The Other Boleyn Girl (2003)



Nastascha McElhone / Jodhi May / Jared Harris / Steven Mackintosh / Philip Glenister / Jack Shepherd / John Woodvine / Ron Cook / Anthony Howell / Jane Gurnett / Yolanda Vazquez  / From the novel by  Phillipa Gregory / Screenplay by  Phillipa Lowthorpe / Art-Direction by  Netty Chapman / Costume Design by  Maggie Chappelhow / Cinematography by  Graham Smith / Edited by  Jonathan Morris / Original Soundtrack by  Peter Salem / Produced by  Luke Alkin / Directed by  Phillipa Lowthorpe


In just about every respect, this first adaptation of Phillipa Gregory’s ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ is painfully superior to it’s multi-million dollar Hollywood sister. Natascha McElhone and Jodhi May quite literally dance circles around their State-side counterparts – Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman.. proving that pretty pouts and a fat budget are no substitute for good solid acting and a little time & effort in production. With this BBC version we get the honest simplicity of a low-budget experimental short, but with enough fire and emotional clout to compete with the Oscar blockbusters. It may not have the 80’s beat cool soundtrack of Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, but it is equally inventive, quite different from typical British period drama, with an unconventional cinematography and immediate home movie style. A very clever balance is achieved, whereby the usually stiff Tudor characters are fleshed out and presented in the cold light of reality, but at the same time a sense of poetic beauty is maintained in the language, gestures and undeniably appealing qualities of the age. Henry is of comparatively less importance than he has ever been before (played with great aplomb by Richard Harris’ son Jared Harris), allowing the female leads to take centre stage, and emerge from their usual places in his shadow. Steven Mackintosh as the sister’s painfully faithful brother is superb too, but secondary to our female focal point.

Both McElhone & Jodhi May are exemplary (each in their own way the ‘Other’ of the title) explaining the emotional journeys of the Boleyn sisters through a series of interview devices that have the feeling of video diaries..  I suppose the idea isn’t dissimilar to evening Big Brother Diary Room reportage.  Certain liberties are taken with the accepted history, but the story is more of an exploration and domestic peek at the motivations and conflicting emotions behind these characters, and a certain amount of poetic license is almost expected. It’s more than likely that the HBO ‘Tudors’ series aspired more to this version, even if it is clearly closer in feel and debauched attitude to the other. For my money, I’m not that critical of ‘The Tudors’, it’s honest enough about it’s lusty aims, and doesn’t claim to be more than a mediaeval soap opera (considering it’s popularist stance, a pretty well acted one too), whereas the big screen outing for ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ sailed high on puffed up delusions of grandeur.

The overall feel is one of cine-play, with McElhone & May putting over much of the events through diary asides, emoting to us through the camera with such frank realism, that we are made a part of proceedings, and not held at the distance usually unavoidable in many starchy period dramas. Jodhi May isn’t above snuffling and dropping her guard, and despite the fact that both actresses are known for their physical appeal, neither are rouged up to the nines and treated as windowdressing. That’s not to say that there isn’t an attempt to make the piece an asthetic one, with much to appeal to the poetic heart, the cinematography has many a nod to Pre Raphaelite medieval romanticism, Holbein’s exquisite simplicity of pose and austerity, along with a dreamy list of Tudor manor house locations. In best English tradition though, each posey idyll is grounded by a stark stab of reality, as is befitting such tragic tales. For a story that is ostensibly about the abuses of love, thankfully there isn’t any crude resorting to traditional bodice ripping.. a mentality that is increasingly deemed inappropriate or explotative by audiences seeking reality in their history. Henry’s lustful treatment of the sisters isn’t sidestepped though, but is rather treated with a  brutality and an ambiguity that best suits the circumstances without resorting to either exploitation nor prim prudishness. 





















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Sir, your Grace’s displeasure, and my Imprisonment are things so strange unto me, as what to Write, or what to Excuse,

I am altogether ignorant; whereas you sent unto me (willing me to confess a Truth, and so obtain your Favour) by such a one, whom you know to be my ancient and professed Enemy; I no sooner received the Message by him, than I rightly conceived your Meaning; and if, as you say, confessing Truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all Willingness and Duty perform your Command.

