‘Firebrand’ (2024) Review: Girlboss But Make it Historical

Nuha Hassan
3 min readJun 24, 2024


Jude Law as Henry VIII and Alicia Vikander as Katherine Parr. Image courtesy of Lionsgate.

Hollywood is notorious for a period drama set in the 16th century, whether or not it is accurate. We are all too familiar with one of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn. But what do we know about his sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr, who didn’t get beheaded and outlived him instead? Karim Aïnouz’s Firebrand is a fiery story of Katherine Parr’s attempts to stay alive instead of ending up on the chopping block like his other two wives.

The costumes are grand, the acting is regal, and there’s toxic masculinity where a misogynistic King is involved. The events of this movie happened almost 500 years ago. History is always about men and their wars, but Firebrand stands out as Katherine’s achievements in advocating for women’s education. This drama set in Tudor court is a riveting example of stories of the past being dramatised with tension and a gargoyle man's paranoia about his wife’s motives in their marriage.

Set in 1544, Katherine Parr (Alicia Vikander) is now the sixth wife of Henry VIII (Jude Law). While the King is away in France fighting his wars, he appoints her as the Regent, and she has to attend boring bureaucratic meetings and take care of the country’s affairs. She also takes care of her stepchildren, Elizabeth (Junia Ree), and the heir to the throne, Edward (Patrick Buckley).

Meanwhile, the King’s court suspects her of being sympathetic to radical Protestant beliefs. Her childhood best friend, Anne Askew (Erin Doherty) is a Protestant preacher, a fierce believer in the cause and is committing treason against the Crown. Katherine is entangled between her close friendship with Anne and her duty to her husband and King. But even her stealth and power aren’t enough to keep her safe from Henry VIII’s wrath if he finds out about her private affairs.

Alicia Vikander as Katherine Parr. Image courtesy of Lionsgate.

While it is refreshing to see a different wife of Henry VIII take centre stage in this cinematic universe, Firebrand doesn’t have much to say. Sure, the movie focuses on Katherine’s survival and her scheme to change England’s history, one of which is her work to secure Elizabeth’s future reign. It’s also a story about freedom and escaping an abusive husband. Aïnouz repeatedly shows how Katherine is a victim of her husband’s cruel behaviour. He flirts with other mistresses in front of her and almost suffocates her in bed. His paranoia towards Katherin’s secret schemes leaves her in a dangerous situation, but she overcomes this by maintaining a better path.

But Aïnouz’s film doesn’t know what to do with Katherine. She’s fighting to stay alive amongst men who suspect her of treasonous crimes. There’s a lot of tension and drama but Firebrand’s overall storytelling just falls short because the stake is never high enough for the characters to do anything about it. Despite the danger Katherine is in, Aïnouz never builds it up.

The revisionist history of the Tudors is a much engrossing way to tell stories of events that happened almost 500 years ago. But apart from Katherine’s predicaments, there’s nothing deeper to explore. The only aspect that is worth watching is the film’s costume design. It is extremely exquisite and shows the regal essence of that period. Law, of course, steals the show with his whining and horrendously pathetic portrayal of Henry VIII. If period dramas from the 16th century ever cease to exist, it would be upsetting if another girlboss story set in historic England isn’t explored in the next five years.

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Decolonise Palestine

Books about Palestine on Verso Books

Books about Palestine on Haymarket Books

The Free Palestine Library

More reading materials on Palestine

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