Watch the Trailer for ‘Firebrand,’ a New Drama About Henry VIII’s Sixth Wife, Catherine Parr

Karim Aïnouz’s film features Alicia Vikander and Jude Law as the Tudor queen and king

Alicia Vikander as Catherine Parr in Firebrand
Alicia Vikander as Catherine Parr in Firebrand, an upcoming film from director Karim Aïnouz Brouhaha Entertainment

Of Henry VIII’s six wives, his last one, Catherine Parr, is “most often misunderstood, if not largely ignored,” writes historian Derek Wilson for History Extra. Typically portrayed as a middle-aged nursemaid whose main claim to fame was surviving the mercurial Tudor king, Catherine was an accomplished scholar, religious reformer and advocate for women’s education. Though she didn’t set out to become queen, she rose to the challenge with grace, wielding more political influence than many of her predecessors and serving as a beloved stepmother to Henry’s three children.

Firebrand, a new film from Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz, dramatizes the later years of Henry and Catherine’s marriage, when religious factions vied for dominance at the ailing king’s court, putting the queen’s life at risk in the process. Starring Alicia Vikander as Catherine and Jude Law as Henry, the movie is based on Queen’s Gambit, a 2013 novel by Elizabeth Fremantle. Rechristened Firebrand to avoid confusion with the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” the adaptation debuted at Cannes in May to mixed reviews. It arrives in theaters in the United States on June 14.

FIREBRAND | Official Trailer | In theaters June 14

The first trailer for the film shows Vikander decked out in sumptuous period attire, her expression inscrutable as she tries to convince Henry of her loyalty. Law’s character is a far cry from the dashing, cultured king of his youth: As Tim Robey observes for the Telegraph, “He’s fat, fuming and not at all hearty, with a leg rotting away that could soon be the end of him.”

Aïnouz’s take on Tudor England is more akin to a “psychological thriller” than a traditional period drama, producer Gabrielle Tana tells Deadline’s Baz Bamigboye. “Henry’s a butcher,” she adds. “It was a rotten marriage. There’s usually pomp and circumstance [in royal couplings] but that’s not really what was there. It was much more visceral, and that’s what we’re getting to the heart of.”

Firebrand opens in 1544, with Catherine serving as regent for her husband, who is off fighting a war with France. She secretly meets with Anne Askew (played by Erin Doherty of “The Crown”), a Protestant reformer whose views are considered radical by the English court’s Catholic faction. Though Catherine is sympathetic to the Protestant cause, she must hide her beliefs to ensure her safety; upon his return from France, Henry is more volatile than ever, terrorizing both his wife and his courtiers.

Jude Law as Henry VIII and Alicia Vikander as Catherine Parr in Firebrand​​​​​​​
Jude Law as Henry VIII and Alicia Vikander as Catherine Parr in Firebrand Brouhaha Entertainment

After Henry has Askew burned at the stake for heresy, his Catholic advisers attempt to convince him of Catherine’s similarly heretical leanings, setting the stage for a showdown with potentially deadly consequences. Referencing his previous wives in the film’s trailer, Henry asks, “Is she more vicious than all the others? We’ve been here before, and ... we cut them down.”

The broad strokes of Firebrand’s plot align with the historical record, though it’s worth noting that Askew never revealed a connection to Catherine, despite being tortured before her execution. Still, some reviewers have criticized the film’s revisionist approach to history. (Defending this choice, Vikander tells Variety’s Manori Ravindran that the film takes creative license in order to “make a strong story and to surprise people.”)

Contrary to Firebrand’s depiction of Henry’s death in 1547, Catherine certainly didn’t hasten his demise, and she wasn’t present at his deathbed. “The scene is pure fantasy, rewriting Parr’s legacy with flagrant disregard for the facts,” argues Variety’s Peter Debruge. In a nod to the executions of Henry’s second and fifth wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, Debruge adds, “Historically speaking, people have been beheaded for lesser heresies.”

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