The Other Boleyn Girl
The title of this blog is taken from the rhyme to remember Henry VIII’s wives: “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” Henry divorced Catherine of Aragon, beheaded Anne Bolyen, Jane Seymour died, he divorced Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard was beheaded as well, and Katherine Parr survived Henry. Based on the popular 2002 novel (emphasis novel, meaning fictional) by Philippa Gregory. A lot of familiar faces in this film (and ironically, a bunch of them show up in the MCU). Natalie Portman (most famous as Jane in the Thor movies and Padmé in the Star Wars prequels) stars as Anne Boleyn while Scarlett Johansson (now known as Black Widow) is her elder sister, Mary (not younger as they state early in the film). Eric Bana (who we saw as Hector in Troy, also plays the villain Nero in the rebooted Star Trek films, he was Bruce Banner in the 2003 Hulk movie which is not part of the MCU, and I had forgotten he was Uther in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I forgot because I’ve seen the movie once and dislike it), is Henry VIII. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Hobbit, Amazing Grace, War Horse, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Imitation Game, Richard III in The Hollow Crown, and now Dr. Strange) has a relatively small role as William Carey. Eddie Redmayne (before he was Marius in Les Misérables, Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts) also had a relatively small role as William Stafford. Jane Parker may look familiar; she’s played by Juno Temple (she’s the queen in the 2011 The Three Musketeers and one of the fairies in the Maleficent movies). The Duke of Norfolk sounded familiar; he’s played by David Morrissey, who was in an episode of Doctor Who. Oh yes, and say hello to Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones) who briefly appears as one of the king’s messengers.
I have read the book (it may have been after I watched the movie), and I had issues with its historical inaccuracy, because Tudor England is a period of history that I have done a fair bit of reading on; and one that my mother (also holds a Bachelor’s in History, like my brother…well, he now has a Master’s) has done even more reading on. Unfortunately, most of those books are packed away somewhere. Already mentioned that Mary was the elder sister, not Anne as stated in the film. Anyways…the movie opens with three small children playing; their futures already being discussed. The father remarks that the family can improve their standings with their daughters, but to truly get ahead, one needs more than a fair look and a kind heart.
Time jump ahead to Mary Boleyn marrying William Carey, as discussed at the beginning. At the castle in London, Catherine of Aragon delivers a stillborn son; she apologizes to her daughter, the princess Mary, that there is no brother to make the country safe. There is a fear that if Henry does not have a legitimate son to pass the throne onto (he does have an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy), England will descend into civil war, which it already went through when he father took the throne (War of the Roses). A man, the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, rides away from court and to his sister’s estate (if the surname Howard rings a bell in regard to the Tudor dynasty; Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard was a relation of the Boleyns’). He plans for his family to aid the king in a delicate matter; Henry will be looking for a mistress and Howard plans to put Anne in his path. Anne accepts the challenge. Preparations are made for a royal visit. But when Anne is too daring on a hunt, the king is injured, so the Duke sends Mary to tend to the king. Once Henry returns to court, he calls for Mary, her husband, and family. Mary and Anne become ladies in waiting to Queen Catherine, and William Carey is made a member of Henry’s privy council (a high honor). Catherine suspects why the Boleyn sisters are now in her household and Anne becomes jealous of Mary’s attention from Henry. She tells her sister “I will make my own way.”
Henry trusts Mary; he understands what it’s like to be the second child. (Okay, on the one hand, yes. Henry was the second son of Henry VII, he had an older brother, Arthur. Catherine of Aragon was originally married to him before he died young. Then Henry was faced with becoming king. And we’ve already covered that Mary was not the second child). In the wee hours of the morning after, Mary has to report to her family; this is no longer a private matter. Their uncle openly states he hopes Mary will give Henry a son. Excuse me, Mr. Duke of Norfolk…Henry isn’t married to Mary, so the son won’t be legitimate, just like Henry Fitzroy (historically, “Fitz” as part of a surname signified that the child was a bastard; thus “Fitzroy” meant “son of the king.” But not legitimate). Henry gives William Carey an assignment away from court. What is not mentioned is that Carey dies at some point. Meanwhile, Anne runs off and secretly marries Henry Percy, the heir to the richest land owner in England. However, as a peer of the realm, Percy’s marriage has to be decided by the king. And he’s already engaged. In the movie, Anne is banished for France for a few months to prevent scandal. In actuality, both Mary and Anne spent several years in France as part of their education. And Mary possibly had a reputation she gained there, which is why Henry may have been interested in her. There is only one historical recording of her by Henry and no actual evidence that she was a long term mistress, nor that she bore any children to Henry. Anne’s mother gives her the advice that women can better achieve what they want by allowing men to believe they are in charge; it is the art of being a woman.
