Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

It's an Anglophile history buff's happy day for a movie like The Other Boleyn Girl to be released. Starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, and Eric Bana (as Henry VIII), this movie, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, takes us to sixteenth-century England and the Tudor court. Some reviews say this is just another movie in a long line of films that have "overworked" the story of the much-married Henry VIII, but it drew me away from work long enough to be counted as "entertainment."

I have always been fascinated by Anne Boleyn and I enjoyed this movie, particularly appreciating the attention to detail of the costuming. How many people--besides history nerds like me--knew that Anne had a sister that Henry favored first? The movie took me back to a memorable trip I made to England with friends. Our first stop was the Tower of London, where Henry VIII resided when he was working as king.

(The picture at right is one I took in the Tower, at the site where Anne Boleyn was beheaded. [The sign says that among the others to be executed here were Queen Katherine Howard; Jane Rochford, George Boleyn's wife; and Lady Jane Grey, uncrowned queen for nine days.] The diagram below shows where the execution site is in relation to the whole "city within a city." Look for the red rectangle and the words "execution block.")

I'm not a Boleyn scholar, but there were a few things the movie doesn't make clear or "Hollywood-izes," such as:

Mary Boleyn was married to William Carey at the age of 12. The movie suggests she is older. (William Carey died in 1528, but he just disappears in the movie.)

After Mary's affair with Henry, she was sent from court in disgrace. It is believed that she neither visited nor wrote to her siblings. (The movie has Anne demanding her sister stay in London to be with her.)

Mary (at right) married William Stafford in 1534 and became destitute for marrying below her station. The king did not help her, and she was reduced to begging for money from her family via Thomas Cromwell, the vicar-general. (The movie suggests she lives "happily ever after" with Stafford.)

Mary's son, Henry (at left), spent his earliest years with Anne. The movie suggests the opposite: that Anne's Elizabeth had an idyllic early childhood in the happy home of Mary and William. (Henry Carey was named Lord Hunsdon during Elizabeth's reign. He died in 1596.)

It took Anne about a decade to get Henry to marry her. (The movie suggests it is much shorter.)

Elizabeth was three years old when Anne was beheaded, not an infant.

I'm sure there are many other details that were discarded in the name of dramatic license, but, for me, that's what movies are for: to pique your interest and get you to learn more. For more information, start with The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser, largely regarded as the eminent English historian.


Joe Gold said...

Showtime, the cable network, is doing an interesting series entitled "The Tudors", now in its second season. The storyline is now covering Henry's struggle to have his first marriage annulled by the Pope; Henry's maneuvers to become Head of The Church of England; and his affair with Ann Bolyn.
Joe Gold

Melanie Gold said...

I've heard of that series. It sounds interesting!