Pocahontas II: Subtitled OH DEAR GOD WHAT DID I JUST WATCH

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(Author’s note: The blog is returning after a hiatus that involved moving, finishing a semester of graduate school, and camping.  Sorry for the radio silence, I am very much still alive and well.)

What did I just watch?  WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST WATCH?

I know that until now I’ve made it a policy NOT to pick on children’s movies for historical inaccuracies but…this is so LUDICROUS that I have to, I have to, write this down.  It kills me that there are little kids that would watch this and think that this has any sort of historical bearing in fact.

And before anyone starts bitching about “what do you expect from a CHILDREN’S FILM, did you even SEE Pocahontas, what were you expecting?” my answer to you is…something more than THAT.

The Wikipedia page for Pocahontas II describes it as “a 1998 straight-to-video sequel to the 1995 Disney film Pocahontas. The film is inspired by true events in the life of Pocahontas which took place several years after her encounter with John Smith and the founders of Jamestown. While the original film dealt with her romance with John Smith, this film deals with her romance with the Englishman she married in real life, John Rolfe.”

I’ll pause for hysterical laughter at the idea that either Pocahontas or Pocahontas II has any basis in historical fact.  There is a reason why the first film is described as a “travesty of historical accuracy” by the UK Guardian.

I watched Pocahontas II with my friends Jess and Drea.  I took notes as I went along.  For the sake of sparing your brains the lengthy descriptions of what the producers refer to as a ‘plot’, I’ll keep my descriptions down to just my notes.

Anachronistic garb.  (This is my first complaint of many).  The film opens in London, England, where English soldiers are attempting to arrest John Smith in the dead of night.  Or should I say, the dead of knight?  Because these fucks are dressed in medieval jousting armor, to arrest someone.  What the everloving shit.  Anyway, Smith tries to escape but is unceremoniously thrown from his balcony into the Thames (I think it’s the Thames?) by Ratcliffe, the villain from film one.  Okay.

Ratcliffe goes before King James I.  OMG WHAT THE FUCK DID THEY DO TO KING JAMES I.

(Much later in the film, but it’s the only one I could get of him)

So many questions.  Why is he wearing medieval garb in 1616?  Why is he wearing an anachronistic crown?  What the fuck is up with those pants?  Why is he a whiny child?  WHAT THE FUCK DID THEY DO.

Anyway.  Ratcliffe tells James I that John Smith is dead, and he apparently has been feeding James I all of these lies about how he was framed and John Smith was conspiring with the Native Americans to hoard all the gold and keep it from James I.  James I is on the verge of sending  Ratcliffe back to Virginia with an army to pretty much exterminate the natives and get “his” gold.  But first he’ll send an envoy there to bring back Chief Powhatan to “chat”.  I see this ending well.

Cut to Jamestown, Virginia, circa 1616 (if we’re being accurate, which is the year that Pocahontas did go to England).  Nothing really has changed.  The settlers and the Native American’s live in a tentative peace, but the minute that the slightest altercation occurs,  there’s a huge fucking folderol and Pocahontas has to intervene in order to save everyone from killing each other.  Also, I’m so glad to see that, even though it is the dead of winter, the animators still have Pocahontas in a tastefully sexy buckskin miniskirt.  Because that’s what REAL Native Americans wore.

Pocahontas has recently heard of John Smith’s death and she’s still pining for him, but after some well-timed words from Nakoma, she buries his compass in the snow, ironically just as another ship comes from England, this time bearing the English envoy to the New World, John Rolfe:

John Rolfe apparently always had a dream of being in the Swiss Guards.

John Rolfe stumbles into an altercation between the natives and the white folks, which prompts Pocahontas to dive into yet another rescue (Powhatan and whoever the fuck is in control of the white people need to get a grip on these asshats before they all shoot each other to death).  And then she gets into a snit for no good reason at Rolfe.  Because it isn’t a Disney movie unless the love interests (whoops, spoiler) start off by bitching at each other.  Long and short of it, Rolfe asks Powhatan to come with him to England to meet with James I.  Powhatan says go fuck yourself, Pocahontas offers instead.  Rolfe says something along the lines of ‘women belong in the kitchen’ and Pocahontas’ goodwill mission to England basically turns into a big fuck-you to misogyny.  I can’t with this movie.

Pocahontas and John Rolfe go off to England.  Pocahontas is accompanied by Utami, one of her father’s warriors, who sits and never ever smiles, just glares at everyone.  He is pretty much one of the more racist depictions of Native American’s, but he does provide the audience with laugh.  Before leaving Powahatan gives him a staff and instructs him to carve a notch into it for every white man he sees.  Before sending him to England.  You can imagine the size of that stick at the end.

In England, Pocahontas is greeted by a song-and-dance number, in a crowd of people wearing garb from every fucking era in England.  Some medieval, some 18th century.  Oh, and Shakespeare is there, too.  Except Shakespeare died before Pocahontas arrived in England (f’real, check the Wikipedia page).  But NBD guys.  Pocahontas gets all bent out of shape because Rolfe won’t let her go see King James herself (also, I’m not buying that John Rolfe is straight.  Loving the little hip thrust when he tells her off.  He also sounds like fucking Gregory from the South Park movie.  I keep waiting for him to spout off about how he attended Yardale and had a 4.0 grade point average.)

Rolfe goes and see King James, and predictably, Ratcliffe is there to spoil all his plans.  Ratcliffe convinces King James to invite Pocahontas to the Hunt Ball, which is going to be her trial run to convince the King that the Native Americans are civilized.  If she can, the Armada (why would you commission an Armada to fight an army that has no ships?) won’t sale and destroy everyone.  COME ON, DISNEY.  Can we have one fucking film that doesn’t involve a fucking BALL?  Rolfe acts pretty disgusted, but I bet he’s loving this chance to go all Henry Higgins on Pocahontas and pass her off as a lady.

So now we have the obligatory “dressing up Pocahontas” scene.  Can we talk about her undergarments?  For one thing, LOVING the pantalettes, which weren’t invented until the 19th century.  She also wears a hoop skirt, which is anachronistic as well — there were no hoop skirts in the 17th century.  The Spanish farthingale went out of style in the 16th century, and hoops wouldn’t make another appearance until the panniers in the 18th century.  C for effort, Disney.  Also, why does John Rolfe have a stock pile of women’s clothes in his house?  Pocahontas finally emerges wearing white face makeup (accurate, but offensive), and an ensemble that fits into 18th century France, not 17th century England.

But hey, that’s okay, because now Pocahontas is more marketable as a Barbie doll.  At least they didn’t make the doll’s face white.

As predicted, the Hunt Ball is a disaster.  Ratcliffe brings in a bunch of medieval minstrels (wtf) to initiate a bear baiting.  Which you can imagine goes over like a lead balloon as far as Pocahontas is concerned.  James I and Pocahontas get into a bitchfight over whose people are less civilized, and James I has Pocahontas and Utemi thrown into the Tower.

Somewhere in a tavern, a caped and hooded man (GAWSH I WONDER WHO) overhears some people talking about Pocahontas’ imprisonment, and he rides off, somehow figuring out that she’s staying at John Rolfe’s (a plothole you can drive a tank through, Disney), and reveals himself to be JOHN SMITH, STILL ALIVE (WHO KNEW?).  The two of them decide to sneak into the Tower by pretending that Rolfe has made a citizens arrest.  The guards just let them through the portcullis.  Really?  It’s that easy?  Next time my ex-husband pisses me off I’ll just drive him up to the nearby prison and say that I’ve made a citizen’s arrest. Holy smokes.

Pocahontas is understandably shocked to find John Smith alive, and the four of them make a daring escape.  But wait!  Which should she pick?  Somewhere between America and England she has begun to fall in love with John Rolfe.  But she loved John Smith once!  What to do?  And now the story of Pocahontas is relegated to a Twilight love triangle.

