N°2 | From History to Page to Screen: A Mise-en-Abyme of History in The Other Boleyn Girl Novel and Film

Alison Offe


           Abstract :

In 2001 Philippa Gregory published The Other Boleyn Girl which recounts Anne Boleyn’s story. It is a difficult task to reconstruct Boleyn’s life through the different—insufficient and usually biased—sources that have made their way from the 16th century to the 21st, yet Gregory’s interpretation of the events seems to be based on the most controversial academic histories available today. An analysis of her methods as a novelist and of her perception of the characters makes it possible to understand her adaptation of this famous queen’s life. The novel was turned into a film in 2008. Whilst keeping to the fundamentals of the novel, that is overall plot and major characters, director Justin Chadwick has also developed a distinctive narrative voice and some new subplots. It is be interesting to see how the film translates a first-person narrative into an audiovisual medium. Relying on current adaptation theories, this essay attempts to assess the techniques of transfer and adaptation to the film, in addition to the techniques of (re)presenting the past on screen.

Résumé :

En 2001, Philippa Gregory publie The Other Boleyn Girl relatant l’histoire d’Anne Boleyn. Reconstruire la vie de Boleyn n’est pas chose aisée car les différentes sources de l’époque qui ont survécu aujourd’hui sont insuffisantes et souvent biaisées. Gregory représente cependant les événements de l’histoire en se fondant sur les histoires universitaires les plus controversées qui existent. L’analyse de ses méthodes d’écrivain et de sa perception des personnages permettent de comprendre son interprétation de la vie de la reine. Le roman a été adapté au cinéma en 2008 et bien que gardant les bases du roman, l’intrigue générale et les personnages principaux, Justin Chadwick a également développé une narration distincte et de nouveaux éléments d’intrigue. Il est intéressant de voir la façon dont le film traduit la narration autodiégétique dans un format audiovisuel. S’appuyant sur les théories actuelles d’adaptation, cet article évalue les techniques de transfert et d’adaptation d’un roman au cinéma ainsi que les techniques de (re)présentation de l’histoire à l’écran.


        Representing history in literature and cinema requires knowledge about the time period and the key players from the novelist and the filmmaker. In both arts, specific techniques are used to portray the past according to the artist’s point of view with the elements s/he chooses to present to their audience. The duality between “high” scholarship and “low” popular texts manifests itself in the tension between academic research and romantic narratives, or at least the critical reception of texts from these perspectives.

        The Other Boleyn Girl is a historical novel by Philippa Gregory published in 2001. It tells the story of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, and Mary Boleyn, her sister. This novel was acclaimed by a large readership, which propelled Gregory’s career forward. The book sold over 800,000 copies worldwide between 2001 and 2009 (Groot, 12) and it has won several prizes including the Pen Parker Novel of the Year in 2002 and the Romantic Fictional Biography Award the same year (Chrisafis). The Hollywood film of the same name was produced in 2008, starring Natalie Portman who plays Anne Boleyn, Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn and Eric Bana as Henry VIII. It is a period drama directed by Justin Chadwick largely based on Gregory’s work and has made over $26 million profit in the USA and over $77 million worldwide (IMDb).

        Anne Boleyn, the common denominator of both works’ success, is the “other” woman for whom England and its religious establishment were torn apart. Indeed, she advised the King, along with many other reformers, to break with the Roman Catholic Church in order to obtain his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The story of a woman who captures the heart of the King and turns the country upside-down fascinates history and period drama enthusiasts who wish to discover who was behind those dark eyes, which contributed to her myth as a witch.

        This paper will thus focus on the novelistic and cinematic strategies developed to adapt a true life story. With scholarly as well as online “pop journalist”/fandom sources, it will examine whether a historical novel should be a literal rendition of history, or remain mainly a medium of entertainment. Likewise, it will study whether a historical film should be a literal adaptation of the novel or make revisions for the cinema and the requirements of visual entertainment.

