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The Anne Boleyn Villain Series: The Media
By Bayly Ogden
The first movie portrayal of Anne Boleyn came in 1912. It was a short film about Cardinal Wolsey. Since then. there have been many movies about Henry VIII and his six wives. There have been two different portrayals of Lady Boleyn throughout the films: the independent woman who was following her heart and the cold, calculating woman out for revenge due to the loss of her one true love.
In these movies, there are many differences between the fiction and reality. The first apparent difference is the casting of Anne as the “young and beautiful.” The majority of historians agree that Anne was not particularly attractive by standards of the time. As a brunette with dark eyes and darker coloring, she did not fit the typical 16th-century English standards of fair eye and blue eyes (Friedmann). Another element to touch upon is her age. In the films Anne remains a young beauty, but how is this possible throughout a ten year courtship? During the final three years of her life, Anne’s youthful looks faded away due to both the passing of time and the stress of maintaining her marriage (Friedmann).
The first major film production about Anne Boleyn was “Anne of the Thousand Days.” “Anne of the Thousand Days” was directed by Charles Jarrott and released in 1969. The plot line of the film is as follows: “Henry VIII of England discards one wife, Catharine of Aragon, who has failed to produce a male heir, in favor of the young and beautiful Anne Boleyn, whose one-thousand-day reign as Queen of England ends with the loss of her head on the block” (IMDB). The tagline picks up on the natural drama of the court of Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn is portrayed by Genevieve Bujold. Bujold portrays Anne as an independent woman throughout the entire story: making decisions for herself, without the guidance of her uncle, even standing up for herself during her trial where she crossed integrated Mark Smeaton, one of Anne’s supposed lovers.
There are many inaccuracies such as the interrogated of Mark Smeaton by Lady Anne Boleyn, which was not possible since she was not allowed to attend her own trial. But this interrogation scene is crucial in creating a positive portrayal of Anne Boleyn because it shows her education. The ability to understand law and to conduct your own cross-examination requires both intelligence and reasoning.
Though Anne would have never been able to receive that amount of education, it does not mean she never received that level of knowledge. She was trained in Latin, which she used with Henry during the review of the Bible for legitimate support of his annulment. This film is important in creating a more positive image of Anne Boleyn because to focuses on education which highlights a positive trait of Anne Boleyn.
Unlike the quite progressive portrayal of Anne in “Anne of the Thousand Days,” it seems like movies portraying her use the standard cookie-cutter model of a cold, calculating women--from “The Six Wives of Henry VIII,” which was a six part miniseries produced by BBC, to full blown costume dramas such as “The Other Boleyn Girl.”
One series in particular, “Henry VIII,” goes further to suggest that Anne worked with her uncle Duke of Norfolk hand in hand during her rise to power as revenge to Cardinal Wolsey, the man who broke up her betrothal to Henry Percy. But is this an accurate statement of Anne's motives? Yes, Anne did not like Cardinal Wolsey, but she was not the only one at court. There is no evidence to suggest that Anne’s motives were fueled by revenge. This inaccurate assumption of Anne is the prime basis of the film “The Other Boleyn Girl.”
“The Other Boleyn Girl” was based on the historical fiction novel of the same name. It's rife rife with multiple inaccuracies, even suggesting that there was an attempt of incest between Anne and her brother George. Anne, as portrayed by Natalie Portman, is again a cold, calculating woman. The film does not mention a love story between Henry and Anne. Instead it shows Anne constantly playing Henry for a marriage and Henry following along; it even suggests that Henry raped Anne out of frustration, thus impregnating her. “The Other Boleyn” shows the drama of the Tudors but does not accurately portray Anne at all, even with her background, and focuses too much on her downfall.
While the portrayal of Lady Anne Boleyn has been extremely negative, a recent series produced by Showtime set out to fix it. “The Tudors” was aired from 2007 to 2010, running for about four seasons. The portrayal of Anne by Natalie Dormer is a progressive take, which touches upon the concept of Anne being an independent and ambitious woman. The main focus of the relationship between Anne and Henry is on love. It's a love story with its ups and downs, fueled by passion that lasts ten years.
During the course of the love story, the series shows Anne’s obsession with becoming Henry’s wife and queen. This obsession fuels Anne to persuade Henry to obtain an annulment of his marriage but it still acknowledges that it was Henry, not Anne, who was the main aggressor in pursuing the divorce. The series suggests the reasons behind Anne’s downfall were purely brought upon by both the fact that she could not have a son and her enemies' doing. If more shows and movies structured their scripts around keeping the historical facts correct, as in “The Tudors,” Anne's image would improve.
Anne's tale is a tale known by the world: a king who defied the Pope by divorcing his wife to marry another woman only to execute her three years later. This story has been played out hundreds times in art and media. The majority of the portrayals depict Lady Anne Boleyn as a negative character, but she wasn’t. She was a lover, an educated woman, and a driven, passionate person. Audiences have been long been deceived about Lady Anne Boleyn. If scripts were more historically accurate, then the facts would speak for the true character of Lady Anne Boleyn.
Sources throughout 'The Anne Boleyn Villain Series':
"Anne of the Thousand Days" Dir. Charles Jarrott. Perf. Genevive Bujold. 1969. Videocassette.
Bernard, C.W. Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions. New Haven: Yale UP, 2010. Print.
Friedmann, Paul. Anne Boleyn : a Chapter of English History, 1527-1536. London: Macmillan and, 1884. Print.
Henry VIII. Dir. Pete Travis. Perf. Ray Winstone. 2003. DVD.
“Henry VIII and his Six Wives” Prod. Mark Shives and Ronald Traves. Perf. Keith Michell and Patrick Throughton. BBC Films, 1970. Videocassette.
Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn 'Most Happy' Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. Print.
"Sister Act." Interview by Danielle Stein. W Magazine. Conde Nast Digital, Mar. 2008. Web. 22 Sept. 2010. http://www.wmagazine.com/celebrities/2008/03/scarlett_johansson_natalie_portman?currentPage=1
Starkey, David. "Part Two: Rival Queens." The Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. London: Vintage, 2004. 257-569. Print.
“The Six Wives of Henry VIII” Prod. Mark Shives and Ronald Traves. Perf. Keith Michell and Patrick Throughton. BBC Films, 1970. Videocassette.
“The Other Boleyn Girl”. Dir. Justing Chadwick. Screenplay by Peter Morgan. Perf. Natalie Portman, Scarlet, and Eric Bana. Columbia Pictures, 2008. DVD.
“The Tudors” Screenplay by Michael Hirst. Perf. Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Showtime, 2007. DVD.
"The Tudors" Screenplay by Michael Hirst. Perf. Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Showtime, 2008. DVD.
Zagorin, Perez. "Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Court of Henry VIII." The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Winter 1993, 113-141.)
Warnicke, Retha. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. Print.