“At least they’re both named John.”

Smith and Rolfe both get into a hissy fit over Pocahontas wanting to go back to James I and tell him not to send the Armada.  Rolfe wants her to follow her heart and save her people.  Smith wants her to save her own ass.  GUESS WHO’S ADVICE SHE FOLLOWS?

Pocahontas goes back before the king wearing her old familiar buckskin one-shoulder mini-dress, to try and convince him.  All seems lost until John Smith strolls in, very much alive, which convinces the King that Ratcliffe is a lying liar who lies.  But OH NO!  The Armada has already been sent and wtf do we do???  Fortunately, the Armada is only 10 ships (dafuq?) and Pocahontas et.al. stop them from leaving port.  Ratcliffe tries to murder Pocahontas but is stopped and slapped in chains.  All’s well that ends well.

Pocahontas is ready to tell Rolfe that she loves him, but Smith pulls off an epic cockblock by running in and telling her that he’s been granted his own ship and he can now sail the world with her by his side.  Rolfe slinks away, all dejected, too soon to hear Pocahontas tell Smith that it’s too late, and she needs to go her separate way.  Smith takes it about as well as someone can, basically says “The best man won” and goes on his merry little way.  But Rolfe is nowhere to be found.  Pocahontas laments not telling Rolfe that she loved him, as she boards the ship back home, but surprise!  Rolfe is there.  He’s leaving England to go back to America with her.  Roll end credits and corny Disney song about following your heart.

F’real.  This film rated a 1 on the 1-10 scale.  It really is that fucking terrible.  There are no just redeeming qualities to it.  I know a lot of people bitched about the historical accuracy and idiocy that was Pocahontas, but this makes that film look like a Discovery Channel documentary.

IN REAL LIFE: Pocahontas did travel to England in 1616.  But at that point, she was already married to John Rolfe, had converted to Christianity, and had taken the English name “Rebecca.”  She also had a son, Thomas.  Her tour of England was more a gesture of goodwill than a frantic attempt to stop the white man from mass genocide of the Native Americans.  Her status in her father’s tribe has been greatly inflated — the phrase “Indian princess” is inaccurate.  Also, as one of many of Powhatan’s children, she would have stood to inherit nothing.  And, as has been beaten to death many times, she was certainly not of an age to have had a relationship with John Smith; she was probably only about 12 when she rescued him years earlier.  When she DID meet up with him in England, far from being happy to see him, she was angered that he had broken his alliance with her father’s people and rescinded his promises.

Well, I guess that’s it.  No Gold Stars, this film is total shit and I can’t believe I sat through it.  At least it was good for a few laughs.

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Finding Anne — Comparing and Contrasting Anne Boleyn in Modern Film

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I’m embarking on a deviation from my usual entries and going straight for one that interests me (it’s my blog and I do what I want).  Today: a case study in depictions of Anne Boleyn — the most notorious and enigmatic of Henry VIII’s queens.

Anne Boleyn (c. 1501 – 1536) was only the second commoner to be elevated to the throne of Queen of England (the first was Henry VIII’s maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Woodville).  She was described as being no great beauty (her skin was sallow rather than a fashionable pale, her hair and eyes were very dark, and she had moles on her body), but she possessed an undefinable charisma that made her irresistible to some of the most famous and powerful men of the age — the poet Thomas Wyatt, Henry Percy of Northumberland, Francois I of France, and of course, Henry VIII, who changed the religion of an entire nation in order to free himself from his first marriage for her sake.  Her marriage to Henry VIII lasted just three years and was a tumultuous, unhappy one.  She was unable to hold her tongue and look the other way when he had affairs, and worse, she was unable to give him a living son, producing only a daughter, Elizabeth.  On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed for the crime of adultery, which she was said to have committed with numerous men of Henry’s court, as well as her brother, George Boleyn.

I’m going to compare the Annes of five films or TV series depicting her relationship with Henry — Anne of the Thousand Days (1964), The Six Wives of Henry VIII (the 1970 BBC miniseries), The Other Boleyn Girl (the 2003 BBC film), The Tudors (2007-2010), The Other Boleyn Girl (2009).  This will not merely be rating the actresses, but rating the quality of the script they were given to act, and the piece in which they acted.

Genevieve Bujold — Anne of the Thousand Days

Appearance: 7/10
Genevieve’s Anne is fresh-faced and youthful when she is first introduced in a flashback, as a headstrong teenager, and she doesn’t age much during the film.  Part of this is due to Bujold’s beauty — it is difficult to imagine her as “that thin old woman” as the Spanish ambassador snidely referred to Anne late in her life.  She has Anne’s long dark hair and the dark eyes, but her skin is pale, unlike Anne’s darker hue.

20% Sinner, 80% Saint
Genevieve’s Anne is intensely likeable.  She is headstrong, beautiful, passionate, and tender to those she loves.  To those she doesn’t, she is cutting and cruel, in words, but not actions.  She is probably the nicest of all the Annes here — though she does eventually harass Henry to execute Katherine of Aragon and Princess Mary, for the most part she leaves Katherine strictly alone.  She is a loving mother to Elizabeth.

Relationship with Henry: Although Genevieve’s Anne is determined to not love the King when he first destroys her relationship with Henry Percy, she eventually grows to fall deeply in love with him.  Their relationship shatters, and the blame falls squarely on Henry, making Anne appear genuine and blameless.  Even in her last days, she professes her love for him.

Relationships with Other Men: Anne has a passionate affair with Henry Percy at the beginning of the film.  She loves no other man but Henry.  Her relationship with her brother George is watered-down at best, which makes the charge of incest extremely unbelievable.  Her relationships with Henry Norris and Mark Smeaton are, at best, hinted at.

Execution Scene: Unfortunately, Genevieve as Anne is forbidden to make Anne’s famous execution speech.  She goes to the scaffold white-faced and silent, giving the executioner one terrified glance before her head comes off.

*

Dorothy Tutin — The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Appearance: 9/10
Dorothy’s Anne is near to spot on!  She is not the classic beauty of the Tudor age — she is slender, dark-haired, sallow-skinned, dark-eyed, small-breasted.  She is missing the moles, which is the only complaint, and it’s such a mild one.  Appearance-wise she is nearly perfect.

75% Sinner, 25% Saint
Dorothy as Anne is unapologetically ambitious.  She is not in love with Henry and makes no bones about it.  From day one she is eager to snatch the crown, and is almost infuriatingly public about her goal.  She is slightly more sympathetic in Part II, where she is the sad, neglected and lonely queen, anxiously watching as Henry flits from one mistress to the next.  Her relationship with Elizabeth is merely hinted at.

Relationship with Henry: There is nothing really stand-out about Dorothy’s Anne’s relationship to Henry.  It is a classic case of man-pursues, man-achieves-his-goal, man-moves-on.  She does not really love him, and it shows.

Relationship to Other Men: N/A.  Henry Percy and Thomas Wyatt are distinctly missing, which only serves to damn Anne further, as she is depicted as a cunning and soulless woman intent on only ambition.

Execution Scene: Lacking.  Dorothy is much more powerful in the trial scene, which is more historically-accurate than that in Anne of the Thousand Days.  The execution scene is overdramatic and staged indoors.  Dorothy lays her head on the block and is shown to be executed with an axe, which is inaccurate.

*

Jodhi May — The Other Boleyn Girl (BBC)

Appearance: While some of her compatriots go too far into beauty, I’m sorry to say that Jodhi May’s Anne is too far in the opposite direction.  She is just too plain, and lacking in charisma, for anyone to imagine a king selecting her from all the other women of the court.  Her hair and eyes are dark, her skin is pale.

70% Sinner, 20% Saint: Though Jodhi’s Anne begins the film by saying her one wish in life is to find true love, she is quickly disillusioned by the failure of her betrothal to Henry Percy, and horns in on Henry’s affections, not for any love she bears him, but because she wants to upstage her sister Mary.  There is sexual tension between her and Henry, but very little true affection.

