Welcome back to our
erratic examination of 16th century English history via 21st century dramatic television. If you missed the previous installments, these handy hyperlinks will take you to Episode 1
(which you really ought to read first as it lays out my thesis), and Episode 2
(which is skippable if you're pressed for time, as I, apparently, wasn't).
The past two episodes, I've made a point about the title, but "Anna Regina", I think, is fairly straightforward. It's the episode in which Anne becomes Queen, and more importantly Anne is The Boss, well before she is crowned. It may be interesting to note, though, that the title is in Latin, the language of the Catholic Church, while Anne is the motivation for severing England from said institution: one of this episode's leading subplots is the clash between Rome and the Reformation. Notice also that the title – Queen Anne – shares the screen with Katherine of Aragon, who is, at that point in time, still technically the Queen. With this juxtaposition we see the beginning and end of this arc all in one go.
The concrete subplot may be Rome vs the Reformation, but the abstract theme explored in this episode is Pragmatism vs Idealism. Episode 4 will play with it as well, but it is heavily established in, and central to, "Anna Regina." The foils, Cromwell and More, exemplify either side. In their playing off each other and reacting to the events around them, the deeper issues come forth, and the audience is challenged: What would you do in this situation? What do you believe in? To what extent would you stick to your ideals? What would you say to get ahead? Whose side are you on, and whose side would you want
to be on?
Much of this conflict is played out in the religious divide, and tensions that arise because of religion, but there is still plenty to chew on if affairs of church and state don't interest you. Democracy is a belief system, not a million miles from a religion, and we see crimes perpetrated against it in this episode. The same goes for the values of romantic love, tolerance, and justice, all of which get skewered by pragmatism. We all have immaterial, non-empirical ideas we hold sacrosanct, so being challenged to examine the power of belief applies to us all.
It's a very relevant episode to our modern world as well, as we struggle with the lack of big ideas in politics
, the clash of Islamic fundamentalism and what we consider 'Western values,' and the polarisation and entrenchment of opinion. When is compromise effective and when is it weakness? How much crossover should there be between government and finance? How much influence should moneyed individuals have in the system?
The screenwriting guru who taught at Disney harped on the idea that drama uses history to comment on the present, and that great films hit the rotten nerve of the time in which they are made. This episode is an hour of solid neuralgia, in that respect.( Words and Pictures )
From here on to the end of the series, Cromwell's shadow side will come ever more to the fore, and the façade of unimpeachable goodness fall away. At what point will you realise it's an illusion?