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05 March 2008

Historical Movie Club

Saturday, I had a fun afternoon seeing a matinee of The Other Boleyn Girl with a friend. I had read the book and really enjoyed it--not necessarily my interpretation of the characters and events, but part of the fun of historical fiction (or even even nonfiction) is reading different interpretations. Overall I liked the movie too. I missed some of the detail that was lost in compressing a long book into two hours, particularly when it came to George who's a fascinating character in the book (Jim Sturgess in the movie did a good job but didn't have as much to do). Mary was a bit softer than in the book, less ambitious, so I didn't think the dynamic between Mary and Anne was quite as interesting. But over all it was fun. Some very good acting, crystalized in some lovely moments--Eric Bana's first closeup, reacting to Catherine of Aragon losing a child, which perfectly captured Henry's conflicts; Natalie Portman's expression as Anne holding the newly born Elizabeth--disappointment, love for her child, and the knowledge of the tightrope she's walking and the danger she's in all wonderfully mixed together; Mary(Scarlett Johanson)'s face at the end, during Anne's execution. Both my friend and I found ourselves crying, which neither of us had expected to do.

I used The Other Boleyn Girl as a jumping off point to blog on my own website this week about siblings in books. On History Hoydens, it seemed appropriate to use the movie as a jumping off point to talk about historical films and research. I've already read a bunch of comments about this or that detail in the film not being historically accurate. I'm always wary of using historical movies for research in the sense of taking historical facts or details of clothes and daily life from them verbatim without double-checking a reference source. There are too many things filmmakers may have changed, either consciously because of the needs of the film or because they don't know (just like, despite all my best efforts, there are things I get wrong because I don't know). But if you know enough to judge the accuracy of details, they can be fabulous for absorbing the look and feel of a period or a sense of place.

Here are a few videos and dvds I watch particularly often while working on my own books:

The Sharpe series. So many episodes in the Peninsular War, which I blogged about last week, brought to life in wonderful, gritty detail. Oh, and it has Sean Bean :-). I watched episodes over and over for inspiration when writing the Spanish flashback sequence in Secrets of a Lady.

The Ang Lee/Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility. Probably my favorite Jane Austen adaption simply on its own terms as a movie--it's exquisitely scripted, directed, acted, filmed. And it offer a fabulous wealth of Regency settings--great country houses, cottages, London town house, London balls, London streets and shops. Also perhaps the best Jane Austen adaption and capturing, subtly but unmistakably, the pervasive importance of fortune. The country house sequences at Barton Park were a big help when I was working on Beneath a Silent Moon, particularly the scenes where everyone is gathered in the drawing room in the evening, engaged in different pursuits (and managing to have different, and sometimes quite intimate, conversations).

The A&E Pride and Prejudice. As I've mentioned before, I'm also very fond of the Oliver/Garson and Knightley/McFadyen versions (there are actually a bunch of Jane Austen adaptations I watch a lot, but I was trying to limit how many I listed). But for research purposes and inspiration, this is probably the version I watch most. It has the most detail from the book, being about three times as long, the biggest variety of scenes and settings. I love the feel of London in the brief sequence of Darcy "scouring the courts and alleys of London." The luncheon at the inn when Lizzy comes back from Rosings. The inn where Lizzy and the Gardners stay. Pemberley (also very helpful in Beneath a Silent Moon, which takes place largely in a great country house). And yes, there is the scene on Colin Firth diving into lake. I mean, if you need to know what your hero would look like dripping wet (which, come to think of it, happens in my current book, though in Hyde Park in the middle of the night) what could be more helpful? (A friend once call me while I had P&P on in the background; just based on the music she said "oh, this is the scene where he's jumping in the lake." :-)).

An Ideal Husband. Eighty years later than my period, but a movie I watch a lot, not to research the era per say but to research its depiction of a political marriage. There's a lot in Robert and Gertrude Chiltern's marriage that inspired Charles and Mélanie's relationship, particularly in Secrets of a Lady and in The Mask of Night, the book I'm working on now.

Do you have favorite historical films to recommend? Do images you've seen in historical films affect the images in your mind when you read books set in that era? Any historical novels you'd love to see filmed? Authors, do you have films you watch for inspiration for particular books? Have you seen The Other Boleyn Girl? Thoughts?

