I am thoroughly enjoying the new BBC documentary, The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family (2021). I’m a huge documentary nerd, and I loves me some six wives of Henry VIII! Even if I am Team Catherine of Aragon, I find all the wives — and the court in general — fascinating.
And, people, I’M BORED. Pandemic life is getting me down. I’m going through what most of you are: things seemed to be opening up, we were all getting vaccinated, it seemed like we were getting back to “normal.” I even booked a trip to France in early September! And then all the nitwits refused to get vaccinated, and the delta variant wreaked its havoc, and we’re all back to social distancing and masking and all those things that are critical to not killing ourselves and others. People, GET VACCINATED. It’s safe, it’s thoroughly researched, and it will greatly enhance your chances of saving your life and the rest of your community. Note: Frock Flicks is thoroughly pro-vax, pro-science, pro-giving-a-shit-about-others. Any bullshit in the comments will get you banned.
How I currently feel about people who are eligible to be vaccinated but are choosing not to.
SO, while I enjoyed this doc, I also overthought it! And this is the result — my stream of consciousness thoughts on the documentary, mostly on the costumes. Because I have FAR TOO MUCH time on my hands.
Overall, I give the doc a solid A for being interesting and entertaining, in particular for taking a new approach to the Anne Boleyn/six wives saga. They’ve really centered Anne’s family, and provided interesting context you don’t usually get. I’ve always wondered why the Boleyns were courtiers, but I’d never heard of the family before/after (okay, after makes more sense), and this doc has really clarified who the family was and how they rose to power. I would have liked more on Mary herself and her relationship with Henry, but I know that there’s very little evidence for that, so on the other hand it’s good that they’re not embellishing. I also wanted more about Anne’s mother, Elizabeth. I did like how the doc is putting the Boleyns themselves center stage, and you only see people like Henry from behind or in shadows (and others are only seen from actual historical portraits). Also, the historians are knowledgeable (and give the occasional sick burn), and the LOCATIONS ARE STUNNING — some fabulous shots of Hever Castle (which I’ve never visited, sob), and in general all the interiors look appropriately Tudor with lots of wood paneling etc.
Filming at Hever Castle.
The costumes are overall decent by documentary standards, with some quibbles. The only costumer listed on IMDB is Megan Wallace, set costumer; wait, I paused the credits! Also listed are Barbara Elum-Baldres, Jacqueline Macgloire, and Tori Hitchens. In general, they got the men’s Henrician silhouette down WONDERFULLY, although sometimes some of the more minor or background characters will look more Elizabethan. I have lots of thoughts about the women’s, of course, and you’ll get lots more of those below. In general, they seem more Elizabethan than Henrician, although I’m not the expert that Trystan or Sarah are. Of course, we know documentaries have tiny budgets, so by those standards, this is doing quite well.
Since most of this will be stream of consciousness, with definitely unfair nitpicks given limited budgets, you may want to watch the documentary first before reading! It’s available on YouTube in the US, and BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Let’s do this:
Thomas Boleyn. I’m really loving the men’s looks, especially that high square neckline you see on all the Tudor portraits. The main characters could wear more hats, but I know that’s a Thing(tm) for filmmakers.
Compare with this later portrait of King Henry VIII by Joos van Cleve, c.1535. The Royal Collection.
Elizabeth and Thomas’s marriage. I think they may be both wearing ensembles made from the same fabric, which is cheesy, but it’s a subtle fabric so it could be worse. I highly question Elizabeth’s veil!
We don’t see enough of Elizabeth. Here she’s wear a VERY flippy-ended hood.
It looks like one of these types of hoods. Detail from Mary Tudor and Queen Louis XII of France, c. 1514, British Library.
Thomas goes off to the court of the Holy Roman Empire… by himself? No retinue? No servants? Nada?
Margaret of Austria wearing a more Elizabethan-style loose gown. And skirt hiking.
Young Anne and George. MAJOR hoopline.
Why does Mary look so much younger than Anne, when the doc has just pointed out that Mary was probably the eldest? Her outfit is also very Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Anne goes off to Austria. Okay, she’s a little girl who is clearly counting paving stones as she walks. But EPIC SKIRT HIKING CLOSEUP.
The actress playing young Anne (Rosaleen Cunningham-Day) is SUPER cute. Love her slightly wonky tooth and her French! Wonder why her chemise/partlet is more of a blouse with no center front opening?
Margaret of Austria lost the costume coin toss. That fabric is screaming for a 19th century couch, and WHY ARE HER BOOBS TO LOW/WHY IS THERE SO MUCH SPACE BETWEEN HER BODICE AND HER BODY???!!!
Anne is all growed up! I felt like a lot of the hoop shapes were REALLY big and REALLY rounded for 1520s-30s. What do you think?
Compare with this look — probably no hoop: Two Views of a Lady wearing an English Hood (1526–8 or about 1532–5), by Hans Holbein the Younger, Vellum on playing card 159 x 110 mm.
Or this — hoop, but small and very triangular. Jane Seymour, Whitehall Dynasty Mural of Henry VIII by Remigius van Leemput circa 17th century after Hans Holbein circa 1536-37, via Wikimedia Commons
The actress playing Anne (Rafaëlle Cohen — Beauty and the Beast) absolutely is my platonic ideal of Anne Boleyn, looks-wise. This bodice looks very Italian — I think it’s the gathered sleeve caps. There are almost NO hanging sleeves in this production, which are so typical of the era — see the two portraits above.
