The Ticking Clock
Episode 1 of Anne Boleyn begins with an ominous sign of things to come. Anne is on borrowed time, and she only has five months left to live.
Anne Boleyn has been Queen for 2 and a half years. She has one daughter, Elizabeth, but Henry VIII is of course desperate for a son. After miscarrying twice, Anne is now pregnant for a third time. With less than 24 hours after the last queen’s death, will Anne give Henry the son he so desires?
We open with Anne playing cards with a variety of women, including one Jane Seymour. However, Anne is interrupted by the arrival of her sister, Jane. The French Ambassador has a gift – a beautiful gold clock. Anne examines it quickly and tells her to place it in her chambers.
The evening comes to an end and both Anne and Henry wind up in bed together, kissing and make love. Now, in the Tudor period it was actually considered harmful to the baby to have sex while pregnant so this is pretty inaccurate. It’s also why most men took mistresses at that time, if anyone reading this is interested to know.
Anyway, on with the story. Night turns to day and Anne is quizzed over the monasteries by Cromwell. They’re putting together a detailed plan to present to the government and need Henry’s approval. Only, Anne is distracted. Jane and Henry stand together in the distance, laughing and flirting.
Anne is not happy and soon realizes Jane is becoming the third part of this blossoming love triangle. She reminds Jane where she stands, and even has two peacocks shot on Henry’s command when she hears their squawking. This is more a challenge against Jane than anything else.
Eventually Anne does confront Jane, speaking to her about love and agreeing that she too feels unheard. She then *checks notes* leans forward and kisses her on the mouth?
In the morning, Anne learns that the Dissolution Act has been provisionally agreed by parliament. All they need to do now is wait for the King’s approval. Only, Cromwell is interrupted by Anne challenging him about reform and charitable endeavours. He eventually leaves, reminding her of her place – and the child in her belly.
However, things take a turn for the worst when Henry is brought in after falling from his horse during the joust. He’s unconscious when we see him, leaving it up to Queen Anne to quieten the court and put a plan of action in place.
She believes they need to watch the Ambassador to Spain, Chapuys. She tasks Cromwell with intercepting his mail and to send Seymour away on a diplomatic mission abroad. Continuing on, Anne forbids Mary from seeing Henry too.
Henry starts to recover but he’s not the same man he was. Henry worries that his leg will never be the same and even has his horse killed too – beheaded no less. This only exacerbates Anne’s troublesome dreams, as she continues to awaken in the middle of the night after having nightmares.
In court, Anne’s jovial mood is interrupted by gossip from Jane Boleyn. She shows up and mentions Henry’s wild mood swings, including word that he was seduced into his current marriage with Anne. When she hurries up to see him, she finds Henry with Jane Seymour on his lap.
Anne slaps Jane across the face and leaves after ripping the necklace from around her neck.
This stress causes Anne to double over in her room, with blood trickling down her leg. Anne miscarries again, as she awakens and learns this tragic truth. She begins sobbing when she realizes what’s happened. The motif of that gold clock now finally shows some significance, as Anne realizes her time is drawing to an end. “No physician can save me now.”
The Episode Review
A lot has been said about Anne Boleyn in the past few months, and the decision to cast Jodie Turner-Smith in the role of this prolific figure in English history is certainly divisive. Social media has been abuzz with disgruntled opinions – to put it lightly. So let’s get that elephant in the room out the way first.
Anne Boleyn was not black. However, reports of the time do label her as having “an olive complexion”. Another source claims she was “young, good-looking, of a rather dark complexion.” ( You can actually find all that on the Wikipedia page HERE.) So in that respect, it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility. But race is not the issue here.
Instead, Anne Boleyn’s problems boil down to the script. Given this series is listed as an “intimate psychological thriller”, there’s not much in the way of thrills, unless you count the eyebrow raising kiss between Anne and Jane.
The basic plot is definitely correct though, with Henry indeed falling off his horse, but for such a bold casting choice it’s a shame that the script doesn’t quite crackle – at least not yet anyway.
There’s definitely some promising signs here though and some of the visual motifs (the ticking clock, peacocks etc.) do lend itself to some artistic ideas.
For now though, Anne Boleyn storms onto Channel 5 with a roar but seems to lose its voice a little before the end of this first episode. Let’s hope the next two can pick up and improve because there’s definitely potential here.