The Other Boleyn Girl (2003 film)

The Other Boleyn Girl is a 2003 BBC television film, adapted from Philippa Gregory's novel of the same name. Centring around courtier Mary Boleyn, and her sister Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, King of England, and their competition for his affections.

The Other Boleyn Girl
The Other Boleyn Girl DVD cover
Based onThe Other Boleyn Girl
by Philippa Gregory
Screenplay byPhilippa Lowthorpe
Story byPhilippa Gregory
Directed byPhilippa Lowthorpe
StarringNatascha McElhone
Jodhi May
Jared Harris
Steven Mackintosh
Theme music composerPeter Salem
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Ruth Caleb
Running time90 minutes
Budget£750 000
Original networkBBC
Original releaseIt was included as an extra on the DVD release of the BBC's The Six Wives of Henry VIII.28 March 2003

It was released on DVD on 6 October 2008, following the release of the 2008 version.


The film had a low production budget of £750,000.[1] It was shot at Berkeley Castle, adopting techniques unusual for an historical drama. Some scenes are shot in a confessional straight-to-camera "video diary" style, and hand-held cameras are used.[1].

The cast spent four weeks in workshops improvising the script with the director.


The film follows the story of Mary Boleyn (Natascha McElhone), sister to Anne and George Boleyn. Henry VIII (Jared Harris) favours Mary, recently married to William Carey, and lady-in-waiting to his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Despite her objections, Mary is forced by her ambitious family to become the King's mistress. Although Mary at first despairs that her husband has consented to the arrangement, and feels guilty whenever she serves the Queen, she begins to come to terms with her fate.

Mary's sister, Anne falls in love with Lord Henry Percy and, despite Mary's warnings, they consummate the affair. Mary informs their family, who tell Anne that she has made a grave mistake. Percy is already betrothed, and the match was arranged with royal consent. Fearing the matter will spoil Mary's relationship with the King, the family plan to send Anne away. An enraged Anne says she will never forget what Mary has done, and is exiled to the family seat of Hever Castle.

Mary falls in love with the King, and begins to enjoy their time together; she does not feel remorse over Anne, feeling she has saved her from ruin. Anne, at Hever, declares she will never fall in love again, and plots revenge and her return to court. Mary becomes estranged from her husband.

A year passes, and Mary becomes pregnant with the King's child. Anne is permitted back at court, dutifully announcing she is grateful and will serve her family any way she can, although Mary is skeptical of her sincerity. The family plans for Anne to distract and amuse the King as Mary enters her confinement; but the King finds Anne to be more than a distraction, informing her that he finds her more attractive than Mary.

Mary gives birth to a son, but the King now cares only for Anne. A devastated Mary leaves court, while Anne takes her place as the King's new love. Mary reconciles with husband William, and they have a daughter; two years later, he dies from the sweating sickness. Anne is given new chambers and expensive gowns, and tells Mary that she needs her by her side at all times, so she is protected from scandal. Mary, shocked, reminds Anne of Henry Percy, and Anne replies that he was nothing to her, and that Mary is a traitor if she ever reveals the relationship.

The King hears that Percy's wife is asking for a divorce, and informs Anne that they cannot be together if there was a precontract between her and Percy. Anne pressures Mary to say there was no betrothal and, to appease the King, Anne finally sleeps with him. The King abandons Catherine, and marries the now pregnant Anne. Anne suggests marriage to an elderly lord for Mary.

Anne gives birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, her hold on Henry begins to slip away, and the King takes a mistress. Mary sneaks away from court to see William Stafford, a former servant of the Boleyns, and accepts his marriage proposal. Anne banishes Mary from court, telling her that such a lowly match has shamed the family.

Anne has two miscarriages and seems unlikely to bear a son. She makes a jealous scene in public and an angry Henry drives Anne to depart the room. Her uncle follows; when Anne demands respect her uncle informs her that she now has many enemies and leaves, Anne yelling after him. While visiting Wulfhall in Wiltshire, the King spends time with the daughter of the family, Jane Seymour, and greatly enjoys her company.

After finding a pamphlet depicting her decapitation, a panicked Anne summons George and Mary, telling them the court wants her dead. Mary asks Anne when she last had sex with the King, and suggests she might have more success with a different man, implying that George and Anne should sleep together. George is horrified but when Anne begs on her knees for her brother to save her, he reluctantly consents.

Anne reveals her pregnancy to a delighted King, but when she again miscarries, her days are numbered. George and several other men are taken to the Tower on charges of treason and adultery; Anne is next. In a final audience with the King, she reminds him that he once loved her, and asks if he will take her away from their daughter. Proclaiming her innocence, she asks God to have mercy on his soul, and bidding farewell to Elizabeth, sings her a song as she is led away.

Mary narrates that George, Anne and the men were all beheaded. She has left court with her children, and is happy with William Stafford.


Critical reception

The camera work proved to be somewhat divisive for critics. The Guardian's Stuart Jeffries wrote that while some previewers thought it had "the feel of Peter Greenaway-lite", he found it interfered with the story, described as "a gripping, well-written narrative" and likened it to "NYPD Blue Visits Hampton Court".[2]