Relationship to Henry: Jodhi taunts Henry, yells at him, constantly chides him, but gives him very little reason to return to her.  Their relationship is tenacious but possesses none of the loving little moments that made Anne so irresistible to Henry for so long.

Relationship to Other Men: Thomas Wyatt is omitted.  Henry Percy is shown as Anne’s great love in the beginning of the film.  To my disgust, the BBC adaptation is the only film that gives credence to the rumor that Anne Boleyn and her brother, George, had an incestuous affair.  Mark Smeaton’s presence is incidental and forgettable.

Execution Scene: Omitted in favor of showing present-day tourists ogling the execution site in the Tower of London.

*

Natalie Dormer – The Tudors

Appearance: Natalie is STUNNING.  She has the dark hair, the sallow complexion, even the moles…but those BLUE EYES!  I don’t understand why they didn’t give her dark contacts.  Also, for a woman who was supposed to be unconventionally beautiful, Natalie is just too gorgeous.  She does age up well, it is believable that years have passed from her first introduction to her execution scene.  And she just oozes charisma.

85% Sinner, 15% Saint: Natalie’s Anne is DEVIOUS.  She moves into Henry’s affections to advance her family, not because she is in love with him, although she finds herself feeling affection for him as time goes on.  She plots to poison Bishop Fisher, talks Henry into throwing off the yokes of his trusted ministers, threatens her friends and family, banishes her sister from court, and even tries to get Henry to kill his former wife and daughter.  Yet she still finds a way to make you pity her.

Relationship with Henry: Though initially not one of affection, Natalie’s Anne does fall in love with Henry and is deeply wounded when he falls out of love with her.  There is a particularly violent sex scene late in season 2 that shows their true feelings for each other, perhaps.

Relationship with Other Men: Henry Percy is omitted.  She has a sexual relationship with Thomas Wyatt, shown in flashbacks.  She flirts with Mark Smeaton and threatens Henry Norris when he flirts with her.  Her relationship to George is innocent, but perceived as otherwise by her maids.

Execution Scene: The best one.  Natalie goes to the scaffold head high, delivers her speech, and kneels bravely, with terrified eyes.  Perfection.

*

Natalie Portman — The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Appearance:  Like Natalie Dormer, Natalie Portman looks the part but is just too damn pretty.  Her skin is the right tone, hair is the right color, she even has the brown eyes.  Sadly, she doesn’t possess Dormer’s charisma.  Her Anne falls somewhat flat.

80% Sinner, 20% Saint: Portman’s Anne is driven by an impulse to upstage her sister Mary, whom she feels upstaged her previously.  She does not love the King.  She is intent on grabbing whatever she can.  You pity her, but it’s more for her sad fate than what she has deserved.

Relationship to Henry: No real sexual tension whatsoever.  Plus there’s a horrible rape scene which was breaking terribly with Henry’s true character.

Relationship to Other Men: Henry Percy and Thomas Wyatt are omitted.  Portman’s Anne tries to convince her brother to have an affair with her so she may become pregnant and ensure her position, but they do not actually sleep together.

Execution Scene: Horrid.  An Anne who sobs on the scaffold is no true Anne at all.  While it is understandable, it did not happen.

MY RANKINGS:
1. Natalie Dormer
2. Genevieve Bujold
3. Dorothy Tutin
4. Jodhi May
5. Natalie Portman

Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments!

The Six Wives of Henry VIII — Thoughts On A Snow Day

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Hello from incredibly snowy New England!  We’re still feeling the aftermath of Winter Storm Nemo, which kept me either locked in my apartment or battling mountains of snow with a shovel in hand.  I am one sore puppy today.  But not too sore to review the 1970 BBC miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII — which I watched in its entirety from Thursday-Saturday.

The BBC miniseries is composed of six (of course) episodes, each 90 minutes in length, each devoted to one of Henry’s unfortunate queens, and each written by a different screenwriter (it’s obvious).  It stars Keith Michell as Henry VIII, and I have to say right off the bat that as much as I love The Tudors and Jonathan Rhys-Myers, I have to give Michell (and his makeup artists) extreme credit for the way they aged him up to look like the overweight, ungainly, and supremely unattractive Henry VIII towards the end of his life.

I’m just going to go through the episodes and give my opinion on each.  I will note right here: to my own surprise, there are times when I am okay with historical inaccuracies.  For example: I could live the rest of my life without seeing another codpiece after this film.  *shudder*  I really wonder who came up with that.  Nothing like entering a room looking like you’re shouting “LOOK OUT WORLD, HERE COMES MY DONG!”

Part I: Katherine of Aragon


Since most films or miniseries about Henry VIII begin somewhere around the end of his marriage to Katherine and the beginning of his love affair with Anne Boleyn, I was pleasantly surprised to see that TSWOHVIII begins with the betrothal of Princess Katherine to Henry’s elder brother, Arthur, who died shortly after their wedding.  The actress who plays Katherine (Annette Crosby) is one of the most accurate-looking depictions of Henry’s first wife ever.  Katherine is usually depicted as extremely ethnic-Hispanic; in reality, she had red-gold hair and blue eyes, and very pale skin.  I was also pleased that the director chose to show Henry and Katherine at the height of their wedded bliss — although the scenes of Henry and Katherine dancing in their chamber while in their nightclothes were just plain weird.  I was rather skeptical of their decision to make Katherine completely oblivious to Henry’s love affair with Anne Boleyn; I highly doubt that she was unaware of what was going on under her nose, though by all accounts she was shocked when  Henry told her that he wanted a divorce.

SPEAKING OF.  THAT SCENE.  The scene where Henry finally gets the cojones to tell Katherine that he’s planning on leaving her?  You expect tears, of course.  I was expecting, perhaps, the drop to the knees, hysterical sobbing of Maria Doyle Kennedy from The Tudors.  I was NOT prepared for an open-mouthed, tearless, braying like a donkey.  Holy crap.  Katherine of Aragon looked JUST like Miss Rhode Island from the first Miss Congeniality film where Sandra Bullock rips the tiara off her head.

JUST. LIKE. THIS.

Most of Katherine’s episode, since it is shown from her POV, is pretty boring.  You don’t see Henry again much, and you keep hearing, via her ladies or other courtiers, that Henry has left her, that he’s married Anne, that he’s had a daughter, blah blah blah.  The end of the episode is pretty boring.  But I have to give them credit for extreme accuracy during the first half.  I can overlook the boredom factor.

Part II: Anne Boleyn
We are first introduced to Anne Boleyn (Dorothy Tutin) in Part I, as a devious little twat intent on stealing Henry away from Katherine.  Again, credit to the directors for finding someone who looks like the historic record of Anne.  Tutin has dark hair and dark eyes, and she’s not conventionally pretty, but she has the charisma that reportedly made Anne so irresistible to men.  Because her debut to the series is so abrupt, no mention is made of her faux-engagement to Henry Percy or her rumored love affair with Thomas Wyatt.  Anne just appears, ready to steal Henry away, and that’s somewhat disappointing.

In Part II, Anne is queen and has already given birth to Princess Elizabeth.  The episode begins, not at Anne’s peak (her coronation), but the beginning of her eventual downfall.  Her first miscarriage is somewhat glossed over, as well as her interactions with the men of her court who would eventually be condemned as her lovers.  Henry and Anne’s relationship is breaking down, due in part to Anne’s inability to carry a male child to term, and Henry’s continued infidelities.  When Anne miscarries a second time, Henry decides he is ready to get rid of her.  I thought the BBC version put a lot of the blame for Anne’s death on Cromwell, who seemed all too ready to be rid of her.  In reality, Cromwell was originally a friend to the Boleyn family; he certainly helped to orchestrate her trial and conviction, but it is doubtful that he would have done so of his own accord.  And I laughed when he claimed that Archbishop Cranmer was on board — Cranmer was a lifelong friend of Anne’s and was incredibly dismayed when she was put to death.

