Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Susan Bordo's "The Creation of Anne Boleyn"

Susan Bordo, Otis A. Singletary Professor in the Humanities at University of Kentucky, is the author of Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, a book that is still widely read and assigned in classes today. During speaking tours for that book, she encountered many young men who asked, "What about us?" The result was The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private. Her work has been translated into many languages and frequently reprinted in collections and writing textbooks. A popular public speaker, Bordo lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and daughter, and teaches humanities and gender studies at the University of Kentucky.

Here Bordo dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest book, The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen:
You might think it would be a daunting task to pick out actors to play characters who have been cast, often memorably, many times before. But actually, it’s an opportunity that I have fantasized about. It is well known to Tudor scholars but virtually no one else that the BBC, Hollywood, and Showtime have rarely made choices that remotely resembled—either physically or in their “essence”—the central players in the drama of Henry VIII and ill-fated Anne Boleyn. Charles Laughton  caricatured dynamic, quixotic Henry as a chicken-tossing buffoon; at the other end of the spectrum, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, in the Showtime production, refused to get fat (“Jonny would never have allowed us to make him appear grotesque,” the show’s creator Michael Hirst told me.) Anne has usually been played, from Merle Oberon to Natalie Dormer, by actresses who are way too conventionally gorgeous to convey the not-exactly-beautiful but striking je ne sais quoi that Anne was said to embody. Most annoying, Katherine of Aragon has, with one exception (Annette Crosbie in the 1970 BBC The Six Wives of Henry VIII) been played by dark-complected, dark-haired actresses. Katherine had golden hair and fair skin—but she was Spanish, and ethnic stereotyping has prevailed over historical fact.

My book is neither fiction nor a full-blown biography, so it’s unlikely to be made into a movie. However, if some creative screenwriter was to do for it what Sofia Coppola did for Caroline Weber’s The Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution and turn a cultural study into movie art, here is my dream cast:

For Henry, Russell Crowe, an actor who can be seductive, thoughtful, boyish, and callous as is variously called for—and who would be happy to get fat, even without an artificial body suit. He has the range, he has the right look, and he might be capable of replacing my devotion to Robert Shaw as the perfect Henry (Shaw’s role was small—in A Men for all Seasons—but when he was on screen, he was completely in command.)

For Anne Boleyn, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Like Anne, she’s dark and slender, with “duckies” (Tudorese for breasts) that “are not much raised.” She’s not exactly pretty, but you cannot take your eyes off her, and she’s capable of altering everything mammary-mad men think makes a woman sexy.

For Katherine of Aragon, Laura Linney. She has both softness and steel in her—and she actually looks something like the real Katherine!! Katherine was not the pathetic “first wife” some imagine; she was a woman of deep conviction and great stubbornness. Linney could pull it all off, and putting her and Charlotte Gainsburg together on the same screen would raise the Katherine/Anne conflict way above sudsy standards.

For Thomas Cromwell, Benedict Cumberbatch, the British actor who made Sherlock Holmes both lovable and frightening at the same time. Cromwell was very, very smart and very ruthless. But he could also turn on obsequiousness or charm when needed. James Frain in The Tudors was good; I think Cumberbatch would be even better.

For Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador who plays a large role in my book’s version of events, as the originator of virtually every nasty rumor that has come down to us about Anne Boleyn, Christophe Waltz. Anthony Brophy, in The Tudors, made him way too sympathetic. Yes, Eustace was devoted to Katherine and Mary, but he was a viper when it came to Anne. In choosing Waltz, was I influenced by his portrayal of the smooth, scheming Nazi in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds? You bet.
Learn more about the book and author at the official The Creation of Anne Boleyn website.

--Marshal Zeringue