Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Peanut Gallery: Henry VIII I am not and William Carey feels

I've been threatening to write a post on The Other Boleyn Girl and I've finally gotten around to it (after surviving move-out/move-in week at my apartment which actually was not so terrible). I was debating whether to focus on just the book or just the movie and then I decided I would do a side-by-side comparison because that will be easiest. Also, because I have differing feelings on the two of them.
I decided to read The Other Boleyn Girl because Phillipa Gregory is immensely popular but I know nothing about her writing other than the fact that an acquaintance of mine hates her in the same passionate vein that my professor hates Baudelaire. Also, I wanted to see the movie and I like reading the book a movie is based off of before I see it, if I can. And I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

So, the book. It was pretty standard historical fiction/romance, I suppose. However, I had a hard time relating to the characters. Except for William Carey who I thought was rather lovely and really liked and was really quite confused as to why Mary Boleyn was so unimpressed with him and much rather preferred Henry VIII. Actually, I just don't understand why Henry VIII was such a hot item. He slept around with everyone, he blamed his wives for being unable to conceive sons (ooh, Henry, you're going to be so pissed to hear that it's actually your problem), he was kind of a dick to everyone. I'm at a complete loss for Mary and Anne's interest in him and I think that severely ruined my ability to understand the romance going on, because all the while I'm rooting for Carey while Mary is falling in love with the king. Oops.

The relations at court were interesting though, and I thought the representations of the Boleyn family was intriguing and complicated. I don't know much about the Boleyns other than what I've managed to scrounge up from conversations with people and from reading a book series from England called Horrible Histories (I never took European history in high school, much to my shame. But it worked out better in the long run because the teacher for that class didn't believe that airplanes were used during World War I. *sigh*). So I really don't know much about the historical accuracy of the book or film and it probably doesn't matter because neither the film or the book work like a documentary. They're just a sort of taking characters that existed and, I don't know, cosplaying with them through writing. Maybe this sort of thing is like historical fan fiction - you take basic historical principles and think about what it must have been like and fill in the gaps of knowledge with what you've been pondering.

Although the moments of historical accuracy were interesting. And tended to bum me out. Like (SPOILERS) when William Carey died of sweating sickness. I'd looked him up on Wikipedia part-way through the book to find out more stuff about him (he collected art, which is pretty awesome) but he really did die of sweating sickness. Which is sort of awful. I mean, all the things to die of in this time period and he gets stuck with sweating sickness? (That is also one of the worst names for a rather serious illness that I've ever heard.) So I was pretty let down with the rest of the book after he died because he was my favorite character and was the only one who legitimately peeved with the Boleyns. I mean, they took his wife away from him so she could sleep with the king so they could gain more power. His family got destroyed after this, even though he was rewarded with a place in court, though he could totally care less as he didn't want to be in court because it wasn't exactly a safe place to be. He couldn't make any choices for himself because everything was being dictated by his in-laws. Oh, and he dies of sweating sickness. I was having some pretty hefty William Carey feels after realizing how shitty things were for him. He got pretty royally screwed over by history (literally).

I also spent much of the book wondering how anyone did anything in clothes like this:
 Really, I don't know how they did it. I'm still wondering about this...

There was also this sense of dissonance I got while reading the sexual stuff in the book and wondering, "Jeez, did people really do blow jobs in the 1500s?" Probably. There's this idea that the past was more sexually innocent when one learns history, well, at least in how I was taught history (at times, but then there's also the idea that it was more promiscuous and dangerous, what with the portrayal of all the raping and pillaging and such). But there's still a sense of weirdness about all of it. Maybe there's more to this; maybe this is why shows like The Tudors are so popular; because there's this strange sort of feeling upon realizing that historical figures had sex and that by watching/reading this sort of thing you learn something personal, intimate about them that's hard to get from a historical text. But I'm kind of digressing again...

Anyway, the end of the book got really weird for me. I didn't much care for William Stafford (Mary's second husband; seems she had a thing for Williams). The insinuation that Anne Boleyn slept with her brother and conceived this monstrous child out of punishment from God was a bit much for me to handle. And by the end of the book, I'd kind of stopped caring about any of the characters, partly because they weren't that easy to relate with and partly because I'm clearly not the intended audience for this book.

So then I watched the movie (actually, I watched the movie before I finished the book but I only had 200 pages left and I knew what was going to happen because it's widely known knowledge that Anne Boleyn is executed by the king). I'd always been sort of intrigued by the film because I like historical dramas. And I found out this guy was in it:

Yup, another Benedict Cumberbatch film. Any bets on which character he plays?

It's William Carey. Because, you know, the odds that my favorite actor plays my favorite character in the book should be rather slim, but since when did that matter? Regardless, there is some pretty damn fine acting to be had from Mr. Cumberbatch and William Carey feels had by all.