I thought that the inclusion of Anne’s trial was a neat touch.  It was completely glossed over on The Tudors and fabricated to the point of ridiculousness in Anne of the Thousand Days.  The execution scene was…bizarre.  For some reason it was filmed in a studio and not outdoors.  Anne knelt and put her head on the block, which she would never have done — execution by sword had to be done with the convicted kneeling upright.  I was very disappointed overall in this episode.  Brilliant acting by Tutin, but the scriptwriters didn’t give her much to work with.

Part III: Jane Seymour

The Jane Seymour episode was the only episode written totally in flashback mode.  It was definitely, IMO, the best-written episode.  It begins with Jane (Anne Stallybrass) on her deathbed, a mere two years after the death of Anne Boleyn, thinking back to meeting Henry at her father’s estate, the breaking of her engagement (there is no proof that Jane was ever betrothed), and her return to court in Anne’s services.  Throughout her meteoric rise to fame, Jane is racked with guilt over Anne’s death, convinced as she is that Anne was innocent and only put to death so that Henry could marry her.  Her relationship with Henry is tenacious; he makes it clear that she can only please him if she provides him with a male heir.  When she does, Henry is all smiles and good will, but it’s short-lived; Jane dies only days after her son Edward is born.  As his advisers push him to enter into a new marriage, Henry kneels by Jane’s body and cries.

Part IV: Anne of Cleves

Because Anne of Cleves’ marriage to Henry VIII was the shortest and of the least political importance, I was not surprised to see the writers of Episode IV taking major liberties with history in order to beef up the episode.  Anne of Cleves (Elvi Hale) is a minor German princess whose marriage to Henry is arranged by Cromwell.  She is vivacious and excited to be leaving the Duchy of Cleves to marry Henry, eager to throw off the overbearing yoke of her German family, who is dismayed that she knows more about politics than most men her age.  There is no evidence that Anne was politically-minded, or knew anything at all about politics.  When Anne arrives in England, Henry arrives to visit her in disguise as a messenger.  Confronted with this fat, bawdy, messenger, Anne makes her distaste known, only to be horrified when she discovers that the messenger is really her betrothed.  Hurt and insulted, Henry declares that he “likes her not”.  The marriage takes place under duress, with both Henry and Anne disappointed and eager to escape the marriage.  Afraid that her husband’s dislike for her will be her undoing, Anne uses her quick wits and her political know-how to coax Henry into annulling their marriage, even going so far as to suggest that he call her his “Beloved Sister”.

While I’m a HUGE fan of Anne of Cleves and will always be impressed by the handling of her annulment, there is no evidence that Anne orchestrated any part of the undoing of Henry’s fourth marriage.   Her acceptance and amiability, especially coming after the stubbornness of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, made her extremely likeable and definitely had some part in prolonging her life, but I do not think she was as active in her annulment as the writers would have you believe.

Part V: Katherine Howard

Oh good.  Another depiction of Katherine Howard as a devious, conniving hobag.  Katherine (Angela Pleasance) is a mere 17 years old (sounds young, but in real life she was only 15) when her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, puts her before Henry with the intention of making her his fifth wife.  Katherine is ecstatic to be queen, but not so excited when she realizes she must actually have sex with an aging, stinky king, and she cries like a petulant child.  She also makes the incredibly stupid decision to hire one of her former lovers, Francis Dereham, as her secretary.  When Norfolk finds out, he insists that Katherine must get herself pregnant before the king discovers that she lied about her virginity, but Katherine despairs of becoming pregnant since Henry is, by this time, all but impotent.  In order to get herself knocked up, she begins an illicit affair with one of the king’s grooms, Thomas Culpeper, who has been carrying a flame for her ever since she arrived at court.  When Norfolk finds out that the secret is out, he exposes Katherine to the king in the interest of saving his own skin.  Katherine and her lady-in-waiting, Lady Rochford (who orchestrated the meetings) are arrested, Dereham and Culpeper are tortured and put to death, and Katherine rehearses her own execution as Henry warns Norfolk to leave court, for he will execute him if he ever looks on him again.

I’ve always found Angela Pleasance to be kind of scary-looking.  While Tamzin Merchant played an equally spoiled and selfish Katherine on The Tudors, there was no doubt that she truly loved Culpeper, which made her adultery understandable if not forgivable.  Pleasance’s Katherine, however, is certainly not in love with Culpeper; rather, she uses his lust for her in order to try and get pregnant and pass off his child as the King’s.  She is irredeemable, and while the episode is exciting, there’s literally no likeable character in it.  Also, Norfolk would NEVER have turned Katherine in; as his niece, put before Henry at his own fault, he would, after Katherine herself, stand to lose the most by outing her.  The person who informed the King of Katherine’s infidelities was Archbishop Cranmer, who viewed the downfall of Katherine Howard and her Catholic family as divine intercession.

Part VI: Katherine Parr

The last episode was, to me, the most dull.  And it usually is.  As much as I love Joely Richardson as Kate Parr on The Tudors, nobody can deny that the series got infinitely more boring after Katherine Howard’s death.  Katherine Parr always seems to be a placeholder, the last gasp of a desperate king to find someone to stick by him in his old age.  Katherine Parr (Rosalie Crutchley) is his reluctant sixth bride, who is already twice a widow when she is crowned queen.

The episode made very little of the love affair between Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour (brother to Jane).  In real life, Katherine and Thomas were very much in love prior to Katherine’s wedding; Henry sent Thomas to Brussells as an ambassador in order to keep him out of the way while he wooed Katherine.  Katherine is resigned to her marriage, and attempts to be a good wife, using her influence in order to champion the Protestant agenda.  But Henry, Catholic in all things except his loyalty to the Pope, balks, and becomes incensed.  When Katherine is confronted with the possibility of her arrest and execution, she holds her tongue and makes amends with Henry, saving her own life.  But Henry’s health is failing, and he dies shortly afterward.  Thomas Seymour arrives to inform a grieving Katherine that she must marry him, if not for her own sake, then for the sake of Henry’s children, whom  he fears will be manipulated by his elder brother, who has been named Lord Protector.  Katherine reluctant accepts his proposal.

In truth, Katherine and Thomas Seymour were very much in love (at least, Katherine was in love; during their marriage, Thomas entertained a brief love affair with Princess Elizabeth, which tore their marriage apart).  There is no evidence that Katherine Parr made her fourth marriage for any reason other than personal affection.

Final Thoughts: The series on a whole was interesting, but lacked the sweeping dramatics of The Tudors.  It probably would have benefited from having one or two writers, rather than six, since the episodes lack cohesiveness.  The costumes and headpieces are the most historically accurate Tudor replicas I’ve seen, with the exception of Anne of the Thousand Days.  Cinematography would have been better if more of it had been filmed outdoors rather than on a set.

Rating: *** of five stars.

Anne of the Thousand Days: The Best Henry/Anne Confrontation That Never Happened

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I’m back!  After a hiatus of a couple of months (a lot going on), I’m here again to rip apart some of the best (and worst) ‘historical films’ of all time.  Most of which I have a tragic love-hate relationship with.  On one hand…they are historical.  On the other hand…they are sometimes crap.

Today is a little-known and even-less-frequently-cited period drama from 1969, Anne of the Thousand Days.

Though Richard Burton is known for playing Thomas Becket, Mark Anthony, and Elizabeth Taylor’s husband/jewel provider, he also played Henry VIII, and a lot of people don’t remember it.  Probably because he’s a pretty ineffectual Henry.  Anne Boleyn is played by beautiful Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold, and Irene Papas plays an extremely stereotypically Spanish Katherine of Aragon.  The film begins with the courtship of Henry and Anne and concludes with — what else? — an execution scene (wouldn’t be a real Anne Boleyn film without it — take notes, Sophia Coppola!).

