The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl (The Tudor Court, #2)The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Time Period: 1521-1536
Setting: The various courts of Henry VIII, Hever Castle, Rochford
Main Characters: Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, Henry VIII

Opening lines: “I could hear a roll of muffled drums. But I could see nothing but the lacing on the bodice of the lady standing in front of me, blocking my view of the scaffold. I had been at this court for more than a year and attended hundreds of festivities; but never before one like this.”

3 stars for me. Not so much because of her treatment of history – it isn’t as bad as the fabrications of the TV series “The Tudors” – and there is admittedly not a lot known about Mary Boleyn, including when she was born and whether either of her first two children were actually Henry’s or not. And who can fault an author for incorporating all of the more sensational claims of witchcraft, homosexuality, incest, etc.? It makes a whopping good tale! BUT, I find her characters too starkly black and white. Mary the good, innocent sister. Anne the scheming and vicious shrew. The Boleyn family ambitious at all costs. She practically beats you over the head with what you are supposed to think and how you are supposed to feel about these characters. Her style becomes too repetitive telling you the same things over and over again. But she portrays a court where all of these things certainly could have happened. You certainly get a feel for how long Anne had to keep Henry interested before they were finally married, and how exhausting it must have been. And I liked the story of the romance between Mary and William Stafford. She did marry against her family’s wishes and there is extant a very passionate letter by her defending her choice. This novel ends with Anne’s execution, but Mary went on to live quite happily and inherited all of the Boleyn holdings after her parents died, so she and William ended up quite wealthy landowners.

Book Description: When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of the handsome and charming Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane, and soon she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. With her own destiny suddenly unknown, Mary realizes that she must defy her family and take fate into her own hands.

Comments on the films:
The 2008 version starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and Eric Bana:
2 stars. Where do I even start? Fans of the book will be sorely disappointed. The time frame has been shortened considerable. Mary’s first husband just disappears with no mention of his death. There is no romance between Mary and William Stafford. Just a note at the end of the movie that they got married and lived happily. Mary has a son but no daughter, and there is nothing of her and her children which was one of the good parts of the book. It is all about Anne Boleyn, and with the time frame so shortened, it all comes off as ridiculous and unbelievable. Eric Bana is suitably regal as Henry VIII, but dark-haired and much too young here. The sets and costumes are gorgeous.

The 2003 version starring Natascha McElhone, Jodhi May, and Jared Harris:
3 stars despite the low budget sets and costumes. This is a little more intimate in format, and I kind of liked the confessional asides by the two sisters. I thought Jared Harris was too small to be Henry VIII and had none of the authority and hints of the tyrant he would become that Eric Bana portrayed. But all in all, it follows the book a little more closely and does not leave out key events like the death of William Carey. I still would have liked the romance between Mary and William Stafford developed a bit more.

Lost in Austen

Lost in AustenLost in Austen  (2008)

Starring: Jemima Rooper, Elliot Cowan as Darcy, Hugh Bonneville, Alex Kingston

Director: Dan Zeff

Length: 180 minutes

 

I’ve taken a break from the Moby Dick stuff to revisit Pride and Prejudice. I had hoped I would be doing a presentation for the Minnesota Library Association on this in the fall, but alas my proposal was not selected. I still hope to do it somewhere, sometime, somehow so I will revisit this topic from time to time and work up a page like I did for the Moby Dick project.

I’ll give this film 4 stars. Basically, a 21st-century woman unwillingly changes places with Elizabeth Bennet and manages to screw up all her efforts to make the story come out the way it is “supposed to.” Along the way, there are some hilarious twists on Jane Austen’s story. Several of the characters are not what they seemed in the original P&P.

I didn’t love the Amanda character, but the rest of the cast was, well, perfectly cast. Elliot Cowen is my favorite Darcy to date. He had the perfect blend of haughtiness and arrogance without being wooden, and yet his transition into the passionate, in love Darcy was seamless and believable. Alex Kingston as Mrs. Bennet was also outstanding. I thought her interpretation of the hysterical Mrs. Bennet was perfect without being over the top silly. I loved that all the Bennet girls, Caroline Bingley, and Georgiana Darcy were all played by actresses that seemed the appropriate age instead of being 10-plus years too old. And Mr. Collins – deliciously creepy. And wait until you meet his brothers!

Very well done! I would love to see this cast do the original P&P.

Description: Amanda Price is sick of the modern world. She yearns for the romance and elegance found in the books by her favorite author, Jane Austen. But she’s about to get a rude awakening as one fateful evening, she is propelled into the scheming 19th century world of Pride and Prejudice while that book’s Elizabeth Bennet is hurled into hers. As the book’s familiar plot unfolds, Amanda triggers new romantic twists and turns within the Bennet family circle as she clumsily tries to help the sisters nab husbands and even captivates the tantalizing Mr. Darcy herself. But what about Elizabeth…and what will become of one of the world’s greatest love stories?

