CANNES--For Brazilian director Karim Ainouz, the prospect of making a film about King Henry VIII's court was particularly exciting with its focus on Catherine Parr, the wife who survived Henry. Ainouz, who doesn't have a special connection to England, said his aim was to raise Parr into the spotlight.
"The main reason is Catherine Parr and the fact that nothing had been made about her of relevance," he told Reuters ahead of the premiere of "Firebrand" at the Cannes Film Festival. "I was very excited with the possibility of bringing her to the light and bringing it to a place of protagonism in history, which was always either given to Henry or to the women that were dead," he said, referring to some of Henry's five wives who preceded Catherine. Ainouz also was drawn to narrating European history from his perspective, as a citizen of a Latin country that was formerly colonized by Portugal. "That's been done the other way around so many times," he said, referring to European filmmakers delving into films about colonized countries. He said the Tudor court "felt very Latin."
"I know it (the Tudor court) was not Latin, but it was based on gangsters, there was a lot of gold, a lot of colours," he said at a press conference on Monday. "Firebrand," which is in competition for the Palme d'Or, stars Alicia Vikander as Catherine, Henry's sixth and last wife as she navigates Tudor court politics towards the end of his life. "The pain he was suffering was excruciating," said Jude Law, who plays the king, who endured several chronic conditions. Law re-creates the physically imposing Henry, who at that time in his life was struggling with stiff, swollen legs, and a rotting wound, using weights to mimic Henry's gait.
"How was he dealing with that? Probably through alcohol. So this drunkenness, there's also this weight that he's carrying because we know he was by that point grossly obese. All of that has an effect on physicality," said Law. Law visited a perfume maker to have a scent created that would simulate how Henry would have smelled, including blood, sweat, pus and faecal matter. "Initially, I used it very subtly, I just sort of thought I would use it myself and that would have an impact, and when Karim got hold of it, it became a spray fest," he said. Henry VIII, who ruled England from 1509 to 1547, famously divorced his first wife against her will, breaking with his Catholic ties and founding the Church of England. "Firebrand, at its heart, is about an abusive husband," said Law. "And that, sadly, is an international and universal story that people, I think recognise and the power and the skills this woman had to tiptoe around this powerful figure was remarkable." The film, based on the 2013 novel "Queen's Gambit" by Elizabeth Fremantle, marks Ainouz's first time competing for Cannes' top prize and is his first English-language film.