry so desperately wants, a proud mother instructing her daughter, a pious Catholic in prayer, an in-control Queen ruling England in the absence of her husband during a time of crisis and fighting for her marriage and her daughter when Henry tries to cast her aside. There are so many various emotions and situations she has to master and she does them all very well. Because of how her life with Henry VIII ended people too often view Catherine as generally unappealing, but Annabelle Dowler shows her as I have always seen her: the ideal woman, wife and queen.


  1. I agree, she seems to capture Catherine's personality perfectly.

  2. I agree, it was a magnificent portrayal!

  3. Don't forget that St Thomas More stood up and valiantly defended her, unlike so many who ignored her plight.
    It's often forgotten too that as a Spanish Infanta, daughter of Isabella, Catalina was a powerful, cultivated princess. It was a comedown to marry an English Crown Prince at that time, in the estimate of at least the Spanish Court!
    Too bad that Prince Arthur died - one wonders why exactly that happened - and the bad Henry took over instead.

    There's a fairly good fictionalized novel about Catalina/Catherine, "The Constant Princess" by Philippa Gregory.

    Nice writeup about the movie.

    Unrelated, you might want to consider adding to your list of informational sites. In French but easily translated by google or yahoo services.

    Also the website of St Michael's Abbey in England, burial place of the last French Imperial family. Benedictine monks are still there; this Abbey is very traditional with Gregorian Chant and Latin Mass - good to know for anyone visiting England interested in history and Church. The Abbey is in Farnborough, fairly close to London, but a pleasant getaway to the Hampshire countryside and the glittering era of the French Second Empire.

  4. I have to say though, that it seems Catherine is rarely portrayed with the right coloring. Wasn't her hair supposed to be much fairer? At least, however, this actress does not have the stereotypical swarthy "Spanish" look. And, once again, she certainly does capture the beauty, grace, and dignity of Catherine as wife, mother, queen.

  5. That sounds right to me. If I remember right she had rather reddish-brown color hair (not unlike Henry I think) but as with many it may have darkened as she got older. I just liked that they had a young woman for a change (though they did try to age her with makeup as the story went on) and portrayed her as a more multi-faceted individual. Most portray her as simply a frumpy religious fanatic whereas in this, in just a few scenes, I think her religion came off as sincere devotion rather than the obsessive fanaticism that seems to be the way "religious" people are usually shown, Catherine in particular.

  6. sorry, reddish-blonde is probably a better word -though again I could be wrong, it's been a while since I've consulted my Tudor books.

  7. I saw this documentary when it first aired on my PBS station in summer 2003. I enjoyed it.
    It's been on periodically since I saw it again in early 2006.

    You can't go wrong with the late novelist Eleanor Hibbert writing as Jean Plaidy for her trilogy "Catherine of Aragon" originally published in 3 books and now reissued in an omnibus edition.
    I've read Philippa Gregory's "Constant Princess" and thought it was ok.


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