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25 Comments:

Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Tracy, I saw "The Other Boleyn Girl" on Friday with my agent, and found it painfully execrable -- and was going to blog about it on my ROYAL AFFAIRS blog, not only re:the crappy expository screenplay, and the dreadfully modern acting, but the wild historical inaccuracies, some of which are due to Philippa Gregory's novel, which of course is fiction -- but why make Mary an insipid virginal type when in fact she effed her way through the French court as a teenager and the French King, Francois I, called her his "mare -- because he loved to ride her." In fact, she was so peripatetic in bed that she became an embarrassment and was recalled to England by her mortified father. Why make Anne the elder sister when Mary (b. 1499) was at least a year older? Why send Anne to France (instead of home to Hever castle) when she was proving difficult? Why not use Hever Castle in the film. Why oh why was the timelime so screwed up?

I could go on forever, but I'm late, I think, to the breakfast aspect of this conference I'm attending in Atlantic City, to promote CHOOSING SOPHIE, my latest contemporary release.

When I get home tonight, I'll read your post in full because this is one of my all time favorite topics.

3:49 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

P.S. -- forgot to mention that I referred to "The Other Boleyn Girl" as "Betty and Veronica in Tudorland" -- and WHAT is up with Hollywood's current penchant for casting brooding brunets as Henry VIII when we know -- factually -- and indisputedly -- that Henry was an hyper-energetic redhead? It's not just his chroniclers and Holbein we have to thank (because of course Henry's Master Painter made Anne of Cleves look dishy) -- but during either the reign or regency of George IV (I don't have my ROYAL AFFAIRS ms. handy this morning!), Henry's body was exhumed. His corpse was 6'2" and russet hairs still clung to his skull.

What makes me nuts is the deliberate flouting of the facts both in historical fiction (and I do remember enjoying Ms. Gregory's novel far more than the horrid movie based upon it, but that was also before I spent five months learning the real history of the major players) and in Hollywoodland to absolutely no effective purpose. As my agent said after we saw TOBG, "Why make stuff up when the facts are much more interesting?!"

3:55 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Tracy, I haven't seen the movie yet nor have I read the book, but I had the same problem that most people are having with the movie, with Showtime's series The Tudors. I had to stop watching after the first 3 episodes, because I thought my eyes were going to start bleeding, there were so many historical inaccuracies. In fact I blogged about this very subject on Monday on my regular blog, where I listed every single historical inaccuracy that The Tudors committed. Again, why make stuff up or changes things, when the historical record is so much more interesting? Why compress Henry's two sisters into one sister, and then make ridiculous stuff up like she killed her husband? Why cast a pouty brunette as Henry?

One of my favorite historical films besides GWTW, is the 1968 film version of The Lion in Winter with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn. I think the relationship between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine is perfectly captured in that movie. And if you watch Becket before hand, you get to watch Peter O'Toole grow in the role from the young Henry II to the elder King.

I Claudius with Derek Jacobi which introduced me to Roman History, and also the original mini-series of Brideshead Revisited.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Amanda, Mary's a lot less "sweet" i the novel--she has more of her own ambitions and it makes her rivalry with Anne more interesting (though I actually found the sisters relationship quite interesting in the movie). I don't know the history nearly as well as you, but I was fairly into Tudor and Elizabeth history as a kid (I did a lot of fiction and nonfiction reading, all started by watching "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" and "Elizabeth R"), so I was aware of a lot of the things that were historically inaccurate (my friend and I spend lunch talking them over). I still enjoyed the movie, though, and found myself getting caught up in it emotionally. On the other hand "Elizabeth" a few years ago frustrated me so much that I wouldn't go near "Elizabeth: the Golden Age." Of course in that movie, I couldn't make sense of the characters motivations, even within the historically changed story.

I also haven't wanted to watch "The Tudors," Elizabeth, based on a friend's description of all the ways it changes the actually history. Not sure why it bothered me so much more than "The Other Boleyn Girl." What really annoyed me was the idea of compressing Henry's two sister into one, which totally messes with genealogy. And perhaps that also got to me more because it's closer to the late fifteenth century which I know more intimately from my honors work in college. Or maybe if I actually watched it, I find myself getting caught up in too (but somehow from the descriptions I've heard I don't think so).

I love "A Lion in Winter"--one my favorite historical movies too! "Bekcett" is also a great film, but I don't like it's depiction of Eleanor. "I, Claudius" also introduced me to Roman history (I went on to write a paper in the Julio-Claudians in 8th grade). And though it's centuries away from the era I write in, I think it's family intrigues have definitely helped inspire my writing (my mom's and my first book had three sisters who were the daughters of a classical scholar named Claudia, Livia, and Diana, with a brother named Germanicus). I also love "Brideshead"--in another of my mom's and my books, we modeled a country house on Castle Howard, which was a great excuse to watch "Brideshead" over and and over :-).

