The Other Boleyn Girl, Part 2

Back in November I found the trailer for the film version of The Other Boleyn Girl. Since then I’ve had a chance to read the book* and watch the movie so I figured I’d say a few things about them. The typical genres I read and enjoy are fantasy and scifi, since this is historical fiction based in nearly the same era as many fantasy novels, I enjoyed this as well.

The Other Boleyn Girl, written by Philippa Gregory, is the story of Mary Boleyn and her sister Anne during the time of King Henry VIII. We see the Howard family (which included the Boleyns) push their daughters to be in the eye of the king to gain advancement in lands, wealth and title. Even though Mary is married to William Carey, when she caught the king’s fancy (the queen only had a daughter and was getting too old to be having children) the Howards effectively separated the two of them and told Mary to encourage the king to make her his mistress. She falls in love with Henry and eventually becomes pregnant.

While she’s cooped up during the last few months of pregnancy, Anne returns to court from France to keep the king’s attentions on Mary. Anne’s ambition kept her refusing to become his mistress and turning away his sexual advances until he eventually divorced the queen and married Anne. When Anne was in the same waiting period with her first child, the king found another to be interested in (Jane Seymour) and after a couple unsuccessful pregnancies it looked like she would be unable to provide the king with an heir. I forget exactly the circumstance, but Mary and Anne’s brother, along with the circle of his friends were arrested and executed. Anne was arrested and eventually beheaded for adultery, incest and treason. Mary’s husband William Carey had died of sweating sickness and she secretly married William Stafford, well below her family’s wishes for advancement. So, after Anne’s execution she lived away from court and in relative disgrace and comfort until she died in her early forties.

Similarly the 2008 film tells the same basic story of the two sisters rivalry over the king, though leaving out many details from the novel. Of course this sort of simplification has to be done in film. I tend not to notice picky details on first watching a movie so I’m sure there are many things I missed that could easily be complained about. However, I think the movie successfully makes the main points of the story. Probably my favorite part wasn’t the costumes or the dancing or the scenery but actually the camera shots from off to the side that were taken from the point of view of a peasant or onlooker who had to peer through tree branches, stall tent flaps or fences. It made the framing interesting where everything else seemed just a bit too perfect and bright for what was likely to be the case in actual history.

What little research I’ve done indicates to me that details tend to be slim about this time period but due to the complex situation is quite popular in many venues. My particular complaint about both the book and movie (as it couldn’t depart too far from the book) is that I’m pretty sure Mary was older than Anne. And if Wikipedia is to be believed several scholars agree with me. As an oldest, I can see similarities in the girls’ outlook and ambition as portrayed in the story to first and second born children. Second borns tend to be much more ambitious and competitive (like Anne), partly because they feel they have to push a bit extra to gain attention and love from their parents over the first born.

I’m not sure I would purchase the film but I might pick up the book if I found it some place. I do plan to read the remainder of the series Gregory has written even with her tweaking what seems to be obvious fact. It’s a fun way to bring interest to an tumultuous time period in history.

* Actually, I listened to the audio book (downloaded from NetLibrary.com free through the library) because all the hard copies at the nearby libraries were either checked out or on hold. At 23.5 hours long, the audio book was, I think, the longest audio book I have listened to ever. I’ve listened to several 18-19 hour books but that’s about the longest up to now.


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