In this movie, Mary does become pregnant by the king and is seen openly walking with him (not likely. Henry was devoutly Catholic at this point. It’s one thing to take a mistress, and expected of royal men [but frowned upon by women…double standard]. It’s another to set aside your lawful wife…whose nephew is the Holy Roman Emperor). Her family becomes highly favored and gains new titles and lands. The mother is quick to point out to the father that this all can disappear as quick as it comes. But when Mary is confined for the health of her child, the king’s head can turn and another family can pull the same stunt that the Howards and Boleyns have and put their daughters’ in the king’s eye. They fear the Seymours. So they recall Anne. She takes the opportunity to flirt with Henry. Mary knows that Anne will not act in Mary’s interests; she will act with her own. And Anne beguiles the king. But she holds out against his sexual advances; she knows she cannot fully trust him. He’s already been unfaithful to his wife and has taken her own sister as mistress. There will be no difference in Anne. I cannot remember from my reading if it was truly Anne’s idea for Henry to break from the Catholic church in order to annul his marriage, or if it was Henry’s idea so he was not bound to Rome. Anne allows Henry to have hope when her sister bears a son, knowing she’ll lose the king if not.
We know that Henry breaks from Rome and establishes his own Church of England and brings about the Reformation. His marriage to Catherine is annulled based upon her being married to his elder brother before him (there is historical contention whether their marriage was actually consummated). Henry marries Anne. She eventually bears him a healthy daughter, Elizabeth. Henry remarks “if we can have a healthy daughter, we can have a healthy son.” The movie shows one miscarriage (historically, she miscarried when Henry was grievously injured in a joust). She also had a stillborn child. Research has come out that Henry had a condition that affected his wives that they had difficulty carrying multiple pregnancies, particularly later in their lives. The film shows Anne, desperate, asks her own brother George for help. His wife, whom he has a strained relationship, witnesses the plea and reports both to the Duke of Norfolk and the king himself. Anne and George are subsequently arrested; Anne charged with adultery and incest. In truth, most of the charges are believed to have been the work of Thomas Cromwell, a former ally until they clashed politically (though not completely proven). (Cromwell is not even shown in this film). And she was charged with adultery with seven men, including some members of court. She was found guilty, even by her own uncle (this was all political for him). Being queen, she was executed by a skilled swordsman. The film shows Mary pleading with Henry on her sister’s behalf and expecting Henry to spare Anne. He does not. She’s shown picking Elizabeth up from her mother and leaving with the child (she was already at Hever Castle with her own household at this point, including the former princess Mary).
The film finishes summing up what happened to several of the characters. Mary did indeed marry William Stafford. But it was done in secret and angered both King Henry and Anne and she was banished from court, mainly due to his inferior prospects. She had four children (though at the closing of the film, they show three, one of them being little Elizabeth). Her first child was actually a girl, then a son, both by William Carey. She may had had two further children by William Stafford. On the bright side, the film is correct in stating “Henry’s fear of leaving England without a strong successor turned out to be unfounded. He did leave an heir, who was to rule over England for forty-five years. It was not the boy he yearned for, but the strong red-haired girl Anne gave him – Elizabeth.”
I will admit, the costumes in the movie are gorgeous, though they seem to dress Eric Bana in wide coats to give the impression of the girth Henry displayed later in life. At that age, Henry was still young and athletic. I don’t think it does a well of a job displaying the intrigues that The Tudors does, but they’re trying to compress a lot of events into a two hour film. It does show that a lot of what occurred were older men using young women as pawns to gain power and wealth. And if you want an author to read who has done a lot of research into the Tudors, read Alison Weir.
Next: Slight change in plans (due to me not being able to find the movies I wanted, but I think it will be okay), we’ll jump to Rob Roy.
But, a quick note on Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth. I remember reading the Royal Diaries book on her as a girl. I actually read several of them and the Dear America books, and that’s a contributing factor to me later becoming a history major. Elizabeth I was my first favorite queen and partly led me to British history (I already liked Robin Hood at that point, but this was a queen, a woman I could admire). Of course, actually studying history gives a lot more insight to what was simplified for a children’s book. I remember it painting Mary in very bad light, yet I eventually learned there are parts of her tale that are sympathetic as well. I believe that Elizabeth I was a great queen, but she had her downfalls as well. And the Tudors lead into the Stuarts, which became another favorite time period of mine to study. When I graduated college with my history degree, I considered for a while finding a job near Jamestown and the other early colonies so I could tie in my interest of British history with American history (did not work out, decent paying jobs in the field with the experience that I had are hard to come by; I’ll spare you my rant on the viscous circle that exists.)
Just thought I’d give a little insight. If you have any further questions, let me know!