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Anything that Moves: The Tudors on Film

By (May 1, 2008) No Comment

They captivate our imagination, and they cultivate our multi-media screens—and so for the year 2008 Steve Donoghue will encompass their comings and goings, their makings and unmakings. Open Letters presents the fifth installment of Steve Donoghue’s Year with the Tudors.

For the cross-cutting visual splendors of the art form, for the flashing color and lying verisimilitude, for the sustaining guise of intimacy that film imparts to its subjects, there is no brood like the Tudors. The Anglo-Saxons are a grubby lot by and large, avaricious and confusingly Francophile. The Plantagenets are fairly colorful by the standards of the Dark Ages, but even so, it’s usually only Henry II who gets the attention; King John rebuffed even the efforts of Shakespeare. The Hanoverians are a hopeless cause, fat, wine-dribbling cautionary tales, the lot of them. Victoria stands alone in this as in all things, but she mourned in solitude for half her reign (pixie-faced British actress Victoria Hamilton does a very interesting job playing her in John Erman’s 2001 Victoria & Albert, but that drama wisely omits her widower decades). The much-troubled Windsors labor under a shame with a long shadow (English kings do not abdicate), and it’s telling that the best drama yet constructed of them, Stephen Frears’ The Queen, stresses from start to finish Elizabeth II’s ordinariness. Only the Stuarts with their moments of larger-than-life indifference pose a faint rivalry, but it is faint indeed.

No, when it came time for film, the youngest of the plastic arts, to look backward and embrace the past, only one royal brood group stood out as the natural subject of its attentions. What would stern, ascetic, penny-pinching and decidedly undramatic King Henry VII have thought, if he’d known he was siring the first line of technicolor superstars in history – not only was poor stolid Henry VII the first of the reigning Tudors, he was the founder of a line of rock stars.

After him, there were four, and each carried with them a one-line pitch-slogan made for Hollywood at its most reductive. Henry VIII – all those wives! Edward VI – died so young! Mary I – Bloody Mary, heretic-burner! Elizabeth I – Gloriana, no husbands! It’s clear beyond contesting, though whether it’s a curse or a benison is uncertain: the Tudors were made for film, or vice versa, or both.

Film and TV productions have flocked to them, and is it any wonder? New dying and weaving techniques allowed them to dress in hues more eye-catching than any royals before them could or would. New printing techniques allowed their deeds to be bruited faster and more accurately than any of their predecessors. New shifts in the diplomatic and geopolitical landscapes of the sixteenth century allowed them to strut and rumble on the international stage as no strictly British monarchs had ever been able to do before. But these things were simple, mechanical, and therefore largely incidental. Another dynasty, presented with such advantages, might just as well have fumbled them.

Not the Tudors. Even in the long history of British royal rule, their least utterances are unmistakable. Buried in the royal archives at Windsor, for instance, there’s a memoranda on undated parchment (the handwriting style and dyes are fairly identifiable, but still, it could fall anywhere over a rough century) in which an upstart cleric overreaches himself. And there in the margin falls that telltale thunderbolt: “By the Mass, I refuse this! In faith, not so: for I honor the Mass and hold thee beneath my reckoning.” Mary may have been deeply unhinged for most of her life, but still (as has been said of all the others in their turn), only a Tudor could have written such lines.

One would think that even the fiery immediacy of such personalities would ground to shoals on the modern age, which knows not – and cares not – about anything more ancient than ‘American Idol 6,’ but in 2007 the TV network Showtime was able to entice a fairly healthy American viewing audience merely by invoking ‘Henry 8’ and intimating – in advertising campaigns ably abetted by the feral beauty of the series’ star, Jonathan Rhys-Davies – that its prospective audience already knew these subjects, these people, even this time. Unthinkable that such a claim could ever have been made for Showtime viewers about any of the Hohenzollerns, or the Valois, or even the bright shining Stuarts. Indeed, apart from the Caesars themselves (and even then, only the initial set of Julio-Claudians), there has been no ruling house anywhere that could work on such a cultural cache, and it’s no slur on network executives that some of them see that.

