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The Anne Boleyn Villain Series: Introduction
By Bayly Ogden
On May 2, 1536, the trial of the century had reached its verdict: Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, was found guilty of high treason in the form of adultery and incest. Her sentence was execution by either burning or block1, determined by the king's pleasure. But what lead to this abrupt ending to a ten year romance, and was she guilty?
Both historians and the media have attempted to answer this question. Historians today have determined those charges are most likely false due to a lack of evidence. Historians have also concluded that the reason behind Anne Boleyn’s downfall is the direct result of her enemies. In the movies, however, there a multiple portrayals of her with the constant verdict of guilty. But if history has cleared her name then why is she still portrayed like the villain in movies?
The story of Henry VIII and his six wives is a dramatic tale in itself. This is the quest of a man desperate for a male heir and allowing this desperation to control both his reign and his personal life, running five of his marriages. With his track record of two divorced, two beheaded, and one dead, it naturally sparks interest in a twenty first century audience.
Recently there has been a new revival in both Tudorian and Elizabethan themed movies and shows. Audiences are becoming obsessed with the drama of the Tudors. In the past decade there have been many movies and television series created concerning the Tudors, Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. Two recent productions concerning Henry VIII, “The Other Boleyn Girl” (2008) and “The Tudors” (2007), are two different portrayals of Anne Boleyn.
The reason behind this negative portrayal of Anne is a simple motivation to move the plot along. A story is much more appealing to audiences with a female fatale than with a woman wanting to simply settle down and have a few sons. The story of Henry VIII and his six wives were described by the Historian David Starkey:
"Is an incomparable cast of characters, with a male lead who begins as Prince Charming and ends as a Bloated Monster with a face like a Humpty-Dumpty of Nightmare. While, among the woman (at least conventionally told)…full range of female stereotypes: the Saint, the Schemer, the Doormat, the Dim Fat Girl, the Sexy teenager, and the Bluestocking." (Starkey XV)
The movies are solely a source of entertainment and should be viewed for that purpose only, not for a history lesson. Yet audiences are not taking these portrayals for face value, and they are influencing people’s opinion of Anne Boleyn.
The rare movie or TV show does portray Lady Anne Boleyn favorably, as seen in recent productions such as “The Tudors." Instead of creating a negative portrayal of Lady Anne Boleyn to sell tickets, movie producers and writers should embrace the true character of Lady Anne Boleyn: a determined lady that went against the times and set out to make her own path using her education and connections. Hopefully this evolution will change the public’s opinion of Lady Anne Boleyn from villain to victim.
1 The Block is a reference to the execution style of beheading