Most of the film is done in flashback-mode.  The film begins with Henry, writing out the execution orders for the myriad accused lovers of Queen Anne Boleyn, his second wife.  He pauses when he gets to her execution order, and wistfully cries “Nan!” (There is no basis in fact that Henry ever referred to Anne Boleyn as “Nan” — this is fabrication by the screenwriter.)

Cue flashback: Henry is disappointed that Katherine has been unable to provide him with a male heir, and he publicly chides her for this as they are sitting, watching a lively group of dancers, one of which is, of course, Anne Boleyn. Katherine, mortally offended and hurt, stalks from the room, leaving Henry to dance with Anne.  Irene Papas, while a good actress, looks nothing like the real Katherine, being slender, with olive skin, dark eyes and hair.  Katherine of Aragon, though slender at the time of her marriage, had grown plump by the time Henry’s affair with Anne commenced.  She also had pale skin, red hair, and blue eyes.

A very ethnically-Spanish Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII watch Lady Anne dancing, at the beginning of the film.

Anne is in love with Henry Percy (the guy that The Tudors totally eliminated), and they are on the brink of announcing their engagement, when Henry orders Cardinal Wolsey to break the engagement so he can have Anne for himself.  In reality, the engagement was never something that was going to happen; Percy was already (unhappily) betrothed and, as Wolsey’s protege, would never have been allowed to marry Anne Boleyn.  Anne is enraged to discover that her love affair with Percy has been brought to an end, not just by Wolsey, but by King Henry, who wants her for his mistress.

Before her confrontation with the king, she speaks with her sister, Mary Boleyn, Henry’s mistress, who has just found she has been cast aside in favor of her pretty little sister.  Mary, pregnant with the king’s son, warns Anne not to be heedless as she was; once the King has had her, he will throw her away.  Anne never knew that Henry VIII was behind Wolsey’s breaking of her relationship with Percy.  Had she known, it is unlikely that she would have laid the blame squarely on Wolsey’s shoulders, nor would she have been so eager to cast him down from favor.  Furthermore, no matter what Philippa Gregory would lead you to believe, there is no contemporary evidence that links any of Mary Boleyn’s children to Henry VIII.  Henry is known to have sired one bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, and he was pleased enough to acknowledge him — something he never did with any of Mary Boleyn’s children.

Mary Boleyn warns Anne not to give in to the king, or risk being left pregnant and abandoned.

Between Henry’s spoiling of her love affair with Henry Percy, and her sister’s admonition, Anne has absolutely no intention of allowing herself to be seduced by Henry, which she makes perfectly clear by rebuffing his advances, and even worse, insulting him to his face.  This has the unfortunate effect of only inflaming Henry’s desire, and he warns Anne that he’ll never let her marry another man until he has her.  There is no record of Henry boldly professing such shamelessly manipulative behavior during his courtship with Anne.  When Anne sees the futility of her situation, she makes up her mind to strike the ultimate deal with Henry: she’ll surrender to him, but only as his wife and Queen of England, not as his mistress.  She will provide him with a son and heir…as long as no one can ever call him bastard.

Thus begins seven long years of torment, in which Henry appeals to Rome for an annulment, is denied, and holds a court in England to try his case, which is also denied.  When the final judgement is found for Katherine, Anne is shown listening outside the doors, sobbing.  It is difficult to tell whether she is doing so out of joy or frustration, which I thought was an interesting ambiguity worthy of a Gold Star.  Henry confronts Anne afterwards and tells her that he will never rest until he has his annulment and hears her say she loves him.  Anne denies loving him still, and Henry goes to storm away.  In that moment, Anne rushes to him and falls into his arms, declaring that she does, indeed, love him.  They consummate their relationship that evening.

Anne meets Henry Percy in the gardens outside the palace shortly afterward.  Percy is angry at his unfortunate marriage and disgusted with Anne, not only for forsaking him, but for yielding to the King.  Anne tells Percy that she love the power her new position as Henry’s lover has given her.  There is no proof that Anne did not feel this way, but it would have been very unwise for her to so publicly reveal her sentiments when Henry was convinced that she loved him for himself, not for the position she would marry into.  When Henry appears, she leaves Henry Percy and tell her royal lover that she is pregnant with his child.  With this truth in evidence, Henry quickly has his marriage declared null and void by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and marries Anne.

Anne on the day of her coronation.

After the wedding, all seems a paradise for Anne and Henry, until the baby is  born — a girl, Princess Elizabeth.  Anne is immediately hysterical at the thought of her failure, but is cheered by her father’s insistence that there will be “a boy next time.”  Henry is not told by his ministers of this unfortunate trick of birth (what minister in his right mind would not have told him?) and he appears in Anne’s chamber ready to greet his long-awaited son and heir.  Richard’s acting in this scene is magnificent — you can see the exact moment when Henry realizes that he has moved heaven and earth to marry Anne, only to discover that she has failed to live up to her end of the bargain.

Years go by, and we see another court dance, as Henry’s eye wanders over the dancers.  This time, it is Jane Seymour who catches the king’s eye, and Queen Anne, chided for her failure to produce an heir, who stalks from the room in silence.

It’s like deja vu all over again.

Frightened as she realizes the tenacity of her position, Anne begins striking out blindly at her perceived enemies — Queen Katherine of Aragon, who is dying, and Sir Thomas More, the King’s longtime friend and tutor.  Katherine of Aragon dies after a long wasting disease that is believed to be cancer, with her daughter, Princess Mary, vowing to avenge her mother’s death.  Mary and Katherine were separated when Katherine was banished from court just before the King’s marriage to Anne; they would never meet again, and Mary was certainly not at Katherine’s deathbed.  Anne succeeds in convincing Henry to execute Sir Thomas More, but immediately after his death, she miscarries a child — a boy.

Henry is now determined to get rid of Anne, so that he may make a third marriage, to the Lady Jane Seymour.  Cromwell invents a story — that Anne has been committing adultery with members of the court, including her musician, Mark Smeaton, and her own brother, George Boleyn.  In order to (literally) squeeze a confession from Smeaton, Cromwell orders him tortured with a knotted cord around his eyes.  This story is taken from a contemporary witness known to be maliciously-intended to show how corrupt Henry’s court was; it has been all but proved false by historians.  Anne and her accused “lovers” are arrested and tried at Westminster Hall.

Henry, who up until now has made great show of believing Anne’s guilt, arrives in court to witness the proceedings, which did not happen in real life; Henry stayed studiously away from the court that decided his wife’s fate.  Upon hearing what he knows to be a lie from Smeaton, about days and times that he confessed to sleeping with Anne, Henry immediately proclaims him a liar.  Just as Anne thinks he is going to declare her innocent, Henry seems to realize what he is doing, and changes his mind.

What follows is one of the best scenes in historical film, and sadly, all of it is inaccurate.  Anne is seen in her chamber, waiting for her execution, when Henry visits her, both to ask if she’ll agree to annulling her marriage in order to save her life, and to ask if she did commit adultery.  Anne denies that she was unfaithful, but refuses to grant him the annulment, for such an action would bastardize Elizabeth.  Henry goes to leave, and Anne stops him, telling him that she lied and that she was unfaithful with many, but that Elizabeth was hers, and that she’ll be a greater queen than any son Henry could produce.  Henry slams the door shut, and Anne dissolves into tears once she is alone again. Henry never came to see Anne again after her arrest.  Anne was given the opportunity to declare her marriage null and void in the interest in saving her life, and she did so, even knowing that Elizabeth would be bastardized.  It sucks that such an amazing scene is fake, but there you go.  Anne is executed in a scene that, for the most part, is relatively accurate (her execution speech is omitted), and the final scene shows Henry joyfully riding off “To Mistress Seymour’s!” as he hears the cannons fire, and little Elizabeth practicing walking in a train, while Anne’s words of admonition to Henry repeat.