Compare with the real Anne Boleyn, 1534, Hever Castle.
Same dress with a cute hat and cloak for riding. I like that they put her hair in a snood/net, don’t like that isn’t styled underneath that snood/net.
Mary (left) and Anne preparing for the Chateau Vert pageant. We need to talk about these outfits.
Anne’s bodice is plausible, although I can’t imagine that being bare-armed was in any way something a lady would do.
Mary’s is weird and looks like some kind of 19th c. Swedish folk costume. But what I really don’t understand is they’re both wearing these bodices over what are essentially 1930s-style bias-cut gowns. Wait for it.
Anne is going to wear this dress a LOT. I quite like it from an Elizabethan perspective, not so much from a Tudor. It’s pretty and the colors look good on her.
On the other hand, it’s got a sewn-in stomacher and y’all know how that peeves me. It reminds me of similar styles from Dangerous Beauty.
Like this, which should look more like the right-hand Portrait of a Lady by Fasolo, 1565-70, Art Institute of Chicago.
The sheer sleeves. I put out a call to Friends Who Know and yeah, sheer OVERSLEEVES (i.e. over a similarly-shaped undersleeve) were a thing — in the Elizabethan era. They did find one example of sheer sleeves without the undersleeve. Either way, Elizabethan. Also, what’s with the matching bracers?
One of many examples of sheer oversleeves — see Trystan’s review of Anonymous for many more. Mary Cornwallis, 1580s, Countess of Bath, by George Gower.
The one example of sheer sleeves without an undersleeve (thanks Lindsey!) — again, 30-40 years later. Portrait of a Lady, attributed to Gillis Claeissens or Monogrammist GEC, 1568-72, Weiss Gallery.
The gown also laces up the back, which it shouldn’t need to do since it’s technically front-opening over a stomacher (of course, once you sew in that stomacher, you have to do something theatrical to get the thing open).
Her hair is up in a gold net with a triceratops-y French hood, but this one is mellow by comparison to some of the later hoods.
Anne likes to hang out at home in a full-length chemise with just a pair of bodies (corset) over it. Which, okay, but she’s often hanging with her father or brother, and that just seems very casual by 16th century standards. Anne looks very pretty with her hair half-down, and I’m giving it a pass here since she’s undressed.
The bodies have nice lace across the front accented with pearls, which makes me think they would need to be worn with an open-front gown, because you won’t want big pearls on an undergarment. I think about these things.
All of the historians are insightful, but Prof. Susan Doran wins: “As for Anne, I would be surprised if she was really in love with Henry VIII. That’s because I can’t imagine anyone being in love with Henry VIII.” #sickburn
Mary putting on a loose gown. The sprig print seems a little far-fetched, but I like the line of the gown itself and the trimming layout.
A fur-trimmed loose gown. I like it! Although I am missing the hanging sleeves.
Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, looking ULTRA fabulous in his giant Henrician gown. Also, so many shoes (instead of cheesy boots!).
Although most of his plotting is shown via ominous eating-of-fruit, which is always such a hilarious device to me.
The skirt hiking is EPIC IN THIS.
Skirt hiking to walk DOWN stairs!
Can we talk about this embroidery? The motif is SO NOT 16TH CENTURY and reminds me of the clunky couch pillow stomacher in The Other Boleyn Girl.
I’ll let those who know metal-thread embroidery better than me tell us if it’s machine or hand embroidered.
Aha! Trystan informs me this dress is recycled from The Tudors, which, of course, explains its clunk.
Clunkity clunk clunk.
George Boleyn looking goooood…
Anne’s ladies-in-waiting all wear matching (clunky sewn-in stomacher) gowns.
And weird hoods, which at least don’t stick up for once.
Anne goes with Henry to Calais to meet with the French king, who by meeting with her, is publicly acknowledging her. She enters as part of a masked dance, and now she and the other dancers are wearing those 1930s evening dresses without even the bodices over them (as they did above).
Anne does a dance that is completely implausible by 16th-century standards. I didn’t realize Martha Graham was that old!
Anne is pregnant, her ladies dress her. I’m confused by the wide ivory sash. Also, more dramatic fruit eating.
Anne has a new dress!
That’s recognizably Tudor!
With actual proper hanging sleeves!
I guess they saved the most accurate for last?
Not good, people.
Mary has remarried without consent and is pregnant. She finally gets a caul.
She’s exiled from court and back in her loose gown.
Even baby Elizabeth has to wear a sticky-uppy plastic visor French hood.
So much upholstery fabric!
A loose gown for miscarrying.
Jane Seymour rises! Wearing a weird sheer 18th century men’s style shirt. This show REALLY LOVES the blindfolded touchy-feely game.
Uh oh, Jane Seymour is getting frisky with her hair down and headband!
Anne is sent to the Tower, where she’s dressed and executed in this black bodice. It’s got some sparkle on the center front, but this is all you see of it.
She adds a fur wrap.
Mary outlives ’em all in a very shaggy fur. You’ll see a bit more of this dress in the last shot.
NO ONE is having more fun in this production than cutie baby Elizabeth, weird gown notwithstanding (also, note attendant’s dress).
Queen Elizabeth may have the body of a woman, but she hikes her skirts like the best of them!
Ghostly Boleyns, with a bit more of Mary’s blue dress.
Have you seen The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family yet?