‘Henry 8’ – the familiar slang of it is infinitely telling. Where in such an immediate arithmetic is the careful foundation-laying parsimony of Henry the VII? ‘7,’ as we will never know him? He isn’t in the picture, literally or figuratively, in this Showtime production (the kids, all in their robust 20s, take over their patrimonies without an elder-generational squeak), nor does he figure in much of any Tudor production, and why should he? He’s the frugality and forward-thinking that made the whole Tudor enterprise possible, but foresight has few romantic charms. But Henry, ‘Henry 8,’ is easily transfixable and endlessly romantic; he came to the throne when still a teenager, and his free-wheeling concupiscence can always be inferred from Bessie Blount’s bastard boy. Surely, if the one bastard was popped safely into the Tudor sunlight, there might be hundreds, thousands, yea, legions more?

The realities of young Henry’s world (or of his older brother Prince Arthur, who like Henry VII is universally absent from this story’s dramatization), the stately courtliness, the prescribed niceties, and most of all the dutiful Catholicism, are of no use to movie-makers except perhaps as an easily-distortable confining backdrop to a new and more expansive age. The ease of the Hollywood picture is too great (and it hasn’t been only Hollywood that’s indulged in it): young ne’er-do-well prince, finally freed from his dour father and advisors, begins to bellow in his own right as he and his contemporary roaring boys find their way in a new world – why, it’s gold! Or maybe cloth-of-gold. The cumbersome pieties, the laborious genealogical obsessions, all the very real ways in which the darkest depths of the Middle Ages still held strong to even the most elite and hedonistic circles … well, these things truly do belong to a different age, and different ages translate poorly to film. Modern ages – film ages – enjoy being flattered by the conceit that all earlier eras verged toward their own, so it follows that the odder matter will fall out of the mixture.

Generational requirements shift with time, and the urge to see ever younger Tudors is a comparatively new thing. When the 20th century began, movie-goers flocked to theaters to watch Charles Laughton perform as a lampoonishly debauched old King Henry VIII, taking bites out of drumsticks and tossing them over his shoulder, cartoon-leering at everything in hoop-skirts, a figure finally unreal and uninteresting. But it won Laughton an Oscar, which proves one thing if nothing else: the Tudors have power to compel, even centuries after the last of them walked the Earth.

Likewise Bette Davis’ unprecedented return performance as a somewhat dowdy Queen Elizabeth, first in The Virgin Queen and then in The Private Life of Elizabeth and Essex … no hint of the girl who in fact inherited the throne, and certainly no hint of girlishness – no, instead there’s the full-blown Gloriana on hand in both cases, pronouncing, edicting, and scenery-chewing like only a great middle-aged actress can. These older Elizabeths, especially the ones crafted in the first half of the 20th century, are more Victoria than anything Tudor – Victoria, only blowsy with melodrama.

Although to be fair, the scenery-chewing histrionics seem to be the understood plum of the task just in general. The Tudors were by and large much bigger than the world around them, even in their own time: they fought, loved, connived, litigated, and revenged on a scale the world – and certainly not prosaic little England – had seen in long, safe generations. Actors cast in their roles are hardly encouraged to stress subtleties … film and TV audiences have always thrived on big gestures and primary colors, and they needn’t strain to get those from the Tudors: nobles and courtiers in their own era leveraged their estates and life savings to put themselves just that much closer to the sun of the inner court.

Which renders all the more singular the two largest and most ambitious Tudor-related dramatic productions of the 20th century, both created by the BBC: The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R. The two productions were crafted along similar lines: several chapters, each self-contained, each written by a different playwright, with the mosaic effect enlisted to tell the larger story. Each chapter is an intimate closet-drama (one suspects that parsimony was made a virtue), with no opulence at all on display. This pushes the two towering central performances – Keith Michell as Henry VIII and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth – to the forefront. Each is remarkable in its own way, as both actors are required to portray their characters throughout long and very varied lives. This is traditionally easier to pull off with Elizabeth than with Henry, since Elizabeth is very seldom allowed to bloat, shrink, and engum, whereas film chroniclers have seemed to revel in the corresponding degeneration of poor Henry. With Elizabeth the hair gets greyer, the face gets whiter, but that’s usually about the limit of it. But Henry – he grows steadily fatter, steadily crabbier, his ulcerous leg more and more putrid, and by implication his madness steadily less controlled. Mitchell in the final two mini-plays of The Six Wives of Henry VIII is about as hideous a shambling monstrosity as we’re likely to see Henry portrayed in these glamorous times. And yet Michell’s performance under the weight of padding and layers of facial makeup is stronger than in any earlier episodes: his old Henry wheezes and weeps and winches himself from one chair to the next, and at last we as viewers believe in him, believe in his three-dimensional reality.

