How One Actress Is Reshaping the Story of Anne Boleyn

Jodie Turner-Smith plays Henry VIII’s unlucky wife in a new miniseries. The show has sparked debate in the UK, which is kind of an issue.

LONDON – Britain’s most recent rendering of the story of Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry VIII’s six wives, begins at the end. When the mini-series “Anne Boleyn” opens, it’s 1536, the queen is pregnant and powerful – and has five months left to live.

The story of Anne, which holds a special place in the British collective imagination, has given rise to an abundance of fictional depictions on screen (“The Tudor”) and in literature (“Wolf Hall”). It is generally stated as a morally dubious young woman who seduces an elder king into leaving his wife and her church, before failing to give birth to a male heir. To be killed

But the mini-series, which premiered last week on Channel 5, one of Britain’s public service broadcasters, attempts to redefine Anne’s story, instead focusing on her final months and how she tried to maintain power in a system that gave him little guarantees.

In the three-episode-long series, the role of Anne is played by Jodie Turner-Smith, best known for her role in the film “Queen and Slim”. This is the first time a black actress has portrayed a Tudor Queen on screen.

“We wanted to find someone who could really inhabit that but also be a surprise to the audience,” Faye Ward, one of the show’s executive producers, said in an interview. Since there were already so many portrayals of Anne Boleyn, the show’s producers wanted to “reset people’s expectations,” Ward said.

The series employs a diverse casting playbook, similar to that of the Regency-era Netflix drama “Bridgeton.” But while the characters in that show are fictional, actors of color in “Anne Boleyn” play several white historical figures: British-Ghanian actor Papa Essidu plays Anne’s brother George Boleyn, and British-Brazilian actress Thalissa Teixeira. portrays Anne’s cousin Madge Shelton. Waiting lady.

Although race is not explicitly mentioned in the show’s plot, the program producers adopted an approach known as “identity-conscious casting”, which allowed actors to “bring all those factors of themselves into a role”. Gives, Ward said.

For Turner-Smith, this meant linking her experiences to the ways in which Anne, who had grown up at the French court, was an outsider and suffered at Henry’s court.

“As a black woman, I can understand being marginalised. I have a live experience of what it feels like to be bordered and marginalized,” Turner-Smith, 34, said in an interview. “I thought that It was interesting to bring in the freshness of the black body that told that story.”

There’s Reason To Cast Turner-Smith As One Of Britain’s Most Famous Royal Wives debate In the press and especially on social media in the UK, “Anne Boleyn” was trending on Twitter the day after the series premiered.

in paper Daily Telegraph, writer Marianka Swain called Turner-Smith’s casting “quite cynical” and wrote that it was designed “for Twitter frothing rather than adding anything to our understanding of an era”.

However, others have welcomed the show’s approach. Olivet Otelle, Professor of the History of Slavery and Memory of Slavery at the University of Bristol noted free in The newspaper series came at a time when Britain was “soul searching” about understanding its colonial past. “The past is only a safe place if it becomes a place of learning for all,” she wrote in praise of the series.

During the show’s press run, Turner-Smith remarks about the royal family’s treatment of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex – including her being in the family “a missed opportunityFor the monarchy – made headlines in Britain.

Meghan’s treatment by the palace – which she told Oprah Winfrey in a blistering March interview had driven her to suicidal thoughts – said Turner-Smith, representative of “how far we have come with patriarchal values”. is.

“It shows how far we haven’t come in terms of monarchy and in terms of being someone outsider and being different and being able to navigate that space,” she said, “if you look at You can draw many parallels to them” between Anne and Meghan’s attempts to explore life within the British palace.

Turner-Smith said, “There is little room for gray to touch the monarchy—which, when cast as Anne, fully expected to attract criticism in the country.

For the actress, that presented even more reason to hold back against people’s assumptions about Anne. “Art is going to challenge you,” she said. “The whole point of making it this way was for a different point of view. What is going to resonate with someone by putting a different face on it and looking at it differently?”

Dr. Stephanie Russo, author of “The Afterlife of Anne Boleyn: Representation of Anne Boleyn in Fiction and on the Screen”, said that there were several reasons for the Tudors of Britain, and for Anne in particular. The “soap opera” of a young woman disrupting a long-term marriage remains fascinating, she said, as does the rise and fall of a powerful woman.

There is also a patriotic element, Rousseau said: Anne’s daughter was Elizabeth I, the monarch who oversaw Britain’s “Golden Age”, when William Shakespeare was writing his plays and many historians attribute the birth to the British Empire. .

The series was conceived as a feminist exercise, with show writer Eve Hedrwick Turner unpacking “those bigoted, derogatory and hurtful words” associated with Anne, which at the time included charges of treason, adultery and incest with her brother were involved. .

In the mini-series, Anne does not favor Henry after the stillbirth. No matter how powerful or ambitious she is, she is no match for the forces that try to quell her, including her husband, her advisors, and the country’s legal system. At all times, she tries not to show vulnerability in public.

It was important, Hederwick Turner said, for the creators to “put Anne back at the center of her story, make her the hero, see everything from her point of view.”

The political intrigue of Henry VIII and his advisors, their inner life, and their motivations are largely obscured throughout the series. Instead, the audience learns of Anne’s state of mind and her relationships with the awaited women of her family.

Turner-Smith said, “Henry is called this great man, because he had all these wives” and killed some of them. “It’s exactly that: Actually, there’s a woman at the center of this story who is so dynamic and charming and interesting.”

“Wolf Hall” trilogy writer Hilary Mantle, charting the life of Thomas Cromwell who served Henry VIII, is written in one 2013 Piece for London Review of Books How fictional accounts of Anne’s life communicate society’s contemporary attitudes towards women.

“The popular narrative about Tudor has also been a form of moral education about women’s lives, although what is taught varies with moral fashion,” she said.

What, then, does this “Anne Boleyn” say about today’s world?

“We’re finally getting to a place where we’re allowing women to be more than just a trope,” Turner-Smith said.

Traditionally, when playing a female character, “You’re either Madonna or you’re a prostitute, right?” he said. But in this series, “we’re saying that we’re afraid to show different sides of a woman.”

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