  But let not your Grace ever imagine that your poor Wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a Fault, where not so much as Thought thereof proceeded. And to speak a truth, never Prince had Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have found in Anne Boleyn, with which Name and Place could willingly have contented my self, as if God, and your Grace’s Pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forge my self in my Exaltation, or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an Alteration as now I find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer Foundation than your Grace’s Fancy, the least Alteration, I knew, was fit and sufficient to draw that Fancy to some other subject.

  You have chosen me, from a low Estate, to be your Queen and Companion, far beyond my Desert or Desire. If then you found me worthy of such Honour, Good your Grace, let not any light Fancy, or bad Counsel of mine Enemies, withdraw your Princely Favour from me; neither let that Stain, that unworthy Stain of a Disloyal Heart towards your good Grace, ever cast so foul a Blot on your most Dutiful Wife, and the Infant Princess your Daughter:

  Try me, good King, but let me have a Lawful Trial, and let not my sworn Enemies sit as my Accusers and Judges; yes, let me receive an open Trial, for my Truth shall fear no open shame; then shall you see, either mine Innocency cleared, your Suspicion and Conscience satisfied, the Ignominy and Slander of the World stopped, or my Guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your Grace may be freed from an open Censure; and mine Offence being so lawfully proved, your Grace is at liberty, both before God and Man, not only to execute worthy Punishment on me as an unlawful Wife, but to follow your Affection already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose Name I could some good while since have pointed unto: Your Grace being not ignorant of my Suspicion therein.

  But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my Death, but an Infamous Slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired Happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great Sin therein, and likewise mine Enemies, the Instruments thereof; that he will not call you to a strict Account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his General Judgement-Seat, where both you and my self must shortly appear, and in whose Judgement, I doubt not, (whatsover the World may think of me) mine Innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared.

  My last and only Request shall be, That my self may only bear the Burthen of your Grace’s Displeasure, and that it may not touch the Innocent Souls of those poor Gentlemen, who (as I understand) are likewise in strait Imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favour in your Sight; if ever the Name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing to your Ears, then let me obtain this Request; and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest Prayers to the Trinity to have your Grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your Actions.

Your most Loyal and ever Faithful Wife, Anne Boleyn
From my doleful Prison the Tower, this 6th of May (1536)




Poppy Shakespeare (2008)

Poppy Shakespeare


 Anna Maxwell Martin / Naiomie Harris / Jonathan Cullan / Adrian Scarborough / Claire Benedict / Cathy Murphy / Nicholas Beveney / Marie Critchley /  Darrell D’Silva / Janine Birkett / Michelle Dockery / Marie Critchley / Josef Altin / Based on the novel  ‘Poppy Shakespeare’  Clare Allan / Screenplay  Sarah Williams / Art Direction  Grant Armstrong / Cinematography  Danny Cohen / Directed  Benjamin Ross


‘Since prisons and madhouses exist, why somebody is bound to sit in them.’ 


Channel 4’s pledge to make modern, bold programming is exemplified in it’s adaptation of Clare Allan’s lyrical novel ‘Poppy Shakespeare’. While the BBC single-handedly keeps the period drama alive, Channel 4 feeds vital blood into the modern British film industry, putting some of that Big Brother cash to good use. Anna Maxwell Martin (‘Bleak House’ and star of the West End hit ‘Caberet’) plays ‘N’, the nameless veteran of a lifetime in mental healthcare, outpatient from the Dorothy Fish hospital. One of a number of fellow patients battling with the realisation that cutbacks and privatisation will gradually see each of them one by one cut loose to the despair of their own recogniscence. Despite her sorrowful demeaner (looking remarkably like Kenny from South Park in her highly zipped red jacket) and tragic childhood, it becomes gradually clear that ‘N’ is by far the sanest ‘dribbler’ on the block, Institutionalised yet savvy to how the system works. Enter Poppy Shakespeare, played by Naiomie Harris (you may remember her Jamaican accented harpy from Pirates of the Caribbean), admitted to the Dorothy Fish against her will.. aggressive, but seemingly quite sane. ‘N’ is given the job of showing Poppy the ropes, but the two quickly latch onto eachother in a rather intense relationship that sees a reversal of fortunes, personalities, and perceptions of reality.