From History to Page

Gregory’s Research Methods

        Philippa Gregory was born in January 1954. She studied at the National Council for the Training of Journalists in Cardiff, after which she became a journalist for the Portsmouth News, and then a journalist and producer for BBC radio. She resumed her studies after a while and obtained her Master’s degree in history at the University of Sussex in Brighton. She finally got her PhD from the University of Edinburgh on 18th century literature. Her first novel and success, entitled Wideacre, part of a gothic trilogy, was published in 1987. Besides writing novels, Gregory also wrote the screenplay for the adaptation of her novel A Respectable Trade for the BBC; she also collaborated with the Hollywood studio for the adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl. Finally, she regularly takes part in Time Team on BBC4 as a Tudor expert.

        For each novel, Gregory spends many hours researching the subject, starting with secondary sources and travelling to historical places. Gregory usually chooses women who have been left out of history to be her main protagonists. Her methods of research rarely vary and for The Other Boleyn Girl she proceeded as follows: She read seven or eight academic histories and almost a dozen biographies as she confided in an interview (Bookbrowse). She had first thought of writing a novel on the Royal Navy set in the Tudor period when she came across a ship called The Mary Boleyn, a name she had rarely heard (Fahle). From there, she chose Mary Boleyn as her chief heroine and she drew a timeline of her life stressing the major events. She went to Rochford Manor, Essex, to get as many details as she could on the place where Mary had lived to set her narrative. Finally, she went to the library in Southend-on-Sea where information on Mary Boleyn can be found in the archives.

Novelistic Choices: Narration and Characters

        As far as Gregory’s way of writing is concerned, her novels are usually written in the first person which makes the reader more sympathetic to the character who is telling the story. She uses a homodiegetic narrative in The Other Boleyn Girl, which enables a greater connection between the reader and the character-narrator. Gregory pointed out in an interview: “I have a great liking for the first person narrative because I think it gets the reader into the head of the character: it’s a very immediate style” (Bookbrowse). Assuredly, it entails a direct way of perceiving the events as they unfold. Adrian Goldsworthy, British historian at the University of Oxford, posits the first person narrative as a style that allows some intimacy with the character:

First person narration readily lends itself to focusing on the main character’s thoughts and experiences. We see other people and events through their eyes and the story is told from their perspective. The narrator may either be the key protagonist or someone close to him, a Dr Watson to his Sherlock Holmes, telling the story and revealing the greatness and flaws of someone else. (Goldsworthy)

        Mary Boleyn is the main protagonist of Gregory’s novel, although she is not the central character from a historical point of view. She recounts the story of her elder sister’s swift rise in society until she becomes Queen of England and then the struggles she faces to stay there. Overall, although the novel is quite long (over 700 pages) the style is simple and the paragraphs are short. As a reviewer of an entertainment website, Tasha Robinson, comments, “it glides along easily, with a lot of broad, summing-up narratives and a lot of quick-moving dialogues.”

        Gregory is a skilled novelist as her successes attest: she knows how to create suspense, how to construct love scenes, how to invent endearing characters. She has even been nicknamed “The Queen of Historical Fiction” (Naylor) by an online marketplace for books. However, some elements in her adaptations of true life stories into fiction deserve a more minute examination. First, Gregory took the rather debateable decision of making Anne the elder of the two sisters and George, their brother, the eldest child. This hypothesis can be found in Retha Warnicke’s controversial The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn in which she attributes the birthdates as follows: George: 1504, Anne: 1507 and Mary: 1508 (9). On the contrary, most other modern scholars have come to the conclusion that Mary was the eldest: 1499, then came Anne: 1500-1, and finally George was born in 1504.[1] Gregory might have chosen to make Anne the older sister to give a motive to better her younger sister who had achieved a decent marriage at quite an early age and who had been noticed by the King. Secondly, recent historians have worked hard to soften Anne Boleyn’s reputation damaged five hundred years ago by Catholic commentators who vilified her for the role she played in the English Reformation (e.g. Nicholas Sander). In The Other Boleyn Girl, Anne is viewed by Mary as a detestable girl who gives credit to the rumours. Claire Ridgway, author of the website The Anne Boleyn Files comments:

There is no other way to describe the Anne Boleyn of The Other Boleyn Girl, she is a complete b**ch and it’s no wonder I get emails asking why I “defend” such a b**ch!

