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Ghost Canyon

'Henry & Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History'
(Jack Hawkins, Emma Connell, et al / DVD / NR / (2014) 2015 / PBS)

Overview: This two-part mini-series docudrama depicts King Henry VIII of England and his "second" wife, Anne Boleyn.

DVD Verdict: The intro to this program proclaims something to the effect that many stories have been told about Henry and Anne, but none have told the full story. And presumably, the full story will then be told in "Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History." Yet, what follows is yet another documentary that rehashes the same tired material, hosted by someone who is unabashedly romantic and translates that 21st century mindset onto a medieval court where romance rarely counted for much. And that's simply one of the issues plaguing this program.

First off is the casting. Emma Connell, who portrayed Anne Boleyn, is actually quite the best part of the mini-series, playing Anne with a lively spirit and mysterious allure which most agree Anne had in spades. The fact that her coloring is Anne-appropriate also helps; she has the brunette hair, dark eyes, and olive-tinged skin color for which Anne was noted and which made her stand out at the Tudor court against the more traditional blonde-haired, blue-eyed 'English Roses'.

Jack Hawkins, however, cast as Henry VIII is too handsome and too slender for the Henry of this period. The one thing Jack has correct is the ginger hair and beard. During the time Henry met, wooed, married, and killed Anne (~1525-1536), the king was middle aged (34-45) and while he was always an athletically active man and slender in his youth, he was never a willowy man--I think 'stocky' would be the more appropriate word, despite the king's 6'2" height. Yes, the appearance of the actors is a nitpick, but to my mind, accurate physical portrayals lead to a more immersive viewing experience.

But I believe the most egregious aspect of "Henry and Anne" is the presenter, Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb. She states, quite upfront, her belief the Henry and Anne loved each other right from the beginning and narrates the series as though it were Henry and Anne against the world. Yet her story of the couple in incomplete: she completely leaves out Anne's early romances and her engagement to Henry Percy, which was thwarted by Cardinal Wolsey (explaining her hatred of the man and her persecution of him once she became queen), and she portrays the chase of Anne by Henry as a give-and-take romance between the two which they knew needed to be carried out with discretion and honor (bull!).

Their "romance" began as a one-sided pursuit by Henry who was intrigued by Anne's singular appearance and vivacity and who desired her to become his mistress, never his wife, something Anne was never going to agree to. After all, Anne knew of Henry's affair with her sister, Mary, and of Mary's quick downfall once Henry became tired of Mary's charms; Mary was pensioned off with little money and even less honor. Once Anne became Henry's focus as his next potential mistress, it's likely she told him she would settle for nothing less than marriage in order to scare him off. Instead, he kept pursuing her and initiated proceedings for an annulment from Catherine of Aragon. Only then is it likely that Anne began to fall for the king, both from his persistent ardor and from the idea of being queen.

Will we ever really know the truth of what happened in Anne and Henry's romance? No, thanks to the fact that we only have Henry's side of their courtship; Anne's letters to him no longer exist, so we won't ever know if she played coy or if she experienced the same kind of ardor as Henry. However, Dr. Lipscomb wrote this documentary and narrated it with the clear intention of presenting the two as passionate lovers from a fairytale, without actually having much evidence to back up that wishing thinking. And that's exactly what this documentary is: wishing thinking dressed up in location filming and over-wrought acting/dialogue. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.

www.PBS.org





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