- DESERT ISLAND DISCS
- LADY ANTONIA FRASER'S LIFE LESS ORDINARY
- RESPONSE TO LETTER SENT TO THE BRITISH LIBRARY
- SPEECH GIVEN AT THE OPENING OF ‘ON THE NATURE OF WOMEN'
- LETTER SENT TO THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE BRITISH LIBRARY
- SPEECH GIVEN AT THE ‘CELEBRATION FOR DRAGON WOMEN’ LUNCH (2)
- SPEECH GIVEN AT ‘CELEBRATION FOR DRAGON WOMEN’ LUNCH (1)
- THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (Part 2)
- THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (Part 1)
- ANTONIA FRASER'S DIARY
- Truth and Reality in Operatic Librettos (part three)
- Truth and Reality in Operatic Librettos (part two)
- Truth and Reality in Operatic Librettos (part one)
- Society Portraits
- THE FRENCH CHILD
- CULTURAL LIFE
- QUEEN ELIZABETH: A PERSONAL VIEW
- ANTONIA FRASER’S DIARY
- IF I CAME BACK AS…
- SPECTATOR DIARY
- LOVE, LOUIS XIV AND ME Part 2
- LOVE, LOUIS XIV AND ME
- MY HERO
- BODIAM CASTLE
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (Part 2)
Inaccurate? Obviously you can’t expect a film taken from a historical novel to be accurate since historical novelists, by definition, are using their imagination. There are certainly many liberties taken to suit the story: Anne’s early encounter with Henry has no basis in fact. In reality Mary Boleyn also went to France and attended the Queen there, rather than skulking winsomely in the country, and Anne herself was certainly not banished. As to Mary’s child during her Carey marriage, who is featured as the unquestioned son of Henry, the dates don’t fit historically. Even more to the point, the Carey boy was born at a time when Henry was so desperate for a male heir that he ennobled another bastard by Bessie Blount, Henry Fitzroy, and made him a Duke (of Richmond, a quasi-royal title in those days). Unfortunately Fitzroy died but there is evidence that in his lifetime the King was contemplating making use of him as a spare male heir in the absence of a legitimate one. No such steps were taken in the direction of the Carey boy; the prominence he gained as Lord Hunsdon in the reign of Elizabeth began with the fact that he was not so much her half-brother as her first cousin; Elizabeth was ever supportive of her Boleyn relations.
Does any of this matter? I think not, in what is a rattling good romantic movie presented with much zest. Does The Other Boleyn Girl on the other hand give us something ‘vivid and memorable’, further to anything historians can do? I think not again. For there is one huge dimension missing from it. I mean a sense of religion, religious turbulence, spiritual conviction and all the immense changes brought about in England by the Reformation. Anne Boleyn was in fact an early ‘Protestant’ to use a modern word, a patron of Lutheran preachers and introduced Henry to certain reformed religious texts. Her intelligence and strong character not only captured Henry but also enabled her to hang onto him by presenting herself as a powerful queenly figure, no longer a mere mistress.
Religion in The Other Boleyn Girl was presumably felt to be a killjoy subject compared to sex (lots and lots of it), realistic scenes of childbirth (maybe one too many – we have got the picture the first time in every sense of the word) and the political use of sex by the nobles surrounding the King. Whether or not Sir Thomas Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk really instructed the girls explicitly how to act the whore in the good cause of family advancement, the intention to use them politically was certainly there. Only the language is false to history.
Furthermore where language is concerned, there should surely be a lot of leeway given to the screenwriter. We don’t want cod period language even if there are always a few happily risible moments in historical movies. Genevieve Bujold as a previous Boleyn Girl in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) was responsible for one of my favourites: ‘Oh Henry,’ she cries, ‘You great big royal booby!’ Richard Burton as a sensational Henry – the part he was born to play – lingers in the mind during the formal court dance in which he captures the reluctant Anne as his partner (she’s currently declining his sexual attentions): ‘Mistress,’ purrs the alpha male, ‘You will dance to my tune.’ Fanny Ardent as Mary of Guise seducing John Knox with her thick French accent in the first Elizabeth film directed by Shekhar Kapur is another must for students of the genre. All this is not only fun but infinitely preferable to the laboured information-giving of Nicholas and Alexandra produced by Sam Spiegel - alas, another dull movie on an extraordinary subject. I remember a scrap of dialogue which went ‘Good morning, Stalin, I’m called Lenin and this is Kerenzsky.’ Or something like that. Peter Morgan makes no such mistake. He has Anne Boleyn respond to a banal question by the King about how she intends to ride her horse, with ‘As usual, your Grace, with my thighs.’ And why not?
However, the lack of any big idea in The Other Boleyn Girl, other than the fact that sisters are, well, sisters means that it never rises to the heights of The Great Historical Movie, as for example my all-time favourite in the genre A Man for all Seasons. This was Robert Bolt’s play about Sir Thomas More and the young Henry VIII transformed to a fabulous movie with help from Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw. There the painful eternal dilemma of the individual’s conscience versus his loyalty to the state unrolls before us with colour, drama and truth. You thrill to the movie, you agonise over the message. Compared to this, The Other Boleyn Girl, that’s entertainment.
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