Jonathan Cullen

Naomie Harris

Anna Maxwell Martin really is mezmerizing to watch (both here and in the achingly sad ‘Bleak House’), the only actor I can think of to compare her with is Timothy Spall, or perhaps Ralph Fiennes performance in the David Cronenberg film ‘Spider’..except Anna manages to exude far more natural charm. Although Anna dominates each and every scene, Naiome Harris does an admirable job, and there’s a wonderful collection of characters in the supporting cast. Adrian Scarborough (‘Gavin & Stacey’) heads up the ministry of madness in the guise of ‘Middle class Michael’, along with an assortment of notables including Cathy Murphy (‘Casualty 1906’) and a wonderfully sincere Claire Benedict (I seem to remember seeing her in ‘Grange Hill’ as one of the teachers?) amongst others. There’s a lovely little scene in a trapped lift with Nicholas Woodeson (Posca from ‘Rome’) delivering an eerie little speech, blurring the already smudged line between sanity & madness further. Darrell D’Silva’s state legitimized drug dealer dispenses his wares Trainspotting style with a dash of market salesmanship. There’s more than a hint of 60’s modernist nightmare ‘The Prisoner’ ( ‘but with N’ reversing No.6’s fight, in a bid to stay locked in) inmates reduced to the identity of their lettered chairs, and the shifting goalposts of control. ‘Along with Catch-22 twisted logic – ‘I know it sounds insane Poppy, but the reality is that you must be considered mad to be eligable for Mad-money, and you need the Mad-money to pay the legal fees involved in proving yourself sane.’  Edging into the territory of Terry Gilliam’s ‘surrealist nightmare ‘Brazil’.

Keeping yer head down


However good the acting in these pieces, there’s ever the danger that the depressive air surrounding issues of mental health will put most people off, but I really don’t think that’s the case here. There’s enough black comedy and stylish flourishes to the art direction to draw us in, and the charming way in which ‘N’ asides to the camera and looms close to lens holds our fixed attention to the last. On top of this we’re charmed by that catchy ‘Pilote’ music with it’s whistles & claps serving as N’s theme (‘The Turtle bonobo mix’ .. reminding me a little of ‘something from Luc Besson’s The Big Blue’ soundtrack) acting as an effective lure in adverts the week before Poppy aired. One mistake that Channel 4 managed to perpetrate though was in it’s advertising of one of those ‘Man with a tumour for a head’ type of documentaries (the ones that pretend to be sympathetic, but nevertheless come off as a shameless freakshow..usually hidden away on Channel 5) just prior to airing, rather damaging Poppy Shakespeare’s honest attempt to de-stigmatise disability. What’s next I wonder..’The boy who’s head keeps falling off?’




Mirror, Mirror


‘I thought you were..a nurse..Look, that thing I just said about not being a nutter, well..I’m sorry, I didn’t realise. I ain’t got a problem with mental’s just there’s nothing the matter with me.’


One of us

Taking the edge off

Christmas cheer

‘Just like that..I can’t believe it..she wasn’t normal last night. God knows she was high as the sky last night! How could she be normal all of a sudden?’

Ministry of madness

Hidden cinema



‘I wouldn’t worry about that. You must be mad, or else you wouldn’t be here.’



Clare Allan used her 10-year stint in the mental health system as inspiration for her acclaimed novel Poppy Shakespeare, which is now a Channel 4 feature film. She speaks to Kate Weinberg about her journey from inpatient to feted writer.