9:02 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

In terms of books or historical characters, I would love to see a movie based on Grace O'Malley. After seeing the horrible musical The Pirate Queen, I've become fascinated by her. She's on my list of women to write about on Scandalous Women. I also liked Lillie about Lillie Langtry, which got me fascinated with Edward VIII and the Marlborough House Set. I'd like to see a better movie made about Caroline of Brunswick and the Prince Regent then the one with Richard E. Grant and Susan Lynch.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Cara King said...

Do you have favorite historical films to recommend?

I love the version of PERSUASION with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root, and I've used it before to get me in the right mood (and right mind) before working on a Regency. It just seems so...real. (In a good way.) :-)

As to wish list movies: I wish some fantastic director/author pairing would do a good version of one of Heyer's! (Though better none than a bad version...)

Cara

10:12 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I don't know a great deal about Grace O'Malley but from what I do know it sounds as though her life would make a fabulous movie. I loved "Lillie" too (though I think a movie would have to focus in on one part of her life). I haven't seen the Richard Grant/Susan Lynch movie about the Regent and Caroline--I agree their life would make a fabulous movie. Actually, I'd just like to see a movie that focuses on her divorce trial and all the intriguing.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Cara, I would so love to see some Heyers filmed as well--particularly "The Grand Sophy," "Venetia," and "An Infamous Army." Do you have favorites for filming?

I love that version of "Persuasion" too. And on the research angle, it has those great seaport scenes which a lot of Regency-set films don't.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Georgie Lee said...

I love "An Ideal Husband" and "Sense and Sensibility". I've practically worn out my DVD copies from watching them so many times. I'm still up in the air on seeing "The Other Boleyn Girl". I loved the book but I don't really like any of the actors in the film. It does look like a beautifully shot film.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for commenting, Georgie! I think I've practically worn out my copies of "An Ideal Husband" and "Sense and Sensiblity" too. If you liked the book version of "The Other Boleyn Girl," I'd see the movie. As you can see from Amanda's and my responses, reactions to it are very different, but if nothing else it's a fun movie to discuss.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Haven't seen it. Not gonna see it. What Amanda said.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JMM here; following Tracy. (Not stalking!)

I looovved Sense and Sensibility with Emma (and Alan! I'm late to the Alan Rickman fangirl club, but I'm here!) I bought the book of the movie, with Emma's diary of the shoot. Hysterical. Emma is a goddess. So smart. So funny.

I will be seeing OBG this weekend; I want to see how much Hollywood "PC'd" this heroine. :) I loved the book; but Hollywood has a tendency to make heroines "nice".

7:17 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Kalen, did you read the book? It's obviously a movie where mileage varies a great deal.

Thanks for visiting History Hoydens, JMM! I have Emma Thompson's diary of the shoot too-it's great. And Ang Lee is such a brilliant director--the whole movie is exquisite.

I'll be curious to hear what you think of TOBG. They did make Mary "nicer" than in the book (and in my view a bit less interesting). But I thought the film captured some of the nuances of the sisters' relationship from the book quite well.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

No, I haven't read the book. I've been too turned off by Gregory's comments re genre romance and reports of her playing fast and loose with historical facts to do so.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

I'm a little afraid of seeing it, too-- I left "Elizabeth" (the first one) with steam coming out of my ears. It didn't help that I was writing my undergrad thesis about Marie de Guise at the time, and they got it ALL WRONG. But I'm trying to get better at telling myself that these things are movies and meant for entertainment, and if one can view them as pure fiction with no connection to the real events-- like a fairy tale-- maybe it's not all bad. And, hey, there are pretty costumes!

Moving onto good movies, I LOVE that Amanda Root "Persuasion". Whenever I'm stuck in a book, I go back to that or to the first two episodes of the Sharpe series. Both have such great characterizations, dialogue, and historical scenery.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I haven't read Gregory's comments on genre romance, Kalen, but a friend mentioned them. It's too bad.

Lauren, I had steam coming out of my ears after the first "Elizabeth" too. For better or worse, I have learned to enjoy historical movies as fiction or fairy tales (when I was growing up , I'd ask my parents "did it really happen that way?" and they'd always say "let's look it up" which was actually a great education). But "Elizabeth" was over the top for me. I think it was partly that the changes, such as what they did to Mary de Guise, we *so* egregious and also, as I said earlier, that even as fiction, I didn't think the characters' motivations made sense.