        And finally, in complete disregard of the historical facts, Gregory hardly mentions Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell is utterly absent from the foreground in her novel, whereas they actually both played a major role in the Anne-Henry story, as well as in the history of England. Her novelistic strategies reflect her choices to tell a story of ambition, female agency and family, rather than an accurate depiction of historical events.

        However, it must not be forgotten that Gregory is writing historical fiction. A historical novel is therefore a work of literature, an invented story with a historical setting. As Francisco Carrasquer particularly stresses:

Because if it is a subgenre of the novel, the historical novel has to be and cannot be anything other than a novel. Not ‘primarily’ or ‘particularly’ a novel, but a novel from head to toe. After being a novel, only afterwards, can it be imbued, dyed or painted as historical. (qtd. in Indurain)

        Historical fiction writers draw up a theory from their research and then imagine the consequences and the reactions of the people from a given situation. Richard Slotkin, cultural critic and historian, suggests that “[f]or the thought-experiment to work, the fiction writer must treat a theory which may be true as if it was certainly true, without quibble or qualification; and credibly represent a material world in which that theory appears to work”. So Gregory’s work must be handled cautiously as a work of fiction, or at least far-fetched theory.

Anne Boleyn’s Guilt

        Yet, what really bothers historical critics is Gregory’s ambiguity about Anne’s guilt for the charges of witchcraft, incest and murder. Anne Boleyn was arrested on 2 May 1536 for having allegedly had adulterous relationships with five lovers, for plotting the King’s death and for speaking ill of the King’s virility. She probably was guilty of the last charge. Those five presumed lovers were three noblemen, Henry Norris, Francis Weston and William Brereton, a musician, Mark Smeaton, and more importantly her brother George, Lord Rochford, so he and Anne both faced the accusation of incest. Nevertheless, as Eric Ives points out and nearly all contemporary historians agree:

No, she had not been unfaithful; no, she had not promised to marry Norris; no, she had not hoped for the King’s death; no, she had not given secret tokens to Norris; no, she had neither poisoned Katherine nor planned to poison Mary. (340)

        Philippa Gregory seems to have taken and combined all the rumours about Anne Boleyn and injected them into her fiction to create a more dramatic story. Gregory’s Anne is guilty. First, Anne was accused of witchcraft by Catholic supporters as, according to Eustace Chapuys (imperial ambassador for Charles V) who heard it from a courtier, the King himself pronounced the fatal words that he had “made this marriage seduced and constrained by sortileges” (298). These words, however, do not necessarily mean that Anne was a practising witch with charms and potions as Ives underlines:

Did Henry use the word ‘sortilege’, or was the word provided en route? Even if Henry did use the noun, since its primary English translation was ‘divination’ and since Henry spoke in the same breath of male heirs, the simple construction is that he was referring to the premarital predictions that union with Anne would produce sons. … In any case, alleging witchcraft was a commonplace excuse for foolish male behaviour. … No accusation that she had dabbled in the black arts was ever levelled against Anne. (298)

        In The Other Boleyn Girl, this is rather ambiguous because Anne does not use witchcraft directly but pays for the service of a wise woman in order to expulse a dead foetus from inside her body. The setting of the scene however, combined with the atmosphere, the secrecy and the costumes carry the weight of sorcery:

He was back within the hour with a surprisingly clean young woman, with a small sack of bottles and herbs. I took her to the little room where George’s pageboy slept and she looked around the darkened room and recoiled. In some grotesque moment of fancy George and Anne had raided the palace costume box to find a mask to hide her well-known face. Instead of a simple disguise they had found a golden bird face mask, which she had worn in France to dance with the King. Anne, panting with pain, half-lit by guttering candles, lay back on a narrow bed, her huge belly straining under the sheet and above it a glittering gold mask with a face like a hawk, a great gilt beak and flaring eyebrows. (400)

        The midwife brewed a potion which Anne drank and then gave birth to a mass of flesh and blood. The witchcraft depicted in the scene differs from the sixteenth-century reports of Anne ensnaring the King into marriage; it is rather used in the novel as a helping instrument for the birth of sons.

