I Am Henry – The Legend of Syon
Q&A with ‘I Am Henry’ Producer, Massimo Barbato
Q.Where is the story set?
The story is set in the crypt beneath Syon Monastery – more commonly known as ‘Syon Abbey’. After King Henry VIII’s death on January 28th 1547, his body is taken on its final journey from the Palace of Whitehall to Windsor Castle for burial. En route the cortege rests overnight at Syon, where the story begins…
Legend has it that twelve years before Henry’s death, a Franciscan friar had preached before the King at Greenwich Palace thatGod’s judgments were ready to fall upon his head. The prophecy was said to have been fulfilled during this night in the crypt.
It’s a great location for this Gothic tale as all the characters are ghosts. Anne Boleyn, in particular, gets to tell her tragic story like never before. There’s also a monk who sits with Henry’s body and appears to be a manifestation of the friar or it could be the Grim Reaper, St. Peter or God himself. We’ll let the audience decide.
Q. What do we know about Syon Abbey?
Historical records show that the Abbey was a monastery of the Brigettine Order founded in 1415. It once stood on the left bank of the River Thames, in London, and the first stone was laid by King Henry V. By the time of Henry VIII’s reign, Syon was the wealthiest monastery in England, with a huge library of books for the monks and nuns. However, the Abbey was demolished in the 16th Century during the Reformation period, as were many monasteries throughout England and Wales when the Church of England split from the Catholic Church. To this day there remains some dispute among historians as to Syon’s exact location.
The original Syon seal depicted the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus in one hand, and a stem of ‘lily of the valley’ in the other. The lily symbolises spiritual purity and beauty and in an early scene, Anne Boleyn’s ghost is holding a stem of this delicate, sweetly-scented flower. She brings a spark of life to this dark space. In another scene, Catherine of Aragon’s ghost, who was a devout Catholic, prays the Rosary (in Latin) at the foot of a beautiful altar dedicated to Mary.
Q. Is ‘I Am Henry’ a ghost story?
It’s not a ghost story in the traditional sense as, for example, ‘The Woman in Black.’ This story is more about what makes us human and is full of ‘real’ emotions such as sadness, loss, betrayal, jealousy and love.
After his death, Henry finds himself in purgatory – a lost soul. He is a younger version of himself (in his prime), and Catherine (his first wife) and Anne Boleyn (his second wife) take him through this experience. At a key moment in the film Anne says to Henry: “The hour of one’s death is the time for truth, repentance and reflection.” Indeed it is. There is a yearning quality to the dialogue as Henry is confronted with his misdeeds, especially his betrayal of Anne and though Henry insists he regrets nothing, we’re left uncertain this is actually the case.
Q. Where did you film ‘I Am Henry’?
It had been suggested that we film a couple of the scenes in the massive crypt underneath St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Paddington, north London. We ended up filming the entire film on location at the church, as it had everything we were looking for. The crypt with its Gothic architecture and beautiful stained glass windows was recently seen in the film ‘Les Misérables.’
We owe a big debt of gratitude to Lesley, the Hon. Treasurer at the church who kindly provided us with all the props we needed. The final result looks authentic and is visually stunning.