I too love the Amanda Root "Persuasion." And I'm particularly fond of the first too Sharpes. I got very upset (with both the tv series and the books) when Teresa died (which I think is in the fourth?).

10:12 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

p.s.

Much as I love "Persuasion" it has one moment that drives me nuts historically--in the party scene at the end, someone says, very casually, "Bonaparte has escaped from Elba." I think they wanted to set up that there's going to be war again without making it into a distracting big deal, but it seems so offhand for a major historical event which caused a big stir. If it really had just happened, everyone would have been talking about it at the party.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

It's funny I had much more of a problem with Elizabeth, The Golden Age did I did with the first Elizabeth, although I too hated what they did with Mary de Guise and Dudley. Cate Blachett's performance was so outstanding that I was willing to overlook it. Not so, in The Golden Age where poor Sir Francis Drake barely had a line, and I had no idea what was happening half the time.

I remember enjoying the film of Nicolas and Alexandra so much that I went out and read the book afterwards.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

I find it so hard to watch the episode where Teresa dies, Tracy! Even though it's an otherwise good episode, I start getting tense and fidgetty three-quarters of the way through, always hoping that somehow, miraculously, the ending will change.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I just remember being so pissed that Sharpe was off boiking Liz Hurley (can't remember the name of her character) while Teressa was dying. Pissed. Never could quite forgive him . . . but I do love those films. Esp the first 3. I rewatch those a lot.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Elizabeth, I didn't see "Elizabeth, the Golden Age"--perhaps it would have bothered me more than "Elizabeth" did. I couldn't make sense of Robert Dudley's motivations in "Elizabeth" (never mind the historical changes). At one point he justifies his very confusing actions by saying "It's hard to be loved by the Queen." ???? And I love Joseph Fiennes, but even that wasn't enough to make the character work for me. On the other hand, I loved the Helen Mirren/Jeremy Irons HBO series about Elizabeth I (can't remember the exact title).

Amanda, I have a really hard time watching the part where Teresa dies too--I do watch that episode because it's so good, but I've been known to skip the end (or decide there's something else I need to do during the last part). Kalen, every time I watch it I get mad at him for cheating with Isabella (the Elizabeth Hurley character, who in the book is called Josefina) right before Teresa dies. Though I like the Isabella character as a character (Mélanie actually looks a lot like her in my head). I actually don't think the cheating is very well justified in the script (and I never read that book-I stopped reading the series for a while when I found out Teresa died, and though I started up again, I never read that book).

4:10 PM  
Blogger Monica McCarty said...

Tracy,
I used to be a huge P.Gregory fan until I read her forward in Katherine (by Anya Seton) where she slams romance. http://www.philippagregory.com/documents/Katherine.pdf
TOBG was my favorite book of hers and I was really interested in how it would adapt to the screen. I was pretty disappointed--mostly because (as you and I discussed privately) I didn't like the "angle" that the filmakers decided to focus on (daughters being used by fathers to further the family) rather than Mary's personal story. The "romance" with Henry in the movie lasts about 5 minutes. They have sex and she decides that she loves him. I didn't hate it, but I didn't become emotionally involved with the characters.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks so much for posting, Monica! I think it's so interesting how people react to movies and books differently. As I mentioned in my post and when you and I talked, one of the reasons I liked the movie over all was that I *did* become emotionally involved with characters. I've been trying to put my finger on why since we talked, because what creates that emotional connection is so important to writers. Haven't come up with an answer, except that for some reason the characters and their situation resonated enough that I got caught up in the story.

The machinations of the Boleyn family was one of the things I thought was interesting in the book, so I didn't mind that the movie focused on that. But I did notice that Mary fell in love with Henry *very* quickly. She also had more sense of loyalty to her first husband than I remember in the book (another example, I think, of the film making her "nicer"). But at least Henry remained a presence in the movie. As I mentioned in my post, what I found myself missing more from the book was George (who was fascinating character in the book, I thought) and his relationship with his sisters (of which the implied incest was only part and imo perhaps the least interesting part). I also missed seeing more of Mary's romance with William Stafford (though I thought the part they hinted at was nicely done).

12:23 PM  
Blogger Cara King said...

Do you have favorites for filming?

I answered this a while ago, but my comment seems to have disappeared! Curses, blogger!

Heyer books I think could work (short version):

THESE OLD SHADES
MASQUERADERS
UNKNOWN AJAX

Cara

10:07 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great choices, Cara! I'd particularly like to see "These Old Shades" filmed.

12:42 AM  

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