One of my favourite sites is called Frock Flicks where they review movies, TV series etc. and have a passion for historical costumes as well as historical detail. I am now going to borrow one of their most famous lines for this, which I think every person even a little bit knowledgable of history will appreciate and hopefully use later on: Philippa f*king Gregory. Yes, that sums up my feeling of her works, as well as this movie, very well.
Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England has delved a stillborn baby boy. Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary are set to marry influential men whom their father has chosen for them, Mary marries. With the Queen out of favour Henry is persuaded unknowingly and with Anne’s father’s permission to pursue Anne until Anne makes a mistake and he is interested in Mary. Anne marries in secret and is send to the French Court. When Mary has the illegitimate baby of Henry she is too ill to satisfy him and so Anne is called back. She uses this opportunity to use her new French Court knowledge to her favour to woo Henry and to get revenge on her sister Mary to taking Henry away from her.
Now a little clarification why this movie makes me burn with seething rage while something like The Tudors TV-series doesn’t. Self awareness. The Tudors knew it was a historical romp with soap opera acting and plots set to historical costumes, that’s what makes it enjoyable to me as a whole. Yes, it tries to keep to dates and accurate backstories as well which is a point to its favour along with the actors portrayal of their historical counterparts with some being spot on like Natalie Dormer’s Anne Boleyn who was actually listened to when she wanted Anne to be more truthful to history and more complex in the second season and then the less than the impressive Henry portrayed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and I do admit the lets say problematic showing of someone like Katherine Howard as a Midlife Crisis Henry’s flighty and air headed plaything and hardly anything else is a point away in my book. It has been a while since I’ve seen the series so I will only concentrate on that point for this. It tries to keep to historical accuracy in dates and what happed, which The Other Boleyn Girl movie doesn’t. And on comes the ever more problematic Madonna-Whore trope which is so prominent in this movie where nuance hardly exists and unlike The Tudors, it isn’t fun to watch unless its for the snark factor with a wine glass in hand while laughing at all the historical inaccuracies. The movie takes itself so seriously with all these inaccuracies that it’s painful to watch. The TV series are a good hate watch as well, with their terrible costuming and dismissal of history in favour of a kind of fairy tale soap opera version of history I really hope no one takes seriously. Oh and Philippa Gregory is NOT a historian!
I mean, I am not a historian – yet – and even I know the basic facts that this film ignores. I am usually quite lenient on historical accuracies if it makes a good story or at least has the same spirit and shows knowledge of history but has to cut some things for runtime – those I can tolerate and even enjoy – but this movie has absolutely no excuse even though its plot is from a historical fiction book, since it could make it better historically but chooses not to because I suppose the book fanbase would be up in arms. And I do understand the fact that what Gregory writes is nice to read – I’ve read her The Kingmaker’s Daughter about Anne Neville because I liked her and Richard’s romance in The White Queen TV series but never really finished it because seeing the TV series it would end on a sour note I didn’t want myself to read it as well. But when it comes to adaptations of her work sometimes I think that its better to fix something that is broken and that is the historical inaccuracies and characterisations that appear. I know the age old argument is that its entertainment not a documentary, but if Blackadder could conceive of historically accurate entertainment then why can’t you? And yes, I am aware the comparison is an odd one with Blackadder going all fun with an air headed Queen Elizabeth I for comedy’s sake, but it is still historically authentic in both clothing and the stories it tells in the midst of all the fun, which are both absent in the TV versions of Greogory’s book’s.
The performances in this movie are OK in my book. Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn is fine and at times entertaining and her RP accent is fine, except sometimes you can hear the American underneath all the infections. Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn – don’t hate me for saying this – is quite boring and like a plank of wood, but that is more the fault of the character than her. Eric Bana as Henry VIII surprisingly captures a sort of dangerous charm about the historic man and the menace then comes later on. The rest of the cast is full of British talent that in there scenes are more interesting than the main cast whenever they are together.
And now to the costumes. I am fine with them, there are odd things here and there but Sandy Powell knows her stuff and some pieces are beautiful. Though a warning here whenever Mary and Anne are in Ken they wear German Renaissance dresses IN KENT! Obviously not historically accurate.
The Madonna-Whore dichotomy in this irritates me to no end. Anne Boleyn was a real person with complexities that sadly we know very little about historically because almost everything of her existence was destroyed after death and here she is presented as a schemer who reached too high with her own ambitions that reeks of Tudor propaganda after her death even though scholarship has been done to make out her real character before this film came about. She is like some evil queen and none of her accomplishments are looked on or her pride in them for that matter. Also the big elephant in the room. THE FREAKING INCEST NEVER HAPPENED! Henry most likely wanted her just gone and his people used every view rumour to get rid of her. As I said all the Tudor propaganda about Anne is right here if one needs to find them.
Sorry to have gone on a little tirade throughout this whole review of this movie but it just irritates me to no end. If you like it, fine, I don’t and won’t judge you and it has some good parts it’s just the plot that irritates me as well as the characterisations. So if you enjoy this then go watch it if you want, I am not an expert nor do I judge you for enjoying this movie for some reasons that I just can’t fathom. We all have our taste in things, but this just isn’t mine.
Thank you for reading!