 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Movie Tie-in Edition (rack) (Narnia) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

My initial reading of this book rates a 3.5, but the movie gets 4.5, so I’m giving an overall rating of 4. Probably, like other classics I have read (Pride and Prejudice, for example), the rating goes up over time and I should just give it a 5 now. I like books that grow on you.

I suppose my initial reaction was that I was a little disappointed. I didn’t feel it lived up to the hype that an author of the stature of C.S. Lewis deserved in my mind. Of course I was coming to it as an adult rather than as a child. I remember starting this book somewhere back in my youth, but I do not remember reading more than a couple of chapters. I think it bored me. I was probably too old for it then. Admittedly, it has a slow start. The talking animals are merely cute. It is not until Edmund is imprisoned by the White Witch that we begin to sense something deeper is going on. The ideal age for reading this (or having it read to you) is about 4-8. Most reviews say Grades 4-8. I think that is too old. For older children, I would recommend the Golden Compass trilogy.

Just as Philip Pullman has been criticized for being anti-religion, C.S. Lewis has been criticized for being too Christian. Well, it wouldn’t be C.S. Lewis if it weren’t. He was a theologian, after all. His aim was to write a Christian allegory that would teach children about good versus evil, morality, and good manners. But he doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Indeed, it can be enjoyed on many different levels. Younger children are not going to be sophisticated enough to pick up on the symbolism. They will enjoy a good fantasy adventure with animals that talk. Good triumphs over evil, spring comes after winter, one can redeem oneself after making bad choices, and love is the ultimate sacrifice.

The movie brings this little book to life. The actors are perfectly cast. Who can resist Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie? The CGI effects are well done. Aslan looks real and is given a wonderful voice by Liam Neeson. The White Witch is suitably chilling. The action is not always true to the book, but movies never are. Thankfully, it updated C.S. Lewis’s 1950s attitudes about women. I had to roll my eyes a few times in the book, for example – where the boys get to help catch fish for dinner while the girls end up helping in the kitchen.

After watching the movie, I now want to read the rest of the series, especially The Magician’s Nephew, which is a prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and tells of the Professor’s adventures in Narnia when he was a boy.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

P&P 2005

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen

Director: Joe Wright (IV)

Length: 127 minutes

I probably should have tagged this “18th century” since the producers chose to set this film in 1797 rather than Regency England. It makes for more flattering costumes perhaps, though it presents a more rural England. The Bennets seem much poorer and lower class than Jane Austen wrote them. By contrast, Darcy and Lady Catherine seem much richer, almost on a par with royalty. This is a wonderful film, although Jane Austen purists will have to set aside their, um, prejudice…  The cinematography is highly artistic and well-done. The musical score is wonderful. I’d buy a CD of just the soundtrack.

The script alters lines from Austen, often losing the irony of the original. But the romance is well done. The girls look their ages, which is refreshing. This was the best Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, in my opinion. And Mr. Collins was also wonderful. The proposal scene between Collins and Elizabeth is priceless. On the other hand, I did not care for the stilted acting of Wickham and Caroline Bingley. Fortunately they had minimal parts. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst were omitted entirely from this movie. And the Gardiners had no children.

Besides what I felt were 20th century mannerisms, there was at least one scene which seemed like a historical faux pas to me – the scene where Elizabeth asks Darcy to dance. Perhaps someone will correct me, but I don’t think that would have been done. It wasn’t even very common when I was in high school, let alone in the 18th century! I also thought it was silly to have the entire room come to a standstill and gawk when Darcy and Bingley entered the ball. They might have been rich, but I think the gawking would have been much more surreptitious.

Anyway, it is a beautifully done film. Just don’t expect it to be true to Jane Austen.

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

P&P OlivierPride and Prejudice (1940)

Starring: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier

Director: Robert Z. Leonard

Length: Black and White, 118 minutes

After watching two mini-series, I wondered how P&P would fare as a two-hour movie. Well, there were some significant changes made to the plot, nevertheless it worked. I won’t divulge any spoilers – I’ll just say I LOVED the twist at the end with Darcy and his Aunt Catherine. After two faithful series, and three faithful fanfic books, it’s nice to be surprised.

I’d give this version 4 stars. It delivers in typical 1940s Hollywood style. The costumes were all WRONG but you forgive them. They could have been borrowed from Gone With the Wind. Then there was Colonel Fitzwilliam in full Scottish regalia, with sporran almost as large as his kilt! And the dance scenes were all WRONG, but who cares. This could so easily have been a musical. I half expected the actors to burst into song at any moment. Some nice humorous moments, too, like the talking parrot during Lady Catherine’s visit. And a bit of 1940s feminism with the archery scene.