Such a treatment has traditionally been the exception rather than the rule. In the public imagination, Henry VIII is forever fixed in the Holbein image: a fat, squinty-eyed, pudgy-fingered old man, the ‘lecher’ image in the bestiary of royal types. This certainly suited for the bloated after-effects of the Edwardian sentimentality, but later casting directors have consistently striven to move against this grain, to cast their Henrys against this zeitgeist type. They get younger and more virile, our famous Tudor monarchs do – and perhaps none so glorious as the great character actor Robert Shaw (immortalized via Stephen Speilberg’s Jaws, in which he plays the darkly and hilariously Ahabesque captain Quint), playing a young lion of a monarch in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. In that award-winning play and movie, Henry VIII is as far away from being a weeper and a wheezer as is possible to conceive – instead, he’s a great leonine force of nature, cowing everyone around him into a natural kind of submission. “Your Grace overwhelms me,” Thomas More gasps at one point after a royal peroration delivered at full yell, and we as viewers feel the same. Robert Shaw – resplendent in gold vestments, bearded face ruddy with health, pours himself into Bolt’s great lines, lines the real Henry might well have said, if he’d been a clever playwright instead of a busy monarch: “There are those like Norfolk, that follow me because I wear the crown; there are those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth and I’m their tiger; there’s a mass the follows me because they’ll follow anything that moves.”

Shaw’s Henry is magnificent but petulant; he seeks to impress More’s daughter Margaret with his knowledge of Latin, but the instant she displays greater facility with the language he changes the topic to dancing (for all we know she might be a good dancer, but by that point she’s bright enough to keep her mouth shut on the subject). What’s worse from the standpoint of viewer sympathy, he’s pettily vindictive: when he fails to get his way with More, he retaliates by hurrying to his barge on the Thames and stranding all the fawning courtiers who’ve accompanied him to Chelsea – and laughing at them uproariously while they flounder in the riverside mud. It’s hard to picture such a Henry inspiring any of the interest or devotion we know he did, at least in his early years.

This problem is nowhere in evidence in Charles Jarrott’s 1969 movie Anne of a Thousand Days, in which Genevieve Bujold turns in a very good performance as a headstrong Anne Boleyn, Irene Papas turns in a great performance Henry’s long-suffering wife Katharine of Aragon, and a middle-aged Richard Burton delivers the performance of his long and varied career as a deeply conflicted, entirely real and genuinely believable Henry VIII. When this Henry exchanges badinage with his friends and courtiers, it feels real, human, like a cross between a Presidential audience and Burton himself regaling friends and hangers-on at Harry’s Bar. When we’re told that some of these courtiers are also Henry’s friends, we can believe it (the effort is made all the easier by the fact that the movie boasts a long list of great second-tier British character actors in all its secondary roles) – indeed, we can even see remnants of the friendship that once existed between Henry and his all-powerful Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey (played here with a, you’ll pardon the term, devilish mixture of oil and fire by Anthony Quayle), before Anne entered the picture and began changing the footing between the two men.

Burton’s Henry is not just a man coldly calculating his chances for an heir (and so his ability to control his kingdom after his own death), he’s a man genuinely beset, and thanks to the skill of Burton’s performance, the movie’s viewers can never quite be sure where the king’s lust ends and where his dynastic designs begin.

Lust is usually the beginning and end of the matter, especially the closer to the present day the productions under consideration approach, since the early 21st century appears to be even more thoroughly youth-obsessed than was the late 20th. Ray Winstone’s Henry from a 2003 movie is a bejeweled bruiser who treats the very various women in the long course of his love-life so identically that the viewer keeps expecting all six of them to show up in the same pub to nag at him, like something out of Little Britain. The thought of him playing sophisticated games of international intrigue with popes and emperors is as unbelievable as the thought of him belching out a properly enunciated sentence. Any portrayal of Henry VIII that’s even going to come close to satisfying purists will be one that allows the viewer to believe the actor could come home from hunting and hawking and immediately set to writing a complex doctrinal memorandum for the eyes of the Pope. Braying lunkheads belong to the Hanoverians, just as firmly as sallow pieties are the province of the Stuarts. From the Tudors more is expected.