        Another heavy accusation brought against Anne is incest with her brother George. Historians have refuted the possibility that Anne could be guilty of that, but Gregory uses this element of the plot to encourage her depiction of Anne as a woman afraid of nothing to get what she wants. Although she does not say it explicitly, the reader understands very well that Anne has slept with her brother to produce the child she could not have with the King, but eventually she loses the baby:

‘I thought you might be afraid to touch me,’ she said softly.

[George] shook his head. ‘Oh, Anne. According to the law of the land and the church I am anathemetised ten times over before breakfast.’

I shuddered at that; but she giggled like a girl.

‘And whatever we have done, it was done for love,’ he said gently. […] ‘Even if the outcome was monstrous?’ (482)

        Mary is so unreliable a narrator that readers, if they do not pay attention, might easily believe every rumour Mary reports about her sister. Bishop Fisher, a fervent supporter of Catherine of Aragon, was causing difficulties for the King to obtain his title of Supreme Head of the Church of England. During a dinner, the broth that was served to him was poisoned and two of his guests died. Although he was not himself poisoned, Catholic partisans were quick to blame Anne for this. In the novel, Mary does not really understand her sister’s character and thus suspects, leading the reader with her, that Anne may well be a sleeping partner in attempted murder as well as guilty of dabbling in black magic and enchantments.

        Gregory certainly made use of her imagination to compose such a novel from the life of a real woman. Nevertheless, she clearly decided to make Anne an anti-heroine as she herself stated during an interview: “Anne is undeniably an interesting character, she’s incredibly courageous but I wouldn’t regard her as a heroine in the sense that she is utterly unscrupulous and her intentions are purely her own satisfaction, her own ambition” (Fahle). Conveniently, Mary Boleyn’s life is difficult to uncover and she is usually in the footnotes of academic histories rather than their subject, which leaves room for invention. The adaptation of the novel into a film is therefore an adaptation of an adaptation that pushes the act of invention and reinterpretation even further away from the events. Here we have a mise-en-abyme of a story from real life to one medium and then to another. The process of adapting from history to page to screen takes the public one step further from the facts as, according to Kamilla Elliott (162): “if art draws from real life, then an art adapting another art is one step further away from real life as a representation of a representation.” It begs the question as whether a film must render a literal transcription of the novel and of history and whether any deviation is to the film’s credit.

From Page to Screen

The Director’s Choice: Plot and Subplots

        Peter Morgan is a well-known screenwriter for dramatic political productions such as The Queen (2006) or Frost/Nixon (2008). He wrote in 2006 the script for the film The Other Boleyn Girl,directed by Justin Chadwick. Before this film, Chadwick had only directed TV series and, since then, has directed five films including Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013). The main element of the film at hand is the rivalry between the Boleyn sisters. The synopsis of the movie distinctly focuses on a love triangle, not between the King, the Queen and his mistress—as it is usually portrayed in other historical fictions as a fight between Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn for Henry’s heart—but between the King, his mistress and his mistress’s sister. Critic Tasha Robinson severally sums up the film as “a fight between two sisters who want the same dude.” The film respects the fundamentals of the book to provide the main storyline. It is the story of Henry VIII’s first two wives: the failure of Catherine of Aragon to give him a male heir, Henry’s taking Mary Boleyn as his mistress and having children with her; his defying the Pope to divorce Catherine and to marry Anne. However, she, too, fails to give him the promised son. She is finally accused of terrible crimes and executed.

