TV Review: Anne Boleyn

An interesting premise is completely squandered in this new TV history drama Anne Boleyn, wasting the talents of Jodie Turner-Smith and Paapa Essiedu

“You promised me a different sort of marriage”

Written by Eve Hedderwick Turner and directed by Lynsey Miller, Anne Boleyn has a single masterstroke commending it. The casting of Jodie Turner-Smith in the title role is a bold move (and to be sure, one we shouldn’t have to point out in this day and age but given the frothing response to it, it clearly remains a necessity) which offers an intriguing perspective to the way in which historical dramas are done.

But as this Channel 5 show posits itself as a psychological thriller, it completely fails to live up to that side of the billing. Set in the final 5 months of her life, we’re way past the honeymoon stage of her marriage to Henry VIII, his desire for a male heir and fresh meat pulling him into the orbit of Jane Seymour. And as Anne knows to her peril, the court surrounding him is full of whispering voices against her, whether the women she has alienated or the men who seek to control her.  

There’s so much potential there, for a fresh take on what is largely very familiar material but the writing just doesn’t do anything with it. There’s little chance to introduce anything thrilling but there’s also zero psychological depth to any of the characters – the women who betray her feel particularly ripe for that treatment. Even the crucial relationship with her brother George (the excellent Paapa Essiedu) is completely undersold despite their corking chemistry.

Turner-Smith is mostly very good in a suite of stunning costumes and she does benefit from the canny decision to sideline Mark Stanley’s Henry, situating Anne in the middle of a complex web of intersecting and competing interests. But as she’s rarely allowed to go beyond the surface due to the facile script, there’s no-no-no-no-no-no way you should bother watching this. 

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