In recent years, a large part of the more that’s been expected is the one thing the Tudors never had in their lifetimes: sexiness. The Tudors had power, strong emotions, and invincibly mighty brains – but these matter little to the modern age if they also couldn’t cut a swath on Wisteria Lane, and producers have heeded the whims of the time.

Most notable of such concessions as far as Henry goes is certainly Showtime’s The Tudors, which, despite its all-inclusive title, deals not at all (predictably, as we’ve seen) with Henry VII, nor at all with Henry’s older brother Arthur. The Tudors is entirely Henry VIII’s show, and to play the central role the show’s producers tapped Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who is conspicuously younger than the role has ever been played before. Henry’s friends and courtiers are likewise uniformly cast young, with the parental roles going to Sam Neill as Wolsey (unaccountably here slim and trim – Neill apparently being too good for the copious padding Quayle had to deal with) and Padraic Delaney as Anne Boleyn’s scheming father George.

Rhys Meyers is a puzzling and perhaps rewarding choice. Despite his youth, he’s an accomplished veteran of stage and screen and more importantly can produce an electrifying film presence when the mood strikes him and the material supports him. Alas, in The Tudors the material mostly doesn’t support him – this is boringly written historical melodrama, which seems an impossible feat considering the years and the events it covers – the exact same years and events covered in Anne of a Thousand Days, and the contrast is almost always damaging for the Showtime production (even balanced with his role’s limitations, Rhys Meyers is still much the best thing in the production – Maria Doyle Kennedy as Katharine of Aragon is very effective, but her performance is cold tea to that of Papas – a fact made all the more noticeable when the two are speaking virtually the same lines).

The problem here is timing: Rhys Meyers has all the swagger and liquid ferocity the part could possibly require, but he has it too soon, at least in the show’s first season. Henry came to the throne a good boy, learned, circumspect, even to a slight degree tractable (else old advisors of his father, like Wolsey, couldn’t have achieved the initial purchase on his time and attention that they did) – he developed into Rhys Meyers’ portrait only with the passage of time, which raises certain logistical problems. After all, if he’s still hissing and screaming at everybody around him in Season 4, who’ll be listening?

In Season 2, however (ongoing at the time this essay was written), the technique is starting to come into its own, yielding rewards sufficient to allow all but the most fastidious viewer to overlook the smoldering glances Henry wouldn’t have thought to toss in anybody’s direction, the muscle-shirts Henry wouldn’t have thought to wear outside a wrestling arena, and the topless appearances before courtiers (and sometimes ministers) Henry wouldn’t have made to save his life. Rhys Meyers, should the show continue, will put an indelible stamp on the later, maniacal Henry, the one who wasn’t accountable to anybody, even himself, and posed the greatest danger to those with whom he claimed the closest friendship.

In curiously parallel ways, the fate of Elizabeth before the cameras has mirrored that of Henry: she’s grown steadily slimmer, younger or more beautiful, and, with two important exceptions, sexier. In the first half of the 20th century, she was the frumpy termagant of English history, fluffing and huffing with pinched face and enlarged petticoat, and there was a reason for this: she couldn’t be the attractive one, because that role was reserved for Mary Queen of Scots, who, played with slim, winsome beauty first by Katharine Hepburn and then by Vanessa Redgrave, is all things regal to the age, elegant, free-spirited, wronged by the establishment. Indeed, the foil of Redgrave’s Mary in Jarrott’s 1971 movie Mary Queen of Scots is a tautly-coiffed, muscular and unlovable Elizabeth, played to perfection by Glenda Jackson. Jackson’s Elizabeth is unsparingly stern in the advice she gives her cousin (the two, who never met in reality, talk so often in the movie the viewer starts expecting them to show up in the same line at Starbucks, who just wants to rule with her heart.

Jackson went on from the movie to play Elizabeth during the whole course of her life, in the aforementioned BBC mini-series, but where Michell was able to build his Henry VIII into something palpably real by the end of his own mini-series, Jackson’s Elizabeth, though granted the same amount of time, becomes neither believably human nor believably inhuman – she remains throughout merely one pitch-perfect line-reading after another, spitting out all the requisite Great Quotes, yelling about having the heart and stomach of a king without sounding like she has either.

