Orna Jones

Dr. Morgan-Curtis

Honors Junior Colloquium

Film vs. Literature

Most on-screen interpretations of literature never fail in disappointing the expectations of the reader.  From time compression to complete scene omissions, often times one can argue that, of the two, literature will always prevail.  In comparing the movie Anne of a Thousand Days with Christopher Hibbert’s biography The Virgin Queen, it is evident the screenwriters wrote for entertainment over accuracy.  From the condensed time in which events took place to actual changes and add-ons to history itself, it is obvious validity was never as essential as ticket sales.

The execution of Anne Boleyn was of unjust and immoral cruelty according to the biography; however, the movie Anne of a Thousand Days adds drama to make it even harsher.  The biography does not specify whether or not the King actually gave Anne the chance to save her own life as did the movie  The biography suggests that “Anne Boleyn’s guilt was held not to be in doubt” ( Hibbert 17) and that she “…begged him to take her baby daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, into his paternal care” (Hibbert 18).  However, in the film, Henry visited her in the tower where she neither admit nor denied the claims, but they engaged in a heated argument which led to her execution.  Therefore, the film suggests the primary reason for Anne’s execution was because she would not accept the King’s offer of denouncing the throne and the validity of their marriage which would in turn leave Elizabeth a bastard.  This made Anne appear stubborn in her ways, but also made her out to be a martyr, who died willingly in order to protect her daughter’s future.  This was evident in her very sarcastically humorous mood while approaching her death in the film, suggesting that she won the battle and not her husband.

 One scene in particular that was dramatized was in the courtroom scene where King Henry forced the accused man to be truthful.  By telling Mark Smeaton that he would die regardless of his testimony because he had already lied to the jury, the film shows Mark becoming honest and denying the claims.  On the other hand, in the biography, it states that Mark Smeaton’s torture is what forced him to confess that he had ‘violated’ the Queen three times” and he never faltered in his testimony (Hibbert 17).  The film did not include the accusation, as did the biography, about Anne “uttering threats… [and] plotting to poison the Lady Mary as well as the King’s illegitimate son” (Hibbert 17).  When Henry offers her one last chance, along with his courtroom dramatization, Henry is given an emotional and forgiving appeal not explained in the biography.  This gives his character a personality that made King Henry likeable yet hated at the same time. 

This gesture was made to make the film more believable by revealing that Henry, though cruel and unjust, had somewhat of a heart; whereas, in the biography his personality seemed pretty cut-throat and unwavering.  At the bed of recovery from Anne’s last miscarriage, though she was his wife and not in perfect health, Henry remained only concerned about his heir.  Henry’s self-centered personality was revealed in the biography in that moment when he “…eyed her coldly. ‘I see that God will not give me male children,’ he said. ‘When you are up I will come and speak to you.’ …then strode abruptly from the room” (Hibbert 17).   These changes for the film serve the purpose of making an example of how a screenwriter will manipulate characters to make them more visibly believable for modern audiences. After all, she was still his wife, and he supposedly loved her at one point in time of their marriage. 

The films, though entertaining, left plenty of room for questioning of historical accuracy.  The aging of the people and the fact that so many years and events throughout her reign were compressed into just two hours created a false perception of the truth.  The biography, though not as interesting, has, therefore, once again proven that the written version of any story will always be better than the film for a select group of readers.

Works Cited

Anne of a Thousand Days. Dir. Charles Jarrott. Perf. Richard Burton, GeneviéVe Bujold.

            Videocassette. 1969.

Hibbert, Christopher.  The Virgin Queen.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Preseus Books,


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