        The advancement of noble families in the sixteenth century is plainly what triggers the whole plot, “particularly the idea that women were helpless pawns in Tudor society, which the film plays up far more than the book” (Robinson). As it happens, the story presents the Duke of Norfolk and his brother-in-law Thomas Boleyn who are, from an early stage, aware that the King’s marriage is under strain. Both of them are determined to gain favour, power and wealth. In the first fifteen minutes of the film, the scene to push the King to take Anne as his mistress is set:

An opportunity has arisen. An opportunity in which, were you to succeed, you could secure for yourself and this family incalculable wealth and position.

There is a strain on the King’s marriage. In such circumstances, a man sometimes seeks comfort elsewhere.

At present, because of your Uncle’s close friendship with His Majesty, we’re alone in knowing this. But it won’t be long before all the other noble families discover the truth and came to parade their daughters under his nose.


The favour he would bestow upon us, I mean upon you, if he liked you (The Other Boleyn Girl. Dir. Justin Chadwick, 11’).

        Yet, shots of Elizabeth Boleyn, the girls’ mother, looking disapprovingly at the merchandising of her daughters punctuate the story of reproach that women are not just goods to show off for favours. This depiction of the sisters’ mother is in opposition with the character in the novel who behaves coldly and detachedly regarding her daughters’ emotional turmoil.

        The screenwriter and director took some liberties with the source text. It is commonly accepted in adaptation theory that, in films, the themes serve the story whereas in books, the story serves the themes. It is thus understandable that the plot and the subplots of a novel can be transformed for the purposes of the film. Linda Seger, script consultant, points out that, in adaptation, events may have to be adjusted, the centre of the storyline may be heightened and that adapting means making choices and thus leaving out what is undramatic to emphasise what is dramatically important (9). In The Other Boleyn Girl, the centre of attention is Anne Boleyn becoming jealous of her sister for attracting the King’s attention and, once she finally obtains it, striving to become and remain Queen of England. The dramatisation of the film reduces and simplifies the novel; it “takes the two [Boleyn girls] as the one single focus that ties events together” (Robinson).

Narrative and Point of View

        Linda Hutcheon posits that “[i]n the move from telling to showing, a performance adaptation must dramatize: description, narration and represented thoughts must be transcoded into speech, actions, sounds and visual images” (40). In her work, she asserts that dramatisation means a re-accentuation and a refocusing of themes, characters and plots. Gregory’s novel is written with Mary Boleyn as the narrator, therefore the whole work is from her point of view. Linda Hutcheon remarks that attempts to use the camera for a first-person narrative are infrequent because they are judged clumsy. Most films use the camera for a third-person narrative to represent the point of view of various characters at different moments (54). Although the script of The Other Boleyn Girl attempted to put Mary in the foreground, the film rather concentrates on Anne and the Boleyn family’s greed. In fact, the film does not try at all to render the homodiegetic focalisation, thus giving a more holistic but less nuanced approach to the events. Mary is too passive in the film to carry the major role (Robinson).

        The way of filming that is most used in the film is the shoulder shot, which enables the viewer to connect with a character who is listening to another. Thus, during one to one discussions, the focus is only fixed on the two main protagonists, blurring the rest of the scene. Close-ups are also employed to show the characters’ emotions and reactions and therefore to emphasise the sense of betrayal or despair that each character feels in turn. For instance, one passage of the film (The Other Boleyn Girl. Dir. Justin Chadwick, 57’) shows a discussion between Anne and Mary and takes place in the room Mary is using for her confinement. Anne is presented as the sister with power and full of energy coming to take revenge while Mary is in bed resting to assure a safe delivery. While Anne blames Mary for the failure of her intended marriage to Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, a close-up displays Anne’s cruel and mean look, but when a messenger comes in to bring a gift from the King to Anne, her change of expression can be clearly seen and she becomes once more the courtier.