“I think people often feel a bit short-changed when they meet me,” says novelist and former psychiatric patient Clare Allan. “That I’m not doing the shuffling, dribbling thing. Or wielding an axe.”
She recounts the story of her first ever interview with a publisher. “This woman was looking a bit cheated by the rather-too-sane conversation we were having. Then I leant back to emphasise a point and fell off my chair. That seemed to cheer her up enormously.” We’ve just ordered a Salad Nicoise in Cecconi’s, an Italian restaurant in the heart of Mayfair frequented by Saville Row businessmen and the I’m-so-big-in-media-I-wear-jeans-crowd. I tell her that the lack of axe is not a terrible let down and that the waiters are probably quite pleased about the dribbling. But she’s right. At six foot, with short, dark hair and black velvet trousers she is more Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight than Kathy Bates in Misery. Not being mad enough was what Clare remembers worrying about on the bus on the way to her first psychiatric hospital.

“I was terrified they wouldn’t let me in, because I knew how much I needed the help. Like a lot of people I relied on stereotypes. You know, straight-jacket, nervous tic, boiling rabbits….” She dispatches some anchovies onto her side plate and looks up, deadpan. “I did lose a rabbit when I was a kid. But I’m pretty sure he died of old age.” Hearing Clare talk about her experiences is a master class in trenches humour. She recalls one of her first days sitting in the common room of a psychiatric hospital in Archway, where they all chained smoked and drank endless cups of tea. “A patient was talking about the time she drove to Beachy Head to commit suicide. “Only she had to turn back because she couldn’t find anywhere to park the car.”

This marked the beginning of a ten-year stint in the mental health system. Shunted around various psychiatric hospitals in North London, Clare was variously diagnosed with paranoid psychosis, psychotic depression, developing schizophrenia, manic depression, major psychotic disorder and borderline personality – a list which she claims was “about as much use as covering a parcel with ‘fragile’ stickers.” So did they put her on medication? Clare gives me a look like an M & S employee who’s been asked whether they stock underpants. “Anti-psychotics, mood-stabilisers, sleeping tablets,” Clare checks the list off on her fingers. “Anti-depressants, tranquilisers… Oh, and did I mention, medication to counteract the effects of other medication.” Having spent five years in and out of “the system” Clare heard about the Creative Writing course at UEA, then taught by Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. She faxed an application through from the ward, making sure she blacked out the top of the headed paper so “no-one thought she was applying from the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

A few weeks later she was called up for interview. Glancing at her then rebelliously close-cropped hair, nose stud and eyebrow ring, Motion looked down at his notes (which she later surmised must have been headed “Allan, Clare”), before clearing his throat and venturing, “Alan?”

“A look of what I can only describe as pure panic shot across his face when he realised he’s got it wrong,” says Clare. “I could practically hear the sound of the Poet Laureate’s toes curling.” Allan, Clare got a place on the course. It was here she started writing Poppy Shakespeare, a novel that was highly critically acclaimed and has now been made into a Channel 4 feature film, which screened on Monday night. A take-no-patients satire of mental health treatment set on the fictional Dorothy Fish day hospital in North London, Poppy Shakespeare manages to evoke the stark realities of being mentally ill, while still being extremely funny. So how did she pull that one off?

“It was just a case of doing the patients justice. The longer I stayed there the more I realised how people use humour to cope with completely desperate situations,” says Clare, her face serious for once. Although Poppy Shakespeare has been a definite literary success, appearing on the short and long lists of major literary awards including the Orange prize, the subject matter has provoked some fierce debate. “Not surprisingly,” shrugs Clare. “It’s an issue people feel very strongly about.” In such emotive territory, it remains to be seen how people will react to rather more straight-faced approach of the Channel 4 film, in which Clare makes an appearance near the end as the grim-faced Dr. Clooty, wrestling the narrator, played by Anna Maxwell-Martin, to the floor.  So what if the film provokes further controversy? We have skipped desert and Clare is leaning back in the apple-green and black chairs, sipping a double espresso. “Winston Churchill, who suffered from severe depression had a maxim which I find helpful in most situations,” she says with a grin. “Keep buggering on.”