Differences from book

  • In the book, Mary is the younger sister (born in 1508) and Anne is the elder sister (born in 1507). In the film, Mary clearly states that Anne is her younger sister.
  • The book opens with the execution of the Duke of Buckingham, in 1521. The film begins in 1524, and the Duke is not mentioned.
  • In the book, Anne returns to court in 1523 after serving the French Queen, Claude, since they were children. Mary returned to England in 1520 after serving in France, and it was mentioned that she left home at the age of four. In the film, neither sister is mentioned as serving at the French court.
  • In the book, William Carey is not consulted about Mary's forthcoming involvement with the King, and instead comes to find their bedchambers being torn apart so that Mary can move into a separate bedchamber with Anne. Mary protests this, out of loyalty to her husband and to Queen Katherine, but her complaints fall on deaf ears. In the film, William Carey is seen participating in the meetings and consenting to Mary's being the King's mistress.
  • In the book, a soothsayer tells King Henry that if he sleeps with Queen Katherine, then he will get a son. This breaks Mary's heart, as she had already begun her affair with the King; she stays up late with her husband and with her brother, George, and kisses her husband goodnight. This does not happen in the film.
  • In the book, Mary and George are in on Anne's betrothal to Henry Percy of Northumberland, and leave them alone to consummate their union. In the film, Mary catches Anne sleeping with Henry Percy, and promptly tells her mother, father, and uncle about it. In both the book and the film, Henry Percy is sent back to Northumberland and married against his will, while Anne is sent to Hever Castle.
  • In the book, Mary has a close relationship with Queen Katherine, and even mentions that she is her favourite lady-in-waiting. In the film, Mary's relationship with Queen Katherine is largely glossed over and, while she shows regret during the beginning of her affair with the King, she does not have any one-on-one scenes with her.
  • In the book, Mary's first child is Catherine, and is born in 1524, and the King seems to understand that Catherine is his, and even suggests the name Elizabeth before Mary asks to name her something else. In the film, Catherine is portrayed as William Carey's daughter, and born between 1526 and 1528.
  • In the book, Mary's second child is a boy, Henry, born in March 1526 (as he was factually). In the film, Henry is the only child born during her affair with King Henry, and the King has already begun a flirtation with Anne, and shows no interest in the boy, much like the book.
  • In the film, William Carey comes to Mary's rooms during her affair with the King, and asks her to spend the night with him. Mary says she can't because she is the King's mistress, and William asks her to set a date for them to be together; Mary, evasive, says that she must stay with the King, and William leaves, embittered and feeling betrayed. This does not happen in the book.
  • In the book, William Carey dies of the sweating sickness in 1528, at his own manor in Norfolk, while Mary goes to Hever to be with her children, and Anne and George come as well, as Anne is ill; it is also hinted that Mary and William fell in love prior to his death, due to their spending so much time together. In the film, William Carey seems to die at court, and Mary doesn't seem to care that he dies.
  • In the book, Anne sleeps with Henry for the first time after he makes her Marquess of Pembroke, in September 1532, before they go to France. In the film, Anne sleeps with Henry after her affair with Henry Percy comes to light. The latter happened in the book, but under different circumstances.
  • In the book, Anne and Henry take the court to France so that the French King can support their union, and Mary and William Stafford continue their affair. In the film, they don't go to France.
  • In the book, Mary goes to Hever Castle every summer to spend time with their children, and sometimes William Stafford joins them. In the film, they only go once, yet William Stafford is shown to have a rapport with her children.
  • In the book, William Stafford claims that he is courting Mary and that he is in love with her, and while Mary does not verbally reciprocate, she seems pleased. In the film, William Stafford awkwardly and suddenly proposes to Mary, and she is angered that he doesn't merely want to be friends, and runs off.
  • In the book, there is a casual mention of Mary's engagement to a French prince after Anne marries King Henry. In the film, after Anne's marriage to the King, Anne suggests elderly men with wealth and titles to marry Mary, including a Lord Farmleigh.
  • In the book, after Anne and the King have married, Mary escapes court and goes to William Stafford's house, where she confesses her love and marries him. In the film, Mary comes to William Stafford's house and wishes to speak to him, where they share their first kiss and marry.
  • In the book, Mary doesn't tell Anne that she married William Stafford for over a year. In the film, she tells her entire family (minus George) that she has married William Stafford. In both the film and the movie, she is banished; while in the book, it is in 1534 for a year, and in the film, it is 1534 for two years.
  • In the book, Henry seems slightly pleased with Princess Elizabeth and seems hopeful about future children with Anne. In the film, Henry immediately takes a mistress, devastating Anne.
  • In the book, Mary has a child with William Stafford -- a daughter named Anne. In the film, Mary has only two children—Henry and Catherine.
  • In the book, when Mary returns to court, Anne is pregnant. In the film, when she is returned to court late in the night, Anne is not pregnant.
  • In the book, after Elizabeth's birth, Anne has a total of three miscarriages. In the film, Anne goes through a period of inability to conceive and doesn't know what to do.
  • In the book, Mary discovers through watching and listening to Anne and George's mannerisms that they have had sex in order for Anne to get pregnant, because the King had become disgusted with her failure. In the film, it is Mary who casually suggests the coupling, but doesn't say it, merely hinting at it, so as she will not be implicated later.
  • In the book, Anne's official musician is Mark Smeaton, who is later tortured and executed for an affair with her. In the film, she has Mark Smeaton sing to her before the court; when Mark is arrested, Anne claims to "hardly know him".
  • In the book, Anne is arrested during a joust in the spring of 1536 and doesn't have a final moment with the King. In the film, Anne is arrested at court after speaking to the King, protesting her innocence, and saying goodbye to Elizabeth.
  • In the book, Mary's daughter Catherine is 12 years old and at court with her, and is taken by Anne as a lady-in-waiting to the Tower of London. Because of this, William Stafford keep her son Henry and their daughter Anne at inns in London, and they remain there for the execution. In the film, Mary merely takes her children from Hever Castle and to William Stafford's house, as they are only ten and eight respectively.


  1. "Scope | Issue 16| Film Reviews" (PDF). Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  2. Jeffries, Stuart (24 March 2003). "Don't lose your head". the Guardian. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
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