(Re)presenting the Past on Screen

        Being a period drama, The Other Boleyn Girl needed to translate the past onto the screen. The setting should be relevant to the sixteenth century in which the action takes place. The evident primary means to achieve this sense of historical period is the costumes. According to actress Scarlett Johansson, it really was her dress that helped her to get into her character as well as the time period. She says:

Anything that you have to help you get into character is helpful. The costumes were certainly a major part of that. It’s not only uncomfortable to wear, but it affects how people move around you and how you walk. It affects your intimacy, so I [felt] kind of vulnerable and statue-like. (NYCmovieguru)

        One commentator on the film posted a remark that reads: “It looks like they spent a lot of money on the sets and costumes” (Tracy). The codpieces for men and the cleavages and hoods of the women were clearly reproduced after contemporary portraits. The settings, too, were distinctly used to transport the viewer into the Renaissance period with reverse-angle shots at castles and manors. The crew and the cast travelled to England to capture the British atmosphere of the story. Robinson mentions in her review “how sumptuous and pretty the movie is, in an Elizabeth-esque costume-drama way, which is one of the big draws.” In addition, one of the heightened historical issues addressed in this film is “the way women suffered historically as second-class citizens with limited power to determine their own fate” (Robinson) which gives one perspective of how it could have been.

        The film also tries to be modern to appeal to a wide audience. Natalie Portman suggests that the film is “a story that’s resonant now because you know that there are people who think of marriage as empire-building, which still exists today” (NYCmovieguru). As for Scarlett Johansson, she remarks that the director modernised the events in order for people to escape into a story (Glamour Magazine). For instance, Anne’s determination to bring, by her own means, wealth and power to herself and her family brings up the question of feminism, which is much more of a question in the 21st century. In addition, the rivalry between women suggests the many reproaches that are aimed at women. As Johansson says: “a lot of the stigma that are put against women and the feminist movement are to do with the fact that women can be so catty against one another. It really brings us back instead of … moving forwards” (Glamour Magazine).

        In contrast, the film has been the subject of much disapproval about its handling of history and especially the English Reformation of the Church and Anne’s role in it. Christopher Orr, American film critic, reveals and comments on what he sees as the film’s weakest point:

The Other Boleyn Girl takes vanishingly little interest in the broader history unfolding around its love triangle. It gives not a hint of Anne’s religiosity or crucial role in the Reformation. … Henry’s decision to abandon the Catholic Church is given approximately 90 seconds of screen time, and the closest the film comes to making a case for or against it is Anne’s purposeful vow, “Somehow I need to make him understand that this” ―i.e., the contents of her petticoats―“will be worth it.”

        Consequently, the film was remarkable for its efforts at period costumes and scenery, but the historical aspect of it did not convince many. The Reformation process and the political game which Henry VIII played all his life is non-existent. The struggle between Catholics and Protestants is not portrayed in the film. The problem, as one person commented on Goodreads, is that too many viewers seem to think the film is an accurate representation of past events and do not appreciate the art for what it is: fiction.

        The overall perception of the film by critics shows signs of disappointment as much regarding the directing as the characters and cast. If some of them recognize a well-built story, it is not enough to counterbalance the general feeling of dissatisfaction. After the release of the film, Josh Taylor said in an article online: “Ultimately it’s a clumsy film with performances ranging all over the place and a story that while well-constructed, just isn’t that compelling. It’s a[sic] blithely mediocre.”

        Finally, many film experts remark on the poor quality of the shooting, describing it as “oddly plotted and frantically paced pastiche” (Dargis), and claiming that: “Shot in high-definition video with a murky brown palette (perhaps to suggest tea-stained porcelain and teeth), the film is both underwritten and overedited” (Dargis). Consequently, Dave Calhoun observes for Time Out:

The pair’s stellar presence at least fits the film’s Holbein-meets-Annie Leibovitz colour palette; let’s call it the Vanity Fayre look. Polite, well-made, adequately performed, moderately paced – television director Justin Chadwick’s take on Philippa Gregory’s racy, trashy novel is everything you don’t want it to be.