My Opinion: The film is rife with historical inaccuracy, that can’t be denied, and Burton plays a merely passable Henry VIII.  But the real star is Genevieve Bujold.  She plays Anne with the perfect amount of innocence and cunning.  This is really one of the only adaptations of the life of Anne Boleyn that paints her in a favorable light.

It’s a decent, if somewhat long, film, and I would recommend it to the casual historical film fan, if only for Bujold’s interpretation of Anne.

Rating: *** (of 5 stars)

Anastasia (1997): The One Where I Pick On A Kid’s Movie

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Oh, I love Anastasia.  Yeah, I mean the 1997 version by Don Bluth.  It’s really almost unfair of me to even rip this apart, because OMG EVERYTHING ABOUT IT IS INACCURATE.  But it’s so cute, with a gorgeous soundtrack and loveable characters and gahhhhh…how can  you hate it?

Anastasia is based off of one of the biggest royal tragedies of all time, touted as one of the biggest mysteries of the 20th century: the execution of the Romanovs, the ruling family of Imperial Russia, in 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution.  The emperor, Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra, their five children, and four members of their household were shot to death in the basement of the house they were imprisoned in.  The bodies were dragged into the woods, lit on fire, doused in sulphuric acid, and buried in a mine shaft.

Of course, this is Don Bluth; you’re never going to see that.  In any case: in Anastasia, somehow, one of the Romanov children — the youngest daughter, Anastasia, survived the tragedy, but has subsequently lost her memory.  She escapes an orphanage as a teenager, and wanders to St. Petersburg, where she meets handsome debonair con artist Dmitri, who sees her as the perfect imposter Anastasia to bring to Paris before the princess’s Grandmother, Dowager Empress Marie, in order to con her into giving him 10 million rubles (Russian money).  Except that the evil Rasputin, the one-time friend of the Romanovs who is cursed to remain in limbo until he successfully kills Anastasia, is on their tail, determined to kill the dynasty once and for all.

Okay.  Let’s begin with Anastasia herself.  Because…yeah.

In the film, Grand Duchess (not Princess, gah) Anastasia is eight years old when her family is destroyed in the Revolution.  Except…Anastasia was born in 1901.  When her family was executed on July 18, 1917, Anastasia was seventeen years old.  Meaning that, if the story takes place approximately 10 years into the future as the movie pretends…she would be closing in on her 30’s (which to  be fair, doesn’t seem as old as it did when I first saw Anastasia).

Also, sucktastic spoiler alert: Anastasia didn’t survive.

Bummer, I know.

When the bodies of the Romanovs were first discovered, the remains of two of the children were missing.  One was Alexei, the heir to the throne, aged 13.  The other was one of the younger two sisters — either Marie or Anastasia.  Because so many imposters (most notably Anna Anderson) claimed to be Anastasia over the years — and possibly because she had such a boisterous personality — the missing sister was largely believed to be Anastasia.

Historians generally discounted the idea that the two children survived.  One, because Alexei was a hemophiliac — a disorder in which the blood refuses to clot.  By the admission of their murderers, the royal family was shot, beaten, bludgeoned, and bayoneted to death, making it unlikely that anyone could have survived, and certainly not a young boy who was already so ill he could barely walk.  And two, because the murderers were Bolshevik agents who were given orders to leave no survivors.  It is doubtful they would risk their skins to save two children.  In any case, in 2007 the remains of two teenagers, a boy and a girl, were found a short distance from the mine shaft where the Romanovs had been left.  Forensic experts confirmed that the bodies were those of Alexei Romanov and his missing sister, Anastasia or Marie.

The real Anastasia and Alexei Romanov, as children, long before their deaths.

Usually I’d be ripping such an obvious inaccuracy to shreds but you know, it was prior to the bodies being found and oh yeah, it’s a fictional children’s musical so I’ll shut my yap about it.  At least about this part.

Dowager Empress Marie did not live in Paris, nor did she entertain Anastasia imposters.  Dowager Empress Marie Fedeorovna fled the Revolution to her native country of Denmark, where she lived out her remaining years as the guest of the Danish royal family in Copenhagen.  Although she received reports that her son Nicholas and his family had been murdered, along with her only other surviving son, Michael, Marie refused to believe the reports, and chose instead to hold out hope that her family had been spared.  But she never put out a reward for anyone who “found” her missing family members, nor did she put herself through the heartache of receiving imposters.  That unlucky task fell to her daughter, Olga Alexandrovna, who would meet Anna Anderson in person and became her most famous detractor.

And I have to say, guys: Rasputin may have sucked, but he was so inaccurately portrayed that it’s disgusting.  Rasputin was a self-proclaimed moujik, or mystic, who appeared in St. Petersburg and miraculously healed Alexei during a particularly serious bleeding incident.  From that point on, Empress Alexandra considered Rasputin little less than a saint.  He was held in high regard as the favorite of the court, which angered members of the royal family and nobility who felt they were being pushed out for an unsavory peasant who had a predilection for boozing, womanizing, and involving himself in politics.

He was also the scariest-looking motherfucker in the world.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Alexandra refused to believe Rasputin was anything but a holy man who was being wrongfully attacked by his enemies.  He was murdered in 1916 by Nicholas II’s nephew and his friends, bringing great sorrow and fear to the royal family, since prior to his death Rasputin had predicted that, if he was murdered by members of the royal family, the Romanov dynasty would fall within six months.  His prophesy turned out to be eerily accurate.

In Anastasia, we see a cringing Rasputin slinking up to Nicholas II at the 500th anniversary ball (side note: the 500th anniversary took place in 1913, three years before the Revolution, not immediately before it).  An enraged Nicholas orders his arrest, calling him a “traitor”.  Rasputin vows revenge on the whole family, manages to escape, sells his soul to the devil for the opportunity to destroy the Romanovs, and you know the rest.

And he looked like such a nice guy.

Sure, Rasputin was a bastard.  He drank, he whored, he sexually assaulted more than one woman, and he took advantage of a sick child and his desperate mother to bring himself power, riches, and affluence.  But Rasputin would never have willingly destroyed the Romanovs or plotted their destruction.  It would have been akin to pretty much ripping off and devouring the hand that feeds you, never mind biting.  Also, Rasputin was definitely not the most Christian man you’d ever meet, but there is no evidence that he consorted with the devil, practiced black magic, etc.  His only claims of magical ability were divination and healing, and always within an Orthodox Christian paradigm.

Just to show that I’m not really an asshole who loves to tear apart children’s movies, I’m going to put in a couple of Gold Stars.  Which is going to be my little barometer of historical pieces that a truly inaccurate movie put in that the casual fan might have missed.

– Alexei’s limp.  During Anastasia’s dream sequence, the royal family walks into the ballroom as she is dancing.  We see just a second of Alexei, walking in with his mother and father.  He is limping ever so slightly.  Shortly before Rasputin was introduced to the royal family, Alexei suffered a bad bleed behind his knee.  He walked with a limp and wore a leg brace afterwards.

Alexei is the little boy, walking in behind Nicholas (guy in the white coat and sash)

Rasputin really did drown in the Neva River.  Although his murderers attempted to kill him by feeding him cakes and wine laced with poison, shooting him at point blank range, and beating him with a club and a chain, it was only after his supposedly-dead body was found in the icy Neva River that Rasputin finally succumbed.  When he was found two days later, an autopsy revealed water in his lungs.  He had died by drowning, thus forever earning him a place on Cracked.com’s list of 7 Historical Figures Who Were Absurdly Hard to Kill.

Well, that’s Anastasia.  I’m not going to rate it because let’s be fair, this film isn’t trying to pass itself off as historically accurate (there’s a talking bat for God’s sake), and because I don’t have a stick in my ass.  Watch this movie.  Even if you’re a die-hard history fan committed life and death to accuracy, watch it.  Because it’s that freakin’ cute.