Hollywood would wait a while before it returned to Elizabeth itself, and when it did so, it would break with the youthening trend gripping all visual media and instead give us Elizabeth as an old woman, indeed, as something more akin to a dragon in cloth-of-gold than anybody who’d ever been human. In John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love, Judi Dench’s Elizabeth is only on screen for about ten minutes total, but the performance is so brutal and dangerous and funny that it won Dench an Oscar. This Elizabeth is old and slightly corpulent, coarse but deliberately so, and when she champions love-struck young playwright William Shakespeare, she does so realistically: he gets money but not the girl. The movie plays against the romantic aura of the Virgin Queen, giving us instead a hardened and world-weary monarch very much like what Elizabeth must have been in later life (in one hilarious scene, the queen encounters a wide mud-puddle and looks at her hesitating courtiers with a priceless expression of measuring scorn, only to tromp through the mud muttering “Too late, too late” before any of the watching would-be Walter Raleighs manages to get his cloak over the mud).

But Dench’s old, invulnerable queen is an almost unique exception in portraying the monarch in modern times. Later years would know two further television portrayals and two movie versions, and most of them take the chivalrous if inaccurate approach that Elizabeth must have been both intelligent and beautiful, both clever and beautiful, both lucky and beautiful.

Talented Australian actress Cate Blanchett has portrayed Elizabeth I twice for modern movie-going audiences, first in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth, and then nine years later in Kapur’s sequel, Elizabeth: Golden Age. The movies were successful at the box office and replete with colorful period dress; all the usual suspects are present and accounted for: Geoffrey Rush plays Francis Walsingham as a vaguely menacing gay predator, whose presence at court and council is balanced by that of saintly Lord Burleigh, played by Richard Attenborough with an excess of diligent harrumphing (he’s so crabbed and whiney that the real Elizabeth would have had no use for him).

Sadly, neither is given any serious competition from Blanchett, who at no point seems to know what to do with this famous personage she’s been hired to embody. Other than her royal authority, her Elizabeth rarely supplies to the viewer a reason for her to be in any given scene, much less to be acting the way she is. She too roars out her expected Great Quotes (except for the famous speech at Tillbury, the ‘heart and stomach’ speech Elizabeth, in armor, makes to the men who are awaiting the landfall of the Spanish Armada and the very real prospect of the invasion of England; the speech would ordinarily have happened at the climax of The Golden Age, but when we get there, director Kapur gives us a new speech, one cobbled together by a bunch of writers who’ve supplied themselves with too many Red Bulls and too many re-viewings of Braveheart … this decision is all the more astounding when one considers that Elizabeth’s original speech is genuinely moving – one hopes Kapur never makes a movie about Winston Churchill), but the viewer never feels their weight. Even the great Armada is seen in a glimpse only, making the impatient viewer wonder what exactly this movie spent its CGI budget on, if it couldn’t spare us a longer shot of the greatest threat England would face for five hundred years.

There are two moments of good filmmaking in The Golden Age (Elizabeth has none – it’s average throughout), and, ironically, in both Blanchett’s Elizabeth is hardly involved at all. In the first, Sir Walter Raleigh (played by Clive Owen)’s tales of voyaging to the New World enrapture his queen almost to a physical pitch, and in the second, the queen is surprised at prayer by a would-be assassin who points a pistol at her and receives as a response only an eerie (silent) composure on her part. This is hardly the reward a viewer expects from nearly four hours of star treatment.

Such expectations are equally pointed in the case of Helen Mirren, who played Elizabeth in a two-part 2005 HBO production. Mirren is a handily more powerful actress than Blancehett, and HBO promoted her performance as a masterpiece.

Alas, the first half augurs poorly. Mirren has a hallmark limitation usually given to great actresses: she cannot play younger convincingly (this is not universal – in the earliest chapters of Elizabeth R., the viewer never has any trouble believing a 40-something Glenda Jackson is a teenaged Elizabeth). In the production’s first half she is called upon to be forever fawning on the Earl of Leicester (a pantomiming Jeremy Irons), who is seen to provide her with every last scrap of the good stuff we think of as her own, including the aforementioned Tilbury speech, which, as far as this show is concerned, was all Leicester’s work, negligently suggested by him on the fly. Tudor purists will gape at the sight of this Leicester constantly petting and publically kissing the queen, when plain insurrection would have been the result of such behavior in real life. All of this could be overcome if Mirren were in fine form, but except for a couple of scenes she is oddly absent despite being constantly in the camera’s eye.

