Firebrand – Royal Revisionist History

Firebrand Review

Any history lover and royalist knows the story of King Henry the Eighth and his six wives. But through the years the story focuses most on Henry’s perspective, the wives as a collective or the more popular wives with a life story that makes for good movies or books. So it was refreshing to see a Tudor-themed movie coming out that wasn’t focused on Elizabeth or Anne, and with great hopes, we watched Firebrand, the story of Queen Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of King Henry.

But it seems that the Roadside Attractions released film thought that the story of one of the first published women in history (under her own name) and one that filled the seat of regent wasn’t enough of a story for a movie. Instead, the movie leans heavily on revisionist history to a scale we haven’t seen since Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. Yes, drama and fiction make for a good story, but when you’re telling the story of a historical figure – maybe focus on the actual facts. Sure, fans of The Tudors or ones that have only a cursory knowledge of the queens after seeing Six may not see a problem with the movie but are there enough of those viewers to actually make this movie successful?

If revisionist history was Firebrand’s only issue, we would let it go (maybe). But as someone who loves historical dramas, especially in the Tudor period, and has spent years learning about the period, architecture, and everything – it doesn’t seem that the movie is going to do itself much favors. Sure, the opulent outfits and castles may be interesting to some – but its not interesting enough to forgive the movies horrible pacing. A story about a Queen’s power, and her fight for survival should be something interesting. instead, the movie seems to drag and linger throughout most of it.

It does, however, focus a lot on the closeness between Catherine and both Mary Tudor and Elizabeth, stepping in as their stepmother. The sister’s relationship is briefly covered and their almost competition for being left without a mother by their father, almost trauma bonding over it. But the movie makes another very interesting choice, by being narrated by Elizabeth. Her closeness to Catherine and religious allegiance seems to help this make sense, but when she starts talking about things that happen even after her death – the split from reality and the choice for their narrator falls apart completely.

Is the story of one of the most powerful women of her time not interesting enough that her story has to be changed to make it more appealing to audiences? Sure, we know that her life as the sixth wife wasn’t easy and there was nothing idyllic about it. But changing major parts of her history to sell a movie, makes you question the actual reason behind this. Did the writers not feel her story was good enough to tell as is? That they had to make her more powerful or somehow, better than she was? Instead, the result feels cheap, like it stole her actual life and voice from her.

Casual viewers may not have an issue with the story changes in Firebrand or the somewhat nonsensical title of the movie. That is if they can get past the slow pacing overall. The movie will be in theaters everywhere this weekend.

Overall Rating:

Two and a half star reviews

About Firebrand

In blood-soaked Tudor England, twice married, accomplished, and educated Katherine Parr (Vikander), reluctantly agrees to become the sixth wife of the tyrannical King Henry VIII (Law). Her consent to marry him carries great personal risk, given that her predecessors are either vanquished, beheaded, or dead. When Henry appoints her as Regent, the nation’s ruler during his absence when he departs to fight overseas, he lays a dangerous path for her. Henry’s courtiers, suspecting she’s sympathetic to radical Protestant beliefs that have taken root in the kingdom and are a threat to their power, scheme against her and cast doubts upon her fidelity to the increasingly ailing and paranoid King. Once Henry returns to England, his courtiers convince him to turn his fury on the nation’s radicals, including Katherine’s childhood friend Anne Askew, who becomes one of the scores of people convicted of treason and burned at the stake. Horrified and privately grieving, Katherine finds herself under ever-increasing scrutiny and suspicion. Knowing that even a whisper of scandal might lead to her downfall, Katherine must unleash her own scheme to fight for survival.


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