Johansson, opens this coming Friday, February 29. It is based on the
novel by Philippa Gregory, in which two sisters–Anne and Mary
Boleyn–compete for the affection of King Henry VIII.
Sisterly rivalry is the basis of this fresh, wonderfully vivid retelling of the story of Anne Boleyn. Anne, her sister Mary and their brother George are all brought to the king’s court at a young age, as players in their uncle’s plans to advance the family’s fortunes. Mary, the sweet, blond sister, wins King Henry VIII’s favor when she is barely 14 and already married to one of his courtiers. Their affair lasts several years, and she gives Henry a daughter and a son. But her dark, clever, scheming sister, Anne, insinuates herself into Henry’s graces, styling herself as his adviser and confidant. Soon she displaces Mary as his lover and begins her machinations to rid him of his wife, Katherine of Aragon. This is only the beginning of the intrigue that Gregory so handily chronicles, capturing beautifully the mingled hate and nearly incestuous love Anne, Mary and George (“kin and enemies all at once”) feel for each other and the toll their family’s ambition takes on them. Mary, the story’s narrator, is the most sympathetic of the siblings, but even she is twisted by the demands of power and status; charming George, an able plotter, finally brings disaster on his own head by falling in love with a male courtier. Anne, most tormented of all, is ruthless in her drive to become queen, and then to give Henry a male heir. Rather than settling for a picturesque rendering of court life, Gregory conveys its claustrophobic, all-consuming nature with consummate skill. In the end, Anne’s famous, tragic end is offset by Mary’s happier fate, but the self-defeating folly of the quest for power lingers longest in the reader’s mind.
REVIEW: Publisher’s Weekly 01/02/2006
After 2005′s heavy-handedThe Spanish Bride: A Novel of Catherine of Aragon , Gardner’s second entry in her wives of Henry VIII eyewitness series takes a more lighthearted look at the tragic Anne Boleyn. Queen Anne’s rise and fall is recounted by her maid Frances Pierce, a country girl brought to court after her impulsive leap to protect the king’s paramour from a flung handful of mud. As Frances stumbles her way through the life of a royal servant, encountering court intrigue and political upheaval, she becomes Anne’s closest confidante, thanks largely to her sincere devotion and naïve lack of ambition. Seeing the world through Frances’s rose-colored spectacles, Gardner remains sympathetic to this controversial queen and tells her tale lovingly all the way to its sad end. Readers looking for a lower-calorie Philippa Gregory will be pleased. With nothing particularly revelatory in the historical backdrop, the novel is free to concentrate on characterization and romance, with agreeable result
REVIEW: Publisher’s Weekly 11/14/2005
Inspired by the historical record of Richard III’s bastard children, Smith invents a spirited, “tawny-eyed” mistress for the 15th-century king in her sweeping debut. Kate Bywood is plucked from her peasant life at the age of 11 to join the household of her mother’s noble cousins, the Hautes, as companion to her timid cousin, Anne. A brief, unwilling marriage to an older, wealthy merchant leaves Kate a young widow with a considerable fortune. A second marriage to George, an opportunistic Haute cousin who prefers the stable boy to Kate, leaves her yearning for love. In a chance encounter, she meets Richard of Gloucester, and the ensuing secret romance is filled with the passion and intimacy her marriage lacks. George is killed during an attack in the forest, and Kate bears Richard three children. The narrative flies when the lovers are together, but once Richard marries Anne Neville, and he and Kate are separated for long stretches, the story loses its spark. Readers hungry primarily for romance may also tire of Smith’s details about the complicated internecine rebellions and rivalries among pretenders to the throne. Nevertheless, this story fills in some historical gaps and conjures a winning heroine.
Anne Boleyn was the second of Henry’s six wives, doomed to be beloved, betrayed, and beheaded. When Henry fell madly in love with her upon her return from the French court, where she was educated, he was already married to Catherine of Aragon. But his passion for Anne was great enough to rock the foundations of England and of all Christendom. When the pope refused to dissolve his marriage to Catherine, Henry broke with Rome, founded the Church of England with himself at its head, and married Anne. But all too soon his passion faded; when Anne bore him not the promised son but a daughter, Elizabeth, Henry forsook her for another love, schemed against her, and ultimately had her sentenced to death. In Robin Maxwell’s captivating new novel, Anne has kept, unbeknownst to the king, a secret diary that she presses into the hands of a confidante before she is put to death. She says it is a gift for the daughter she will never know. Years later, soon after Elizabeth ascends to the throne, Anne’s confidante brings the precious diary to the young queen. In it, Elizabeth learns the truth about her much-maligned mother: her fierce determination, her hard-won knowledge about being a woman in a world ruled by despotic men, and her deep-seated love for the infant daughter taken from her shortly after her birth. These revelations shake Elizabeth to the core. As her mother’s conquests and defeats unfold before her eyes, Elizabeth finds in them an echo of her own drama as a passionate young woman at the center of power. She too is besieged by the counsels and betrayals of the men around her – including those of her own lover, the ambitious Robin Dudley. Determined to heed the lessons her mother learned at so high a price, Elizabeth, the “Virgin Queen”, the most revered of all English monarchs and perhaps the most powerful woman of all time, makes a resolution that will change the course of history.