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By Hanna Woodside
hannel 5’s Anne Boleyn is not your average period drama. Sure, there are the opulent costumes and historic locations, but the show has bigger ambitions offering a fresh, feminist perspective of the final months of the Tudor queen. The result is a challenging female-centred thriller with an epic performance from Queen & Slim star Jodie Turner-Smith, who plays a defiant, courageous, flawed Boleyn.
From the women-led production team to a powerful labour scene, here’s what else you should know about Anne Boleyn.
The show uses ‘identity-conscious’ casting
Alongside Turner-Smith, I May Destroy You’s Paapa Essiedu plays Boleyn’s brother, George, with Thalissa Teixeira (Trigonometry) as Boleyn’s handmaid, Madge Shelton. The inclusion of actors of colour was part of an identity-conscious – as opposed to a “colour-blind” – approach to casting, according to Taxeira.
“If you’re trying to ignore the fact that we’ve cast those people in those roles, then you’re not understanding the concept of retelling a story that goes beyond the historical details. We’re not just talking about Anne Boleyn. We’re talking about stories about faithfulness, and sisterhood, and brotherhood,” Taxeira told the Radio Times.
Turner-Smith echoes her thoughts on the casting process: “It’s more approachable and appealing to a contemporary audience when you cast this way because we are distilling this down to a human experience.”
‘The inclusion of actors of colour was part of an identity-conscious – as opposed to a colour-blind – approach to casting.’
It’s made by a groundbreaking all-women production team
Fable Pictures is the all-women production company (bar one man) behind the BIFA-winning Rocks, a coming-of-age story set in Hackney, east London, which was made by an all-women creative team.
With Anne Boleyn, Fable has continued to champion female talent, collaborating with up-and-coming writer Eve Hedderwick Turner (the show is her TV writing debut: talk about a starting with a bang) and director Lynsey Miller, who directed 2017’s The Boy With The Top Knot.
“As a woman, it feels different to work with female filmmakers,” Turner-Smith said in an interview. “There’s an element of being seen and your character being seen and feeling more alive when you work with women because obviously we pay attention to different things and want to honour the fullness of an experience in a different way.”
Jodie advocated for Anne to have Afro hair
Having had issues with hair and make-up on sets before, when meeting with producers to discuss Anne Boleyn Turner-Smith made it clear she wanted to play Anne with Afro hair.
“It was really important to me that Anne had Afro texture hair,” she told Glamour. “In my mind, I was like, my Queen Anne, this is a woman who I did not want to put on European texture hair. I wanted kinky hair that she’s been growing her whole life.”
There are powerful scenes about baby loss
In the second episode, there is a devastating, gut-punching sequence in which Boleyn gives birth to a stillborn child. While pregnancy and progeny are major themes in many royal biopics, rarely is the painful reality of loss, miscarriage and stillbirth explored in detail. Anne Boleyn, however, doesn’t shy away from these experiences.
For Turner-Smith, who had her six-month-old daughter on set with her (filming was scheduled to accommodate her breastfeeding), it was a particularly difficult scene to film.
“I felt so close to the process of labour and delivery but it was more than just her losing the child in that scene,” she told The Telegraph.
“There is also something so horrific about the journey of giving birth to the child, even though it was no longer living.”
It was shot in Yorkshire during the pandemic
The sets used in Anne Boleyn are intended to be more realistic and visceral than the polished stately homes we’re used to seeing in period dramas. Shot on location in a freezing cold Yorkshire in the winter of 2020 (it was one of the first major dramas to go into production using the new COVID safety filming protocols), many interior scenes were filmed in Bolton Castle in Wensleydale, including Mary Queen of Scots’ bedchamber. Other scenes were filmed in the grounds of Castle Howard (a location you might recognise from Bridgerton).
Collaborating with Screen Yorkshire, the production supported local freelancers who were out of work due to the pandemic, hiring them for roles in the hair and make-up, camera, and sound departments.
There’s a ‘talking point’ kiss
In one scene, we see a kiss between Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour (who become Henry VIII’s next wife after Anne). Explaining the motivation behind the scene, actress Lola Petticrew, who plays Jane, said: “Sometimes Anne sees Jane through the male gaze and she’s trying to see what her husband sees, which I think is really interesting because it’s the male gaze through a female gaze, which I think is really beautiful.”
For any romantic or sexual scenes in the show the production team consulted with industry-leading intimacy co-ordinator Ita O’Brien, who has worked on Normal People, It’s A Sin and Sex Education, choreographing ethical, empowering sequences – so expect some smart, sensual scenes.
Anne Boleyn airs on Channel 5 from 1 June at 9pm.
Lead image: Pictured is Jodie Turner-Smith as Anne Boleyn in upcoming 3-part British fantasy psychological thriller, photographed by Charlie Fern for Channel 5
Anne Boleyn is pushing the boundaries of what historical drama can achieve with a diverse cast and feminist storytelling.
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