Laurence Olivier was not really convincingly haughty. He was far too handsome and charming. Is Greer Garson a redhead? Her Elizabeth certainly was the stereotypical feisty redhead. But wouldn’t she have been in her mid-30s? About 15 years too old for the role! Oh well. Jane was sweet and lovely – definitely fit the part. Lydia was suitably silly and flirtateous. Kitty and Charlotte were quite forgettable. Mr. Collins, Wickham, and Colonel Fitzwilliam – all much too old. But so were Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and Mrs. Lucas. So we had 30-year-old daughters, 40-year old suitors, and 60-year old parents. Oh well. I’ll be watching this again tonight.

Pride and Prejudice (BBC, 1980)

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice (BBC, 1980)

Starring: Elizabeth Garvie, David Rintoul

Director: Cyril Coke

Length: 265 minutes

This was another enjoyable miniseries. I would rate it almost as highly as the A&E version, even though it is very different. This version is very faithful to the book, and includes many scenes that were left out of the A&E version. The sets are simple, rather than cinematic. It is like watching a stage play – very intimate. The costumes are wonderful. The casting is wonderful. I liked Mrs. Bennet and Mary better in this version. And I LOVED Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins. They were much closer to how they were portrayed by Jane Austen. The A&E version almost made caricatures out of all the minor characters. Where it excelled was in the portrayal of the three sets of lovers: Darcy and Elizabeth, Jane and Bingley, and Lydia and Wickham. The BBC version downplayed the stories of Jane and Lydia. This may be closer to Jane Austen’s book, but it felt lacking to me in comparison. On the other hand, the BBC version showed more of the relationships between Elizabeth and Charlotte, and Charlotte and Mr. Collins, even adding a rather nice proposal scene between Charlotte and Mr. Collins. The A&E version gave short shrift to Charlotte, and made Mr. Collins so odious, that Charlotte’s acceptance of him was difficult to fathom. The A&E version also gave us a very stripped down version of Lady Catherine.

Mr. Bennet grew on me. He is quite jolly and loveable in the A&E version – not quite the way Jane Austen portrayed him, but I liked him, and I liked the way it portrayed his relationship with Lizzy. In the BBC version, he is very stiff and cranky. But as I said, by the second viewing, this very different portrayal was growing on me. Mrs. Bennet was much better done here. Oh, she is a scream in the A&E version, and a lot of fun to watch, but the BBC portrayal is again much closer to the mark. Instead of being a comical caricature, she is a silly, rather empty-headed woman, who was once obviously very pretty. She is lively, and you can see why Mr. Bennet may once have been attracted to her. Their mismatched relationship is very well done here.

The sisters: Jane had no appeal for me in this version. I didn’t sense any spark at all between Jane and Bingley. She was just a bland character. Mary was quite adorable, for all her misguided efforts to be learned and accomplished. You could see her as a real person instead of a caricature. Kitty was just silly. The actress seemed too old for the part to me. Lydia was much like her mother, but I confess I liked the more flamboyantly reckless portrayal in the A&E version better.

Elizabeth Garvie is an adorable Elizabeth Bennet. David Rintoul is a truly haughty, but handsome Darcy. Again, his portrayal was probably closer to Jane Austen’s, and he also grew on me the second viewing. But comparing him to Colin Firth is like comparing apples and oranges. I didn’t feel the spark or the tension between Darcy and Elizabeth that Colin and Jennifer portrayed. Jennifer’s Elizabeth is a little more refined, and I can easily envision her as the future lady of a great estate.

So all in all, there was much to like in the BBC version, but for sheer romance and for cinematography give me the A&E version!

Pride and Prejudice ( A&E, 1996)

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice – The Special Edition (A&E 1996)

Starring: Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth

Director: Simon Langton

Length: 300 minutes

There are several movie versions of P&P, but this seems to be the one everyone talks about. I got it from the library last week on 6 videocassettes. I was riveted. Watched the entire thing twice, and then went and bought the DVD. I don’t know if that makes me a Jane Austen fan, or a Colin Firth fan!

I’d say I might be in danger of going off the deep end. I now have the BBC version (1985) from the library, another one on hold ready to pick up, and the old film with Laurence Olivier on order.

I thought this version was very well done, and very faithful to the book. Whatever liberties were taken (the famous swimming scene, for example) fit into the whole. Okay, I have one quibble. Mary Bennet, who likes to show off on the piano but isn’t very good, suddenly becomes most proficient whenever she plays for the dancing. The contrast is noticeable.

I read recently that most novels in Jane Austen’s time were meant to be read aloud. The emphasis on dialogue really lends itself well to the stage. I look forward to comparing the other films.