Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Unusual Saturday with Natalie Portman and Agatha Christie

Scarlett Johanson as Mary Boleyn and Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn
Strange things sometimes come the way of a priest. One of my sideline interests is in the liturgy of the pre-Reformation English church. Through the good offices of Fr Nicholas, the Roman Miscellanist, I was approached by a film company who wanted to know how one would conduct a marriage in the 1520s. You may have seen what I dug up for them, a few posts ago. for a film, now in post-production, called The Other Boleyn Girl, a historical novel of the same name by Philippa Gregory. Well, I was contacted again, and actually asked to go 'on camera'. Well, what a laugh!

So on Saturday, I duly turned up at 7.30am at Pinewood Studios, and by 9, I was in costume, with a ridiculous chestnut wig on my head and a 'Canterbury cap'. There was a cassock, a sort of surplice (it looked like one, anyway, but fastened weirdly) and a gown. All fine. But very hot, and it was the hottest day of the year.

And then I waited.
And waited.
And roasted.
And waited.

But I didn't mind, really. It was actually rather nice to be free from thinking I ought to be doing something and worrying about it. Other people were doing all the worrying instead. So I listened to an Agatha Christie story on my iPod (mediaeval clerical gowns are conveniently provided with an iPod pocket) as I walked up and down the car-park in the sun.

There was also a group of 'extras' who had to do some dancing in heavy costumes. I really felt for them. The women looked amazing, with their gabled coifs and brocaded, hooped dresses. They sat and waited, and roasted, too, in a modern office room, where they phoned and texted their friends, contrasting strangely with the fabulous costumes. The men, too, were in heavy furs and brocades. They took off the enormous coats when the heat got too much, and you can see just what a really obscene garment the codpiece is, especially when worn without a coat.

One of the female dancers came out with what I can only describe as the shallow quotation of the millennium.
She: You know, I really hate this Iraq war. It's really terrible!
Me: Mm. Yes.
She: Yes, television is completely ruined; there's nothing else to watch any more!

There was a brief flurry of activity as I was called on to coach the bridegroom (Henry Percy, played by the charming Oliver Coleman) in his brief bit of Latin (In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti—it didn't take long) and then it was back to pacing the car park with Agatha Christie until 4.30, when I was called to the set. And there I met Natalie Portman, who is charming and unassuming. Those of you who aren't film buffs might know her as Queen/Senator Amidala from the Star Wars movies. And there we did the wedding. Or at least, just the exchange of rings. The 'bride' and 'groom' expressed a certain anxiety when they learnt that I was a real priest, that their marriage might also be a 'real' one.

Now, what struck me was that this fillum company went to all the trouble and (some) expense of importing me as consultant on the liturgy. And yet this actual marriage is itself utterly unhistorical. Anne Boleyn never married Henry Percy. Anne Boleyn was not a very nice woman, granted, but she was no bigamist (unlike Henry VIII). She and Percy certainly fancied