Today, on the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536, we have a guest post from actress Emma Connell. I was honoured to see Emma play Anne Boleyn in the play “Fallen in Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn” at the Tower of London on 19th May 2013. Emma was perfect as Anne and it was moving to see the play performed at the Tower on that today. Thank you to Emma for sharing her thoughts on Anne with us today. Over to Emma…
Today is the official release of the new feature film, ‘A Royal Night Out’, starring Rupert Everett, Emily Watson and Sarah Gadon who plays a young Princess Elizabeth in the new royal romcom set in 1945 on VE Day. The film marks the 70th anniversary of VE Day: Victory for our nation. The 19th May this year also marks the 479th anniversary of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn: A day that salutes the first dawn in the victory for women.
In death, Anne Boleyn has become one of the most controversial and namely one of the first feminist icons in history. Having been falsely accused of incest, adultery, conspiracy against the King and consequently beheaded at the Tower of London she has become somewhat of a martyr. Many admire her life story and on the anniversary of her death many recognise the injustice she faced. On this day, without fail, fresh red roses are sent to the Tower of London and laid on her memorial in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. The sender – unknown – leaves a card with Anne’s name and the date of her execution. This tradition has been honoured, every year, without fail, as long as anyone can remember. However, there is more than just one anonymous admirer who honours the life and legend of Anne Boleyn. She has become somewhat of a modern day enigma who continues to haunt our hearts… she truly is the real, Queen of Hearts. Which is why I feel rather humbled having had the pleasure to play her both on –screen and on-stage within the very walls of the Tower of London where she spent her final days. I find that as I write this to you Claire, I still carry a part of her with me, certainly the details of her remarkable story remain fresh in mind: a story of devotion, heroism and unfailing loyalty to what she believed-in as a human being. For these reasons mentioned and many more she has become an unshakeable figure of strength to women across the ages.
As an actor I am yet to encounter such a demanding role as playing Anne Boleyn. In ‘A Royal Night Out’ I feature as Jane – a cheeky, cockney lass who’s whisked away in all the celebrations and excitement of VE day… quite different to playing a notorious Queen of England. With heavy, Tudor shoes to fill, I had to find in me (an Essex-born, working class girl) the ability to embody such a character, of strength, and command. This takes quite a bit of research, rehearsing, concentration and passion. Thanks to detailed source materials written by Eric Ives and Alison Weir I was able to harvest a lot of information including many visits to her childhood home at Blickling Hall, Hever Castle and of course the Tower of London. My aim as the actor is to bring her in the room, bring her in front of the audience with honesty and integrity, strip away any preconceptions that have clouded her image and above all make her believable, likeable and human. Decisive, bold and confident are qualities that I could bring to the performance but stamina, faith and her piety were huge parts of Anne that I had to understand for myself first. Qualities such as her grace, etiquette and manners, which had been honed in her Austrian and French schooling, were of utmost importance for historical accuracy and in building a believable performance. Shaping myself on-stage in to the elegant and tantalising woman that she was reported to have been took quite a bit of training and discipline. The language was complex, technical and muscular at times which required a lot of energy – considering we were performing twice a day during the week and three times a day in the Banqueting Suite of the New Armouries at The Tower of London, every weekend for 9 weeks. Transformation sits at the heart of an actors work and it’s what I find most rewarding in the process of finding a character. Finding Anne remains to be one of my most memorable roles to date.
On-screen, of course, the performance for ‘Henry and Anne: The Lovers who Changed History’ was somewhat different compared to the stage version. For screen, everything is magnified and so subtly is key. The moments of turmoil that the two-part documentary focused on towards the end of Anne’s relationship with the King became very powerful and quite moving on-screen. Also performing her speech and speaking the very words that Anne defiantly delivered to the crowds of people that swarmed the scaffold to watch her execution was haunting yet in many ways victorious and empowering. I can only hope that my delivery would have been to her liking and to the best of my judgement… Anne’s warning: ‘If any person will meddle of my cause I require them to judge the best’ was quite effective and something that I thought about a lot! Bringing to life, her prowess, her powers of seduction and her charm was great fun and the vitality, ambition, and focus in her completely changed my understanding of the Tudor court. How she successfully held the heart of the King in her hand for so many years is an astonishing example of the powers of true love. How that love and devotion compelled him to break away from his wife, his religion and ultimately his country. The ‘true love’ part was easy for me as I have been fortunate enough to experience it myself… it was the childbirth part that had forced me to use my imagination!
In terms of politics, which in this case can’t be ignored, I don’t believe that Anne had an incestuous relationship with her brother. She was the victim of a political coup who conjured the most vile and sickening stories against her in order to seal her fate and be rid of her for good. Henry needed a son; it was a matter of life, death and dynasty for the monarch. It is my opinion that Anne – a woman self-assured of style and substance, with a good spirit and a decisive nature was simply a noble woman who fell in love with a King who sadly failed in bearing him a son. Which is why her story is so revered and her anniversary remembered and honoured to this day. These are my thoughts and understandings that many will disagree with but Anne Boleyn, for me, brought the dawn of female power in to the new day. Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I became the perfect advocate and example of that. I also found a very uncanny connection between Anne Boleyn and another feminist and politic icon – Margaret Thatcher. There is a beautiful portrait of Thatcher that sits proudly in one of the dining rooms at Hever Castle… perhaps Maggie found a great affinity with Anne too? Both strong women, political, visionaries and sadly both ousted by the work of men. With that said, I don’t whole-heartedly agree with every policy both Thatcher and Anne may have stood for but at least they had the courage to speak out and to stand up for there beliefs, whatever the cost. Anne Boleyn truly is the Iron Lady of the Tudors – fashionable, powerful, dignified and devout and on her anniversary I will certainly be saluting her.