Monday, March 24, 2008

Watching and Reading

I am a lover of a well turned phrase and most of my life, I've preferred fiction, mysteries, spy stories, techno thrillers or any story that just struck my fancy.

For some reason lately, I've been lured over to nonfiction. I believe some of it has to do with our traveling and my desire to learn more about the areas we are currently inhabiting. But I also find myself more interested in actual people and events. While that may change, right now, I find myself on an historical nonfiction journey.

That said, I've always been interested in Elizabeth I, with Henry VIII and the whole eight wives affair a close second.

I've always enjoyed the films about this period with Glenda Jackson, in my opinion, being the quintessential Elizabeth. If you have never seen the Masterpiece Theatre production of Elizabeth R, you are missing a stunning performance by a gifted actress at the top of her game. Granted, looking at the series today, the production values leave a bit to be desired, but the acting and presentation of a supremely intelligent woman of power ruling at a time when men held all the strings is a revelation.

I can also recommend the Elizabeth movies starring Cate Blanchett and the more modern series starring Helen Mirren. And while the Bette Davis portrayals are extremely theatrical, she shines as Elizabeth, as she does in most of her roles (and let me throw in here that if you've never seen All About Eve, you've missed one of THE finest combination of dialogue and acting ever put on film, but I digress . . .)

Back to the Tudors in general and Anne Boleyn in particular.

Is there a more exciting story in history than that of Anne Boleyn? Here you have a woman who truly wielded power in a decidedly mans world. The film Anne of the Thousand Days boasts beautiful production values as well as fine performances from both Richard Burton as Henry and Genevieve Bujold as Anne. I really love the chemistry between these two on film

Currently there is a lot of interest in this period with the Tudors on Showtime and the Other Boleyn Girl at the multiplex. I've read the novel (the Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory) and found it interesting, especially the pull of family duty as seen at this time, but haven't yet had a chance to see the film.

As for the Tudors, we watched the first season, and I have to admit I'm on the fence. While I think it's an interesting take, I find the casting a bit odd. I have followed the career of Jonathon Rhys Meyers since I first saw him in Bend It Like Beckham and think he is a fine and magnetic screen actor, but I just can't help but feel he is miscast here. And I won't even go into Natalie Dormer, who has such a modern face that she truly sticks out like a sore thumb amid the pageantry of Henry's court.

I wanted to like the Tudors but just can't recommend it!

And now I'm reading the accurately researched the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Allison Weir and it is truly illuminating.

For instance, Catherine of Aragon is usually referred to as being "so much older" than Henry, but in reality she was a mere six years his senior. I assume that in that time six years meant a lot more than now, but still, not a HUGE age difference. And both Catherine and her daughter Mary are generally portrayed as raven haired Spaniards, when in reality, Catherine was fair and Mary had red hair just like her father.

And now let's talk about Anne Boleyn. While she is generally portrayed as young and vibrant on the screen, in reality she was 26 when she and Henry first started courting and 32 when they finally wed. She died when she was only 36.

In a time when women were often married at 14, she was a veritable spinster!

I find the division between history as entertainment and scholarly journals based on solid research almost as fascinating as the subjects they study!

If, like me, you find this era an interesting study, you might want to check out the Allison Weir books. And if you would rather have your history in video format, I recommend either the Masterpiece theater Elizabeth R or Anne of the Thousand Days.

You know, for years, I was interested in all of this, but just never had the time to truly delve into all of it. Now that I'm retired, I have to say I relish every day.

Life is good.

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