Marie Antoinette (2006): Sophia Coppola’s Saccharine Lolita Fantasy…With No Substance

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I am a glutton for punishment (a BORED glutton for punishment) and I thought I’d give Marie Antoinette another spin.

MA is the 2006 film by Sophia Coppola that presented itself as a biopic of the infamous French queen, from her marriage to Louis Auguste when she was only a teenager, until her flight from Versailles at the outbreak of the French Revolution.  Note: there is no execution scene in the film.  I KNOW.  Coppola claimed that her film was based on the book Marie Antoinette: The Journey by historian Antonia Fraser, though she admitted that she had taken some historic license (ha).

Marie Antoinette (played by Kirsten Dunst and apparently ageless between age 15 and 33) begins life as a carefree, overly-affectionate Princess of Austria named Antoine, betrothed to Louis Auguste, the Dauphin of France, as a teenager.  She is immediately unsuited to the role as Dauphine.  Her marriage to the shy, inexperienced heir is unconsummated for seven years, and she throws herself into overindulgence, buying new clothes and shoes, wearing rouge, playing cards, and disporting constantly.  This frivolity earns her the hatred of the French people, and you all know the rest.

“Let them eat cake” and all that.

The first half of the film watches like this:
– Marie lies in bed with Louis, sexually frustrated because he won’t touch her.
– Marie gets up in the morning and her attendants dress her.
– Marie goes to Mass with her ladies.
– Marie and Louis eat a silent, awkward meal.
– Marie spends a lot of money on clothes, shoes, and various over-fluffed pastries.

Lather, rinse, repeat.  Seriously.

This is interspersed with shots of Marie reading letters of admonition from her mother, telling her that it’s her responsibility to secure the consummation of her marriage and that her position is insecure until she produces an heir to the throne.  And we see a couple scenes of Marie running with French fops, drinking champagne, attending the Opera (the Palaise Garnier or Paris Opera House wasn’t built until nearly a century later) and a masked ball, and running around the French countryside watching the sun rise.  I sit here and wonder why this is supposed to make me feel sorry for Marie; thus far she’s being painted as nothing more than an 18th-century Desperate Housewife.

Marie’s brother comes to visit and speak to her and Louis about their unconsummated marriage (AWKWARD) and Marie presents him a cup of “flowering tea.”  This method of tea-drinking was not discovered until the 20th century (although the Teavana website reinforces the myth that Marie was presented flowering tea by the Emperor of China).  Shortly after the talk, Marie’s brother appeals to Louis’ interests by speaking of sexual intercourse as an analogy for a “lock and key” (referencing Louis’ interests in locksmithing) and somehow, that does it for him and they conceive a child.  In reality, Louis was born with a disorder of the foreskin which made an erection painful, which caused him to avoid sex until he received a circumcision late in life.  IN ANY CASE, Marie gets pregnant and endures the incredibly-humiliating experience of a public birth, they have a daughter, and all seems well.

Of course, then we cut to scenes of Marie playing in the Petit Trianon, probably the most damning of Marie’s possessions in the eyes of the French people.  The Trianon was Marie’s “little village” that she had set up on the grounds of Versailles, where she and her friends could escape the pressures of court (Here I have to ask Ms. Coppola: what pressures?  So far we’ve just seen her dressing, eating, and dancing around).  They would dress in simple clothes and pretend they were commoners, drink milk and eat food prepared from Marie’s cows and gardens, and row boats in the lake.

On to Count Fersen.  Much has been made of his relationship with Marie — the film is no different.  Although at this point Marie appears to have a decent relationship with King Louis, she is besotted with Count Fersen when he arrives at court and immediately embarks on an affair with him.  Although historians such as Frasier have admitted there may be some credence to the Marie Antoinette/Count Fersen affair, there has never been unquestionable proof to it.  Though I have to admit, watching Marie do it with sexy Count Fersen is much hotter than watching her fumble around with bumbling Louis.  But then Fersen goes back to Sweden and Marie mopes around Versailles, because of course life has no meaning when all you have is a king for a husband and tons of servants and pretty clothes and a house in the countryside and a palace and…yeah.

“Without you, all of my stuff is meaningless.”

And maybe it’s time for Marie to settle down and be queen except it’s a little too late, because the French peasants are starving and maybe Louis should have done something about that instead of playing with cards and locks this whole time?  Now everyone hates Marie, which they did all along because she’s from Austria (and relations between France and Austria were always shit except for literally the ten minutes where Marie was engaged to Louis).  Marie has a son, finally, and that seems to kind of quell the storm for awhile (Side note: I read online that some people were questioning, because of the timing of the film, whether the baby was Louis’ or Fersen’s child.  Hrm.  Surprised that Coppola didn’t run with that).  Then comes a series of tragedies — the death of her mother and of a child.  In the film, Marie produces three children and loses one — in reality, she had four children and lost one.  We find this out through a really awkward scene where a painting of Marie with three children is hung on the wall, taken down, and replaced with the third baby being painted out.

The real, altered picture. Sophie-Beatrix, the fourth child, has been painted out.

Really, the scenes spliced together are supposed to elicit some feeling for poor Marie, but it doesn’t work very well.  Because as soon as she’s done mourning for her mother and child, we see yet ANOTHER scene of Marie and Louis sitting idly outside while their minions play croquet…which is where they are when they find out that the Bastille prison has been stormed and surprise!  Everyone hates them.  In order to save her friends’ skins (which didn’t work in the end), Marie sends them all away and remains with Louis.  Versailles is stormed that night by an angry mob.  In one of the historically accurate scenes in the film, Marie walks out on her balcony and greets the mob by bowing low to them.  Her gesture doesn’t placate the mob, and Marie and Louis try to eat their ridiculous multi-course meals with the mob screaming outside.

They are taken from Versailles shortly after, and Marie and Louis stare out the window of the carriage as they leave their glittering home for the last time.  The final shot is a still frame of Marie’s ornate bedroom, chandelier shattered, curtains torn and ripped, an analogy of her failed queenship.  Because, in the end…it was really all about the stuff.

And the style.  The film is less a biopic about Marie as it is an allegory for the frivolity and the extravagance of youth.  It doesn’t elicit sympathy for Marie, simply because she just refuses to get it.  Whether that’s her fault, her husband’s fault, or the fault of a ridiculous court as a whole is beyond the scope of the film.  It does have some good qualities — it is literally a feast for the senses, between the clothes (the costumer designer took home Oscar), the colors and the music.  Women (particularly those obsessed with the Rococo period and fashion like the lolita subculture) will love this film.  Their husbands and boyfriends will wait forever for the decapitation scene that never comes.  And history lovers will just stare blankly at this piece of frivolity that is a lot of beautiful fluff and little else.

Rating: 2 stars.

“Gettysburg” (1993) — The War Between the Realities

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Oh Gettysburg.  The film that kindled the fire of love for history within me when I was a mere sprig of a 10-year-old.  It is still one of my favorite movies.  Sadly, it is also rife with inaccuracy.  Let’s get to it.Gettysburg is adapted (with near-perfect precision) from the Pulitzer-prizewinning historical fiction novel by Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels.  It tells the story of the three-day bloody battle of the Civil War, through the eyes of some of its famous names and faces.

What they got right: Surprisingly, a lot!  Shaara did a lot of research in his writing, lifting some of his book directly from letters and diaries.  The names, places, characters, etc. are all pretty spot-on.

With a couple of Hollywood liberties, of course.

What they got wrong: Not too too much.

Your favorite character (besides Col. Chamberlain, of course) didn’t exist.  Private Buster Kilrain, the grumpy private recently demoted for “that episode with the bottle” and Chamberlain’s adopted father, the token Irishman of the group, delivers one of the most poignant speeches of the film not given by Chamberlain himself.  And he was totally a work of fiction.