The second half of the production (once Leicester has shuffled off its mortal coil, lingering only long enough to tell his young protégé the Earl of Essex – in full hearing of the queen – that Her Majesty needs “looking after,” a comment which, if ever uttered in reality, would have earned him a slightly different end than calmly expiring in his own bed), however, redeems the enterprise. Here we have a middle-aged Elizabeth, grown almost inhumanly skilled in the art and nuance of governing – indeed, despite the well-used presence of her council, this Elizabeth might rightly be said (Mycroft Holmes-style) to be the government. In this second half, Mirren is absolutely in her element, by turns charming and cold-blooded, full of spontaneous wit and jagged acumen. She’s a woman who believes she’s lost the closest thing she will ever have to genuine love, and when she begins to suspect she’s found it again, in the form of Essex (played with a truly remarkable lack of guile by Hugh Dancy, here giving a performance only slightly less powerful than his career-making work in Daniel Deronda). Her internal world is upheaved by this new relationship, and Elizabeth’s second half is a marvelous study of an intelligent, self-reliant woman trying desperately both to lose her inhibitions and to retain them. Mirren’s portrait of the queen in this portion of the production is so powerful and memorable that when it comes time for Elizabeth to die, viewers would rebel against her simply collapsing, as history has her do. No, Mirren’s Elizabeth must go out in character, as it were, languidly drawling, “Fetch me a priest, girl. I’m minded to die.”

Mirren’s star billing and the lavish production values of Elizabeth I (not to mention the aforementioned awards) combined to overshadow an extremely similar television mini-series that saw its debut, unluckily, in the same year. In 2005, Masterpiece Theatre came out with Elizabeth I – The Virgin Queen, directed by Coky Giedroyc and starring Anne-Marie Duff as Elizabeth. The contrast in leading ladies at once signals some of the differences between the two productions: Mirren is big and graceful and commanding, Duff is small-boned, small-featured, nervous. Likewise The Virgin Queen strikes finer, more delicate notes as it tells the same familiar story, but whereas Mirren played an Elizabeth more or less at home in her own skin and in the restrictions of her time, Duff’s queen is infinitely more febrile and jittery, raging against the very society she rules. The unthinking condescensions of her male councilors are met with stinging rebukes, and even helpful advice is accepted with only brittle grace. Duff is utterly mesmerizing in the role, giving us an Elizabeth who is the mirror image of Mirren’s – and both women are ably served by their supporting casts, in Mirren’s case most touchingly in the relationship that develops between the queen and her hunchbacked minister (her “little pygmy”) Robert Cecil (played with calm sensitivity by Toby Jones), and in Duff’s case in the lifelong turbulent friendship she has with Leicester (here played with louche mastery by Tom Hardy).

The last half-century have seen many other Tudors on film. Warren Saire is a graceful, intelligent (and chronically ill) Edward VI in Lady Jane, and that movie also features far and away the most perceptive – and therefore sympathetic – portrait of Mary Tudor (here brought to crackling life by Jane Lapotaire) ever put on film. Mary fares less well in the early segments of The Virgin Queen, coming across as a sword-wielding monster (and even that is gentle compared to the very funny drubbing Elizabeth herself takes in Black Adder). Henry VII and young Arthur may not be invited to the party, but Henry ‘8’ is a star once again, and Elizabeth more than all the rest is as much a lodestar for the world’s attention (and as protean in the limelight) as she was in life. Indeed, as we leave the celluloid world and return to the realm of books, our next chapter will look more closely at this unique woman who so singularly symbolizes her dynasty in the popular imagination, this Elizabeth who continues to fire the imagination so many centuries after she confounded the expectations of her world.

This piece is offered, of course, in affectionate memory of the great Paul Scofield.

Steve Donoghue was a child actor for MGM Studios in the 1930s and had small roles in dozens of motion pictures, including Queen Christina, Chained, and The Barretts of Wimpole Street. He retired once films began to be produced in Technicolor (the change did not flatter him), and is now composing a scandalous tell-all memoir and hosting the literary blog Stevereads.