Adapting a true life story into an artistic medium, be it a film or a novel, already requires some rearrangement of the facts, a pre-selection of events. As Seger underlines:

The true-life epic demands much more detective work. What event, out of an entire lifetime, will be the focus of the drama? How do you keep a true-life story from becoming episodic? Clearly it is impossible to tell the “womb to tomb” story in two hours. Even if you could tell it, the story would be unfocused and unconnected and would not add up to compelling drama. (52)

Adapting a novel into a film requires a further remodelling of the source material, and often a condensing of the source text. Seger adds that,

The nature of condensing involves losing material. Condensing often includes losing subplots, combining or cutting characters, leaving out of the many themes that might be contained in a long novel, and finding within the material the beginning, middle, and end of a dramatic storyline. (3)

        In the novel, the story of Anne Boleyn has been refocused in order to put forward her manipulation of the King, her treatment of her siblings, her role in the family business, and her self-centred determination. The political and diplomatic events of the time have been minimised, as, in the eyes of Mary Boleyn, the narrator, they were a side issue to Anne’s searing rise to power and her just as swift downfall. In the film, the history of England during this crucial period has been trivialised to attract the widest possible audience. Consequently, the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, who are considered as “the lovers who changed history” (Lipscomb), is reduced to a romantic affair with some collateral damage.

        Brian McFarlane states that “[f]idelity criticism depends on a notion of the text as [having a] rendering up to the (intelligent) reader a single, correct “meaning” which the film-maker has either adhered to or in some sense violated or tampered with”(8). For many critics, the fidelity debate did not so much concern the relationship between the novel and the film, although Robinson stated that the film “strips things down”. It rather concerns the relationship between all works of fiction and History. All the rumours about the King’s second wife seem to find a place in Gregory’s and Chadwick’s works which Susan Bordo, author of The Creation of Anne Boleyn, captions as “Chapuys’ Revenge: Fiction Becomes Fact Once Again” (219). As it happens, Chapuys often reported hearsay and rumours about Anne Boleyn and her relationship with the King, therefore, giving resonance to these rumours looks like Chapuys’ portrait of Anne is being passed down in history. However, it is worth noticing that Chapuys did not believe in the charges of adultery and incest brought against Anne at her trial. Despite their immediate success, the film and the novel received some severe comments: “it’s shallow, melodramatic, and sometimes campy, […] it plays fast and loose with history, […] it hollows out a book that was already kind of hollow to begin with” (Robinson). Gregory is nevertheless praised for her rehabilitation of forgotten women in history; her narration in the eyes of the main characters brings forth the restrictions imposed on the female sex in the 16th century, as well as giving female protagonists will and power to transcend their limits and the rules they live under. As for the film, as Geoffrey Wagner defined, it is a case of commentary in which “an original is taken and either purposely or inadvertently altered in some respects […] when there has been a different intention on the part of the film-maker, rather than infidelity or outright violation” (McFarlane 10-11). Chadwick’s work can be said to follow the major elements of the novel, even trying to breathe a sense of the Renaissance into the film, yet leaving out what does not plainly influence the romantic affair between the lovers or the family relationships.

Works Cited

Bookbrowse. “An Interview with Philippa Gregory.” 2006.Web. 16/03/15.

Bordo, Susan. The Creation of Anne Boleyn. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Print.

Boxofficemojo. “The Other Boleyn Girl.” IMDb. 20/04/2008. Web. 18/04/15.

Calhoun, Dave. “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Time Out. 03/03/2008. Web. 18/04/15.

Chrisafis, Angelique. “Everyday story of courtly folk takes romantic fiction award.” The Guardian, 19/04/2002. Web. 20/05/15.

Dargis, Manohla. “Rival Sisters Duke It Out for the Passion of a King.” The New York Times, 29/02/2008. Web. 12/05/15.

Elliott, Kamilla. Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate. Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.

Fahle, Rich. “Philippa Gregory Talks about The Other Boleyn Girl.” Bordersmedia. 02.03.2008. Youtube. Web. 12/05/15.

