Philippa Gregory: Author Interview

With the all-star movie The Other Boleyn Girl opening soon, author Philippa Gregory tells how she was inspired by the untold story of her Tudor heroine

It is a bright, sunny morning at Penshurst Place, Kent. I step through an archway, and I am transported back in time. The young King and Queen – Henry VIII and his new wife Anne Boleyn, sit with a mastiff at their feet and a fire in a brazier beside them, while minstrels play.

I have to blink to remind myself that these are actors, playing a scene from my book, The Other Boleyn Girl. Sometimes, when location and actors and design come together, the magic of movies spills over into the present day, and the hair on the back of my neck prickles.

The story behind this scene is stranger than any one that I could invent. Two sisters, Mary and Anne, were both lovers of Henry VIII. When Mary, 14, came to court, Henry, 29, was still married to the respected Katherine of Aragon, and they had a daughter.

Henry fell in love with Mary Boleyn, made her his mistress and had two children by her before a glamorous new arrival, turned the heads of everyone, even the King. It was Anne, back home after years of training in courtier skills at the French royal court, determined on social triumph.

As a woman with a keen interest in the private and personal lives of women of history, as a historian who prefers the untold stories, and as a feminist who thinks that the stories of women are equally as interesting as those of men, Mary’s story was waiting to be rediscovered.

The Boleyn sisters were extraordinary women of their time. Mary was married at 12 and the lover of the King of England when she was still in her teens, and Anne was sent away from England to France for schooling and training when she was not yet five years old.

Pawns of their family ambition, they were both raised to marry lords. Like every Tudor woman, they had no rights and could own nothing but what they could win as gifts. When they lost the love of the King and their family withdrew their protection, they had no more rights than beggars.

Seeing their story brought to life by two fine actresses – Natalie Portman as Anne and Scarlett Johansson as Mary – has been an extraordinary experience, and with Eric Bana playing Henry VIII, it’s a dream cast. Both women read the book and insisted that the film follow it as closely as possible. I advised on Peter Morgan’s script, but was aware that a film is a different medium than a novel.

The joy of watching this adaptation for me is knowing that it is a new version of a story that I have discovered and another way of bringing a forgotten history to life.

Buy The Other Boleyn Girl for the special price of £5.99 inc p&p (rrp £7.99). Call 08707-871724 and quote “853S”. Offer ends 1 March 2008.

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