Which brings me to my very, very serious complaint about this film. As much as I hate the part where William Carey dies of sweating sickness, this entire sequence has been cut from the movie. Which gives some really serious plot problems. One moment Mary Boleyn (played by the lovely Scarlett Johansson) is married to Carey. Then later Mary is falling in love with William Stafford (played by Eddie Redmayne) and I'm confused as hell as to where Carey got off to. Obviously he still died. But somehow this was cut out of the film. If you watch the deleted scenes, the whole sequence is in there (with some pretty great and painful to watch bits of Carey suffering from sweating sickness). It's like five minutes at the most so why the decided to cut it out for time rather than continuity is beyond me (maybe because they realized that Benedict Cumberbatch's ability to cry on cue would make the scene more powerful than anything with King Henry and they couldn't have that. Or maybe they just had a really crap editor). Anyway, this bit annoys me and makes me think they either didn't catch this flub or decided there was so much craziness going on with the Boleyns, it wouldn't matter if they implied bigamy.
But on that note, I was rather glad the film scrapped the whole idea of Anne (played by Natalie Portman) sleeping with her brother, George (Jim Sturgess; there are a ridiculous number of familiar actors to me in this film; it's nuts) because that was a bit much. I also like that Anne is much more sympathetic but this also really cut down on the complexity of the relationship between Anne and Mary. And then there was this whole addition of a rape scene with Anne and King Henry which was not in the book and just really disturbing. I'm not sure why the did that and I rather wish they'd left it out, unless they had some sort of historical motivation to do so. (Rape scene, yes; William Carey's death, no. I don't get this film.)
Adding on to the list of things I don't get is again King Henry VIII. Is he supposed to be romantic in this film? Because I'm not seeing it. I'm not an Eric Bana fangirl, so maybe that's part of the problem. (Although he was pretty epic in the Star Trek movie. Okay, now I'm utterly distracted by the fact that both Eric Bana and Benedict Cumberbatch are in this movie and they both have played/are playing Star Trek villains in the franchise's revival. Bizarre.) I think I fail at historical romance; apparently kings are supposed to be sexy and one isn't supposed to be questioning whether their intentions are really heart-felt and whether they're misogynists or not. I'm not any good at this sort of thing, so I'm simply not going to dwell on it any longer.
So my feelings about this film are rather mixed; the acting is good but the script leaves things wanting. However, it does have a great cast and Eddie Redmayne makes me care about William Stafford a lot more. Also, Juno Temple has as small role as Jane Parker, the wife of George Boleyn. She was Lola in Atonement and I am rather keen on seeing more of her films so this made me incredibly happy. And I just found the minor characters more interesting than the major ones, which is really a bit odd. The entire story is focused around Mary and Anne and Henry and yet I'm far more intrigued by William Carey, Jane Parker, the Boleyn parents (especially the mother, who is portrayed very differently in the film than in the book, which I rather liked). Maybe if the film had balanced it out more with more focus on the minor characters, it would have worked better.

Who knows. I basically saw this movie because it had Benedict Cumberbatch in it, so really that discredits everything I've said :P So I'll leave you with my lack of credibility and a funny little comic bit from Hark, a Vagrant:


  1. *sigh* Now you've made me want to read the book again! (And watch the film, because I was away when my family watched it :/) I know for sure that I've read it, but I don't remember a thing about it (although I think I read it about six years ago, so that's not unsurprising). I'm pretty sure I wasn't a huge Henry VIII fan, but I tend to stay away from romances with kings in the historical fiction I read because I spend too long doubting their authenticity (because authenticity is definitely what people are looking for in their historical romances). Give me a lesser-known medieval knight any day - they can still be incredibly important people (see William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke), but no one has ever heard of them so I think there's more leeway for creativity.
    I fansquee-d more over the grave of William Marshal when I visited with my cousin than I did when Mark Gatiss walked past me in the theatre a month or two ago. I worry about myself sometimes XD

    1. I have a great appreciation for lesser known historical figures, so I completely understand (William Marshal is now being added to my list of people I should definitely read about).

      And I can understand the fansqueeing over William Marshal's grave; I am a huge Van Gogh fansquee and spent far too long staring at the only paining of his in the Minnapolis Institute of Art when I discovered it was there. Unfortunately for me, my favorite historical person also happens to be played by my favorite actor in film, which is a coincidence I find utterly uncanny (I mean, seriously, I've been a Van Gogh fan for many years and I only found about Benedict Cumberbatch a year ago.) Thus, I cannot allow myself to watch Painted with Words, as seeing it would bring two of my biggest fansquee elements together and I imagine that might make my mind implode or something.