The Tudor Society

The difficulties of turning a short film about Henry VIII into a novel

This article is part of a blog tour for 'I am Henry,' the new novel based on the award-winning short film of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn by Jan Hendrik Verstaten and Massimo Barbato, which is due out tomorrow, 22nd April.

We were delighted that our little short film ‘I am Henry’ was received well. It won, in total, 13 film awards, including a prestigious Gold Remi. The only criticism we had from the viewers that loved it was that it was not long enough. They wanted to see what happened to Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon.

Massimo agreed that we should start working on a book to complete the story. Initially, I was reluctant, but when Covid came and we were forced to stay at home, it seemed like a good moment to do it.

The screenplay had been relatively easy to write, but a novel with more than 60,000 words would turn out to be much more of a challenge. It raised many questions. In the end it took us two and a half years to finish writing it.

The novel raised many questions

Historians who had reviewed the film thought the material was historically accurate. This was great, but could we also pull that off with an extended version? A short film, yes, but a book..? Did we really know enough about Henry VIII’s life? And then there was the question: should we even care about the historic facts? Do they matter? In a book, there would be no budget constraints and we could allow our imaginations to run wild.

The only plan we had was to finish the story of the film. This turned out to be more difficult than we thought. We studied 'Dante’s Inferno' for inspiration. At first, the vision was of Henry as a forlorn Robinson Crusoe, adrift in the labyrinth of his own mind. I even drew up a map and created treacherous Tudor trails to different regions in Limbo, with great adventures and mythical figures along the way. Many of these early ideas were quickly abandoned.

Besides that we decided it would be a good idea to delve deeper into the story of Henry's life. Who were his parents? What kind of place was England in the 15th century? What did people think and believe? Who was Catherine of Aragon, really? And most importantly: who was Anne Boleyn who changed the course of English history?

Anne Boleyn's presence in the novel will surprise readers

After trying out different story lines and many hours/days/months behind the computer trying to get somewhere with this, Massimo and I decided that for the story to work and for readers to feel connected with the characters as they did in the film, the story needed to be rooted in historical fact. Yes, it was fiction, a fantasy, but it should feel as if it was real in a way; as if all these encounters and conversations actually took place. The real characters and their lives would guide us as to how they would behave, and what they would say to each other.

Through more research, a lot more characters and random ‘actors’ appeared in the story; sometimes only in a single scene or two, like his extraordinary father Henry VII or his brother Arthur, the Prince of Wales. These different eyewitnesses made “I am Henry’ more complete and showed different sides to Henry VIII.

Anne Boleyn’s presence in the novel will surprise readers. It surprised even us. Her personal account and voice in the various chapters written from her perspective, came through without much effort and felt real in a poignant and moving way. Early on in the story, as in the film, Anne shares her opinions about Henry's treatment of her and about what took place. But in the novel, we are also introduced to her agony in the most intimate way.

A spiritual context

The novel can also be seen in a spiritual context. We all experience the loss of loved ones and, indeed, will one day experience death itself. The idea of an afterlife is intriguing to many of us. It certainly would have preoccupied the minds of many living in Tudor times. Despite today's scientific scepticism and the dominance of secular culture in modern Britain, many people report having a near death experience. Some experiencers describe having a life review in which they see the totality of their life's history.

The meetings and encounters you always wished had happened

Others have encountered loved ones who have passed away or even religious figures. ‘I am Henry’ explores this as a story, and likes to believe that relationships with loved ones can continue, even after death. That we are more than just finite beings, and our souls live on...

There are no easy answers for either Anne or Henry in this novel, but we hope that it will in some way reflect on what could have taken place, providing the meetings and encounters that you always wished had happened.

'I am Henry' is an innovative retelling of the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Due for release in paperback and e-book format by MadeGlobal Publishing, on 22 April 2023.
For more information about the novel and the short film go to or pre-order on Amazon at

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The difficulties of turning a short film about Henry VIII into a novel