The old timey photograph they used to represent Kilrain during the opening credits was nothing more than that of an unknown Union soldier.  Kilrain is completely made-up, which continues to annoy the piss out of Gettysburg tour guides who have to answer the cacophony of gullible individuals demanding to know why his name isn’t on the 20th Maine monument on Little Round Top.

The British dude wasn’t a foppish moron.  Col. Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, of her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards, is the token English fop in this film.  “An observer” from England who self-funded his trip to the Confederacy to shadow the army and see the war for himself, Fremantle traveled the length and breadth of the Confederacy during April – July, 1863, and by some trick of fate ended up witnessing the Battle of Gettysburg.

Fremantle’s journal, published as Three Months in the Southern States, paints him as quite a down-to-earth character, and contains frequent references to his lack of dress clothes, his gray pants (which brings a local to mistake him for a Confederate soldier) and his dusty attire.  Why the directors chose to clothe him in the bright red uniform is beyond me.

Hi. I like dressing like a target for the entire field to shoot at.

Perhaps even more infuriatingly, he is show sipping tea out of a china cup on the field.  Really?  Really?  I know the guy is British, and we ‘Murricans know they stumble around overdressing and drinking tea in inappropriate places, but really?

Tom Chamberlain was not the Everyman he was depicted as.  You see Tom Chamberlain, brother of Joshua Chamberlain, flitting throughout the camps and among Confederates, making friends with every rebel he encounters.  There is no record of this happening.  I think it was more the director’s choice that they had to have someone, instead of just random people, interviewing rebels, taking rebels captive, and delivering Armistead’s dying message.  But in the end, it’s laughable.  Tom is just everywhere.

Played by C. Thomas Howell with the world’s worst mustache.

Honestly, I can’t think of any other glaring inaccuracies.  Which would, I think, say Gettysburg is about as good as a historical-fiction film can be.  If characterization is your worst inaccuracy, you’re in pretty good shape.

“Elizabeth” (1998) — Queen of Hearts, Queen of Inaccuracy

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I’ve been holed up for the past two days writing a massive paper, and because I can’t write in silence, I’ve had the 1998 film Elizabeth on repeat as background noise.  Well, this is about as good a way to begin as any.  Let’s get to it.

Elizabeth is the story of England’s most famous lady monarch at the beginning of her reign.  Elizabeth (played to perfection by Cate Blanchett) is a young girl when she is crowned queen upon the death of her elder sister, Mary I.  Sultry and sensuous as her mother Anne Boleyn before her, Elizabeth finds herself equally at odds with the factions at court.  The Catholic Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston) plots her demise.  The Spanish and French ambassadors war over marrying her to the crowned heads of Europe.  And she must fight the passion she feels for the married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Joseph Fiennes), with only Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), her loyal bodyguard, in her corner.

What they got right: Elizabeth.  Like I said, Cate Blanchett is perfection.  She both looks and acts the part of the real Elizabeth, from start to finish.  The story of split factions and betrayal is also true — the real Duke of Norfolk was arrested and executed on a charge of treason.  The scene between Elizabeth and Mary, where Elizabeth pleads for her life, was very good.  The costumes and sets were also well done.

What they got wrong.  Here’s where I have fun.

Elizabeth knew Robert Dudley was married.  Of course she did.  They were imprisoned together in the Tower of London during the reign of Mary I, and were best friends (or closer, if you believe the rumors).  It was speculated, during Elizabeth’s reign, that the Queen would grant Lord Robert a divorce from his wife, Amy Robsard, so she could marry him herself.  Had this plan existed, it would have been quickly abandoned when Amy Robsard Dudley was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs, her neck broken.  Elizabeth was forced to distance herself from Dudley or risk speculation that she had arranged Amy’s murder in order to free Dudley for herself.  They remained close until his death.

Can you blame her? Dudley was quite the dish.

The Duke of Anjou may or may not have been a transvestite, but Elizabeth never saw him.  The amorous Duke never journeyed to England to make a bid for Elizabeth’s heart in person.  Francois, Duke of Anjou, was 18 years Elizabeth’s junior, and he did not present his suit before her until 1579, when Elizabeth was 46 years old — not young and vibrant as she was in the film.  Elizabeth played with Anjou’s affections for two years before “regrettably” denying his suit in 1581

He wouldn’t look half bad in a dress.

 

Francis Walsingham did not murder Marie of Guise.  Marie, the mother of the current Queen of Scotland (Mary, Queen of Scots), was a member of the French House of Guise, the sworn enemies of the Valois, so it is unthinkable that she would have been entertaining Anjou.  The real Marie died of edema at the age of 44.  There is no record of her meeting or entertaining Walsingham, and the notion of him poisoning her is a work of pure fiction.

We doubt she was this much of a hot mess, too.

The directors couldn’t keep track of who was old, who was young, and who was dead.  Case in point.  Robert Cecil, Lord Burghley, was 40 years old when Elizabeth came to power, not the 80 years old that the guy from “Jurassic Park would lead you to believe.

“I’m totally 40, guys.”

There’s also Bishop Stephen Gardiner, the film’s curmudgeonly old bastard, who died in 1555 — three years before Elizabeth took the throne.  Francis Walsingham was a young stud in his mid-20s (I love you, Geoffrey Rush, but neither you nor I will see 20 again and that is fact).  And Kat Ashley, Elizabeth’s chief lady-in-waiting, looks young enough to be Elizabeth’s sister; in reality, she was 31 years her charge’s senior.  I could go on but why further depress myself.

Norfolk, the film’s primary asshole, wasn’t that much of an asshole.  Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, came from a long line of men with a tendency for pissing off the monarch and getting imprisoned or executed, and decided not to break with tradition.  However, he was a Protestant, not a Catholic as depicted in the film.  He was not a powerful or cunning man, but rather weak and ineffective, more puppet than puppeteer.  He was arrested as one of the movers and shakers of one of the myriad plots to assassinate Elizabeth and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne.  Oh.  Did I mention that he was her cousin?  Because he totally was.  But the kind of cousin who you really wish your mom would stop inviting to Thanksgiving.

THAT kind of cousin.

These are the primary historical inaccuracies in a movie rife with them, but this entry’s already getting long and my dinner’s in the oven.  Fun little tidbit; this film was so incredibly biased against the Catholic Church that the Church condemned it for making the clergy look like a bunch of pricks.  In all fairness, a film about a Protestant Queen, that the Pope declared a heretic and a bastard, is not going to be exactly pro-Catholic.  But maybe having a priest beat a guy to death with a rock wasn’t the most charitable thing the directors could have done.

Historical Accuracy — and why the hell I care so much

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ImageMy name is Megan.  Meg for short.  And if that picture up there were real life…or even a metaphor for it…I’d be the person on the back of the dinosaur.  No, not the one speaking the quote.  The one everyone’s yelling at.

I am a student of history.  I am NOT a historian — the best I could call myself is a “neophyte historian.”  I love history of all kinds, but until I write my thesis and get my M.A., I have too much respect for the real scholars to lay claim to the title of “historian.”

As a lover of history, I am quite the fan of historical pop culture.  Movies, TV shows, historical fiction books — you name it, I love it.  But my favorite quote is “History is more fascinating and amazing than any made-up fiction.”  So I…really like it when the director/author/etc. gets it right

And when they get it wrong (as they so frequently do), I — like the asshole on the back of the dinosaur — the first person to scream out “THAT’S INACCURATE.  THAT’S WRONG.  OH MY GOD DID THEY DO NO RESEARCH WHATSOEVER?”

I don’t know if my friends think I’m hilarious, or if they hate me.  Could be both.

I spent the last few months bitching about all pop culture historical inaccuracies, until my friend Jess — author of Horror Films Galore — gave me the idea to do a blog of historical inaccuracies in popular culture.  Some place where I can rant and rave to my hearts content.  This way, also, my friends can shut me off if they want to (this fact has not eluded me).

So here we go.  Welcome to Historical Anachronism.  First “real” entry forthcoming