To my mother's generation, Anne Boleyn was viewed as an ur-Cosmo Girl, a cunning little vixen who managed to woo her boss out from a loveless marriage to an old superstitious prude, and take over as a beguiling romantic equal. After all, the age of Henry VIII was Merrie England at its best, full of saucy talk, sumptuous feasts, great clothes, romantic poetry and lute songs, dancing, and games. Pity about the beheading part, the feeling went -- who wouldn't love to have a brawnily handsome fellow compose "Greensleeves" for you while you ate little birdies stuffed with spiced honeyed fruits and drank mead under a tree in early summer, trading sophisticated banter until having splendid, full-tilt, raunchy sex.
Unfortunately, this version is written by feminists. Anne is, in this version, less the independent, free-spirited lass for whom Henry was willing to chance the fires of Hell than an unwilling pawn in the complex world of Tudor court skullduggery -- first pressed into service as an impromptu "entertainer" for the King, to everyone's horror, she got him injured in a hunting accident, leading her sister, Mary, to become the King's mistress. (Indeed, in this movie it's the older women -- Anne's mother and Catherine -- who really shine; Anne, Mary and Jane look like clueless bimbos in comparison.) Countless scenes of people looking like a deck of cards ensue, along with endless jaw-jawing about the King's not having an heir out of Catherine of Aragon (she "no longer bleeds", in the delicate language of this film). Mary, despite being married to someone else, couples with Henry, and is cross-examined by her father in terms that make no mistake that she's being used for her uterus. ("Did he have you? More than once? And was he satisfied? Did he say so?") More jaw-jaw, covert war-war among courtiers, Anne's sent off to France. She comes back, tons more sophisticated, and wants to get back at Sis, so she has a swing at Henry, acting coy until he severs the Church of England from Rome. (As an Anglican, I wanted one moment where I could yell "Wehe!" or "Good riddance!" but apparently it's not that kind of show.) More walking around in great clothes, Anne wears green a lot, Henry loses his temper and rapes her. (Sometime later, Anne sorrowfully asks Mary how he was with her, since she's been forced to "do degrading things" to get him to have an erection. Mary:"Tender. Surprisingly so.") There's another of one of a dozen scenes of brutal mistreatment of women in pregnacy and/or labor, and then, Elizabeth is born. Still no cigar!
Trouble is, no one likes Anne, least of all Sis. Anne gets desperate after miscarrying, several times, and Jane Seymour is beginning to look good to ol' Hal, so she tries a go at her brother just to get pregnant by somebody. Mary peeks in on them, Bro just can't get it up, Mary tattles, and Anne gets sent to the Tower. Finally, she makes a great speech about how she's innocent just when Hal, who's more-or-less promised everything will be OK, sends Mary a letter saying he's changed his mind. Ouch!
We end as we began, with a bunch of kids in a field, and subtitles telling us who's what and who finally gets the throne...the little red-haired tyke! THE END.
Natalie Portman looks appropriately regal, Eric Bana is sexy as Hal, there's more authentic period embroidery per square inch than any other film, I can't fault any historical details as far as I know. The script is very good at portraying a slow-mo train wreck in action, and it's clear that the whole crew wants to make sure everyone takes Anne seriously, despite her lapses in judgment. Unfortunately, it's about as much fun to watch as....well, a train wreck. My date wept uncontrollably, I just felt like I couldn't watch (yet I couldn't tear myself away). I know that the Liz Taylor/Richard Burton-like model for their marriage is a relic of a less enlightened age, but why can't we have it both ways? The real Anne Boleyn was known to have been quite intellectual, a bit of a religious hobbyist (calling her Protestant or particularly devout is a stretch), who occasionally chided her ladies-in-waiting for irreverence, and followed the religious debates of the time with a keen interest. At the same time, she was known for having lustily lavish appetites for...well, pretty much everything, and enjoyed singing, playing music, and dancing in Court theatrics as well. In other words, couldn't we have more sex, please, and not so much gynecology?