Glamour Magazine UK. “Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman Interview: The Other Boleyn Girl Movie.” 06/03/2008. Youtube. Web. Web. 12/05/15.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. “On First-Person Narration in Historical Novel”. Writing Historical Novels. 15/09/2013. Web. 15/05/15.

Gregory, Philippa. The Other Boleyn Girl. 2001. London: HarperCollins, 2011. Print.

—. The Women of the Cousin’s War, The Real White Queen and her Rivals. Introduction. London: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.

Groot, Jerome (de). Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. 2006. Abingdon: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Indurain, Carlos, Mata. “Brief Definition and Characterization of a Historical Novel”. Cultura Historica. University of Navarra, 2009. Print.

Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. 2004. Oxford: Blackwell, 2011. Print.

Lipscomb, Suzannah. Henry and Anne, the Lovers Who Changed History. Prod. Lion Television, 20/02/2014. Web. 15/05/15.

McFarlane, Brian. Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation. “Part I: Backgrounds, Issues, and a New Agenda.” Oxford: Clarendon P, 1996. Print.

Naylor, Stephanie, “The Queen of Historical Fiction: Philippa Gregory.” AbeBooks. Web. 18/06/18.

NYCmovieguru. “Interview with Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman, stars of The Other Boleyn Girl.” 16/03/2008. Web. 15/05/15.

Orr, Christopher. “The Movie Review: The Other Boleyn Girl.” New Republic. 29/02/2008. Web. 15/05/15.

Ridgway, Claire. “Anne Boleyn and The Other Boleyn Girl.” The Anne Boleyn Files. 22/09/2010. Web. 15/05/15.

Robinson, Tasha. “Book vs. Film: The Other Boleyn Girl”. AVClub. 27/03/2008. Web. 15/05/15.

Seger, Linda. The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film. New York: Henry Holt & Cie, 1992. Print.

Slotkin, Richard. “Fiction for the Purposes of History.” Rethinking History 9.2/3 (June/September 2005): 221-36. Print.

Taylor, Josh. “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Cinema Blend. 29/02/2008. Web. 15/05/15.

The Other Boleyn Girl. Dir. Justin Chadwick. Perf. Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana. BBC Film, 2008. DVD.

Tracy. “Movie review: The Other Boleyn Girl.” GoodReads. 27/05/2010. Web. 15/05/15.

Warnicke, Retha. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989). Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.

Alison Offe est doctorante à l’Université Catholique de Lille en cotutelle avec Liverpool Hope University. Ses recherches portent sur la représentation des Tudors dans la culture populaire britannique entre 1995 et 2015. Elle a obtenu son Master en 2015 et son mémoire s’intitulait : “Les six femmes d’Henri VIII dans les fictions historiques de Philippa Gregory, Jean Plaidy et C. J. Sansom.” Elle a depuis publié : “Katherine Parr, Protestant Scholar and Role Model” dans Résonances 15, “Women and Vocation, La Vocation au féminin, Volume I” (2015) ; et “Popularising the Tudors: The Case of Anne Boleyn” dans Theorising the Popular, ed. Michael Brennan, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.

Alison Offe is a doctoral student with joint supervision between Liverpool Hope University and Lille Catholic University. Her research focusses on the depiction of the Tudors in British popular culture between 1995 and 2015. She obtained her MA in English in 2015 with a dissertation entitled “The Six Wives of Henry VIII in the historical fiction of Philippa Gregory, Jean Plaidy and C.J. Sansom.” Since then, she has published “Katherine Parr, Protestant Scholar and Role Model” in Résonances 15, “Women and Vocation, La Vocation au féminin, Volume I” (2015) ; and “Popularising the Tudors: The Case of Anne Boleyn” in Theorising the Popular, ed. Michael Brennan, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.


[1] Eric Ives’s The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (15); Antonia Fraser’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (141); David Starkey’s Six Wives, The Queen’s of Henry VIII (258); Alison Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (147); Linda de Lisle’s Tudor (16) to name but a few works in which scholars have established Anne Boleyn’s birth date as 1501.