LONDON – Britain’s latest version of the story of Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry VIII’s six wives, begins at the end. When the new mini-series “Anne Boleyn” opens, it’s 1536, the queen is pregnant and powerful – and she has five months left to live.
Anne’s story, which occupies a special place in the British collective imagination, has produced an abundance of fictionalized depictions on screen (“The Tudors”) and in literature (“Wolf Hall”). It is usually told as a morally dubious young woman who seduces an older king into leaving his wife and his church, before being executed for not giving birth to a male heir.
But the new mini-series, which was published last week on Channel 5, one of the British broadcasters, seeks to reformulate Anne’s story, but focuses on her last months and how she tries to maintain power in a system that very little guaranteed.
In the series of three episodes, Anne is played by Jodie Turner-Smith, best known for her role in the movie “Queen & Slim.” This is the first time a black actress has portrayed the Tudor Queen on screen.
“We wanted to find someone who could really inhabit her, but also surprise an audience,” Faye Ward, one of the show’s executive producers, said in an interview. Since there have been so many images of Anne Boleyn, the creators of the program wanted to ‘restore people’s expectations of her’, Ward said.
The series uses a diverse book for casting, to a similar extent as the Netflix drama “Bridgerton” from the Regency era. But while the characters of the program are fictional, actors from “Anne Boleyn” play different white historical figures: the British-Ghanaian actor Paapa Essiedu plays the brother of Anne George Boleyn, and the British-Brazilian actress Thalissa Teixeira plays Madge Shelton, her cousin and lady-in-waiting.
Although race does not appear openly in the program’s plot, the program makers took an approach called ‘identity-conscious division,’ which enables actors to ‘play a role in all the factors of yourself,’ Ward said.
For Turner-Smith, this means that she connects her experiences with the ways in which Anne, who was raised in the French court, was an outsider and suffered at Henry’s court.
As a black woman, I can understand that I am being marginalized. I have a living experience of how limitation and marginalization feel, ‘Turner-Smith, 34, said in an interview. “I found it interesting to tell the freshness of a black body that tells the story.”
Turner-Smith’s ruling as one of Britain’s most famous royal countries has caused debate in the press and especially on social media in Britain, with ‘Anne Boleyn’ the day after the premiere of the series on Twitter.
In the newspaper The Daily Telegraph, author Marianka Swain called Turner-Smith’s cast “fairly cynical” and wrote that it was designed to ‘make Twitter foam rather than add something to our understanding of an era.’
Others, however, welcomed the perspective of the program. Olivette Otele, a professor of the history of slavery and remembrance of slavery at the University of Bristol, remarked in The Independent newspaper that the series had arrived at a time when Britain was ‘soul-searching’ on how to understand its colonial past. “The past is only a safe space if it becomes a learning space that is open to all,” she praised for the series.
During the program’s press release, Turner-Smith’s comments on the royal family’s treatment of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex – including that she had her in the family:a missed opportunity“For the monarchy – made headlines in Britain.
The treatment of Meghan by the palace, which she said during a bomb interview with Oprah Winfrey in March, drove her thoughts about suicide – is a representation of ‘how far we have not come with patriarchal values,’ said Turner-Smith.
“It represents how far we have not come in terms of the monarchy and in terms of someone who is an outsider and is different, and can navigate space,” she said, adding: “you can draw so many parallels if you look for them ”between Anne and Meghan’s attempts to find out life inside a British palace.
“There is very little room for someone who is brown to touch the monarchy,” Turner-Smith said.
For the actress, it offers even more reason to return against the assumptions of people about Anne. “Art is supposed to challenge you,” she said. ‘The point of making it so was a different perspective. What is going to resonate with someone by putting it differently and seeing it differently? ‘
Dr Stephanie Russo, author of “The Afterlife of Anne Boleyn: Representations of Anne Boleyn in Fiction and on the Screen”, said that there were many reasons for Britain’s fascination with and association with the Tudors, and specifically Anne. The “soapie” of a younger woman disrupting a long-term marriage remains fascinating, she said, as well as the rise and fall of a powerful woman.
There is also a patriotic element, according to Russo: Anne’s daughter was Elizabeth I, the monarch who oversaw the ‘golden era’ of Britain, when William Shakespeare wrote his plays and many historians acknowledge that the British Empire was born .
The series was considered a feminist exercise and unpacked what Eve Hedderwick Turner, the show’s author, called ‘those big, insulting and detrimental terms’ attached to Anne, which at the time accused him of treason, adultery and’ includes a bloodthirsty relationship with her brother. .
In the mini-series, Anne falls outside the favor of Henry after a stillbirth. No matter how nominally powerful or ambitious she is, she is not suited to the forces that want to extinguish her, which includes her husband, his advisers and the country’s legal system. All the while, she tries not to show defenselessness in public.
It was important, according to Hedderwick Turner, that the creators “put Anne in the center of her story and make her the protagonist and saw everything from her perspective.”
The political forces of Henry VIII and his advisers, his internal life and his motivations are largely obscured in the series. Instead, viewers are aware of Anne’s state of mind and her relationship with the housewives.
“Henry is referred to as this great man, because he had all these women,” and killed some of them, Turner-Smith said. “It’s just like: there’s a woman in the middle of this story who’s so dynamic, fascinating and interesting.”
Hilary Mantel, the author of the “Wolf Hall” trilogy describing the life of Thomas Cromwell in the service of Henry VIII, writes in a 2013 piece for the London Review of Books about how fictional versions of Anne’s life communicate the contemporary attitude of the community to the community.
“Popular fiction about the Tudors was also a form of moral doctrine about women’s lives, but what is taught varies with moral means,” she said.
So what does this “Anne Boleyn” say about today’s world?
“We’re finally getting to a place where we allow women to become more than just a herd,” Turner-Smith said.
Traditionally, when you play a female character, ‘are you a Madonna or a whore, or what?’ she said. But in this series, “We say we are not afraid to show different sides of a woman.”