tue 28/09/2021

Anne Boleyn, Channel 5 review - whispery and weepy | reviews, news & interviews

Anne Boleyn, Channel 5 review - whispery and weepy

Anne Boleyn, Channel 5 review - whispery and weepy

An imposing star presence undone by a prosaic script

Second of six: Jodie Turner-Smith as Anne BoleynParisa Taghizadeh/Fable/ViacomCBS

"Get out!" The order, spoken some way into the third and final episode of Channel 5's entry into the Tudor drama sweepstakes, Anne Boleyn, certainly seizes one's attention.

Not only is our doomed heroine snapping under pressure on the way to one of history's most-chronicled deaths, but her command to Thomas Cromwell marks one of the very few times across nearly three largely prosaic hours that Jodie Turner-Smith, in the title role, raises her voice. For most of the rest of the director Lynsey Miller's retread of this time-honoured story, Turner-Smith speaks in an often coy, whispery purr that prompts one to wonder what woman of legend this actress might be angling to play next: Princess Diana perhaps? 

The casting of a Black woman to play this role has guaranteed series creator and debut TV writer Eve Hedderwick Turner's project a certain amount of controversy from the start. The decision, we're firmly informed in the press notes, is intended to be "identity-conscious" (their word, not mine), as opposed to colour-blind, as is so often the norm elsewhere. Much ado about nothing, methinks: the program itself has the effect of making one ponder less the issue of race than how it is that such fine talents as Turner-Smith and Paapa Essiedu, the onetime Hamlet cast as Anne's closer-than-this brother George, made their way through the underwritten muddle on view. The prevailing psychobabble – Anne wants to speak to Jane Seymour (Lola Petticrew) "woman to woman" and talks about fear "[being] fuel if you know how to use it" – is presumably meant to connect the 16th century to the modern day. If so, we'd all be better off rocking out to the same character's hip-hop number ("Don't Lose Ur Head") in the ongoing stage musical hit, Six

Jodie Turner-Smith and Mark Stanley in 'Anne Boleyn' Indeed, this story has been told so many times across so many art forms (opera, books, Wolf Hall on TV and stage, Geneviève Bujold's Oscar-nominated screen performance in Anne of the Thousand Days) that this Anne Boleyn can be seen rather cynically to have relied on some unusual casting to generate interest that might otherwise have been absent. Taken on production terms alone, the result is handsomely photographed (by Nick Cooke) and communicates a dusky, candlelit environment conducive to the landscape of treachery and lies that unfolds.

But for the most part, we've been down this road so many times that Miller and her actors struggle to bring much that's fresh to the table. Structured as a countdown leading to her beheading, the three episodes want on the one hand to posit Anne as a proto-feminist ahead of her time whilst simultaneously marking her out as a tearful victim of male malfeasance, whether at the hands of Barry Ward's crypto-smiling Cromwell or a Henry VIII from Mark Stanley who gives off the air of having perhaps married his many wives during momentary furloughs from the rugby pitch (Turner-Smith and Stanley pictured above). 

An elegant presence with an assured mien, Turner-Smith cuts an arresting figure from the start, which makes it that much more puzzling that she has presumably been instructed to speak sotto voce almost throughout. "Another loss may break her," we are told of a newly pregnant Anne's various miscarriages, and her downward journey lands her in an abyss with only her unshakeable spirit for company. Seen admiring the King James Bible in much the same way as did Miranda Raison in Howard Brenton's 2010 play about Anne Boleyn, Turner-Smith's Anne is subject to nightmares that are the stuff of celluloid cliché on the way toward that inner injunction to let her fear flag fly: now there's a pop anthem waiting to happen. 

The supporting players include the West End's original Hamilton himself, Jamael Westman, and that ever-reliable theatre actress Isabella Laughland, neither of whom is given much to do, and Thalissa Teixera as a royal mistress, Madge Shelton, who finds compassion for the same heroine whom the men in Anne's orbit dismiss as "only a woman [whose] fit will pass". The program, too, leaves itself open for a sequel in a potted history lesson over the final credits informing us that Anne gave birth to "one of the greatest monarchs in history" in Elizabeth I. That may well be, but I was more immediately intrigued by the reminder that Henry married Jane Seymour a mere 11 days following Anne's execution. You've got to hand it to those Tudors: they didn't waste time.

The show wants to posit Anne as a proto-feminist whilst also marking her out as a victim of male malfeasance

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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