Firebrand (2023) Cannes Film Festival 2023

May 22nd, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Karim Ainouz | Cast: Alicia Vikander, Jude Law, Eddie Marsan, Sam Riley, Ruby Bentall, Erin Doherty | Drama

Jude Law is grotesque as Henry VIII on last his last legs – quite literally – in this imagined drama chronicling his marriage to Catherine Parr, the only wife who survived him, played with elegant conviction by Alicia Vikander.

Brazilian/Algerian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz last came to Cannes with a ravishingly beautiful 1950s outing The Invisible Life of Eurydice Gusmao. His latest, adapted for the screen by ‘Killing Eve’ writers Jessica and Henrietta Ashworth from a novel by Elizabeth Freemantle, is another story about the plight of women living constricted lives, this time in turbulent Tudor times.

Catherine Parr was the first woman to publish in the English language but the focus here is not so much her literary skill as her feminine guile seen through her struggle to survive this putrid, coercive and quixotic tyrant who forces himself on her at every opportunity in the desperate need to provide a male child. His gruesome grunts and larded buttocks bear testament to Catherine’s gruelling ordeal. She is far the most interesting character here but is rather left on the sidelines with the flatulent bully Henry taking centre stage.

Firebrand is a dark disturbing drama that unfolds within the claustrophobic confines of the royal quarters only occasionally making it into the fresh air of its glorious Spring settings. Intrigue, conspiracy and sculduggery are par (!) for the course: and familiar touchstones to those terrible times of misogyny and paranoia, the threat of beheading hanging over every woman, and man in the court.

Catherine Parr was the most fortunate of Henry’s alliances, and was even appointed regent while the king was in France. But she was also suspected of harbouring radical religious views in her objection to the church’s use of Latin: and this plot line sees her befriending the outspoken Protestant heretic Anne Askew (Erin Doherty) causing a rift with Simon Russell Beale’s Stephen Gardiner, a Catholic bishop and Catherine’s implacable opponent. So nothing really new to write home about here but certainly a film worth considering. MT


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