An Interview With Philippa Gregory
Author of “The Other Boleyn Girl”
Outlook: Well, I am fascinated with the book and the movie, both. You must feel really fortunate about the casting.
PG: Fantastic. The girls, particularly Scarlett, read the book and wanted to do the part, really loved it.
Outlook: You can get away with calling them “girls,” but I can’t!
PG: (laughs) I can get away with calling them “girls” because they remind me very much of my daughter. Scarlett’s the same age as my daughter. When we’re on the red carpet and she’s standing next to me wearing next to nothing, it’s really hard not to turn to her and say, “Put a coat on!” (laughs)
Outlook: You know, that’s exactly what my wife says: “Where are their mothers?”
PG: They’re both absolutely delightful girls, and talented.
think that Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson are two of the
finest actresses in
PG: I absolutely agree with you. Oddly enough, their beauty gets in the way for people, for seeing the work that they do. Their performances in “The Other Boleyn Girl” are so thoughtful, and so convincing, as well.
Outlook: Sibling rivalry doesn’t quite cover it, does it? It’s more than that.
PG: Exactly what I was trying to convey. The movie focuses so much on the sisters that it becomes sort of a family story in an amazing historical context, whereas in the book, because I had more time, I could deal more with the historical aspect. The sisters actually were very close in age, and grew up pretty much together, both go off to French schools together, and both return to the English court for their training. Because they were Tudor women, their lives were quite circumscribed. They know they’re going to be married to landed gentry, which will do their family some benefit. So not only do they know each other, they know what their futures are going to be. There’s the rivalry, there’s the competition, and there’s also kind of wanting to be each other, and sometimes feeling that you are interchangeable.
Outlook: When you were doing your research for this, did it distress you at all to see parents sort of “pimping out” their children?
PG: No, because I am an historian, and I know that prior to the 18th century, people don’t think of their children like we think of our children. Later on in Henry’s life, when he’s 45 and he marries a 14-year-old, people say, “Doesn’t that make him a pedophile?” And the answer is “No,” not in that culture. You can’t project today’s values on to a previous time.
Outlook: But you still had the 7th commandment. Adultery was still forbidden, among Christian folks, anyway.
PG: None of that troubled Henry. When he wanted to be divorced, he was absolutely certain that was God telling him. He never suffered from self-doubt.
Outlook: Do you think that Henry had any sense of the precipitousness of his actions, not only in English politics, but in the subsequent history of the Church?
PG: I think he was very conscious of the wealth which he accumulated as a result of the Catholic Church’s holdings reverting to the Crown, and subsequently to the nobility. There’s never been a “smash and grab” sale quite like it. That made it really difficult to restore the (Catholic) Church, though Mary Tudor tried to, because it meant turning people out of their homes, and returning them to their abbeys again; a very difficult job to do. No, Henry didn’t have regrets. He had quite a loveless childhood, you know, like all the royalty of the time, kept by different nannies, then a governess, then various tutors, then married to someone they don’t know.
Outlook: So there are no lasting emotional attachments with anybody.
PG: And I think that accounts for the precipitousness. You don’t create a thoughtful inner emotional life because you don’t have a chance to develop that with other people. Henry has absolutely no boundaries. Of course, he’s also running the country, so it’s not just his own life affected here. And he ends up just crazy, like a beast.
Outlook: Happened to Nebuchadnezzar, too, you know.
PG: (laughs) Oh yes, and other despotic tyrants! It’s hard to stay sane.
Outlook: Speaking of biblical references, if I may: Rachel and Leah, the twin sisters who competed for the affection of Jacob.
PG: How interesting. I’d never thought of that, but it fits. Perhaps that’s part of the reason for the incredible success of this book, worldwide, into all sorts of different languages. It’s a human story that transcends cultures, and resonates with people: the struggle of women to determine their own lives, and to understand themselves. The royal premier is nice, the cherry on the cake, but beyond the banality of the success, it’s how much it means to people that’s so important to me.
Outlook: Thank you so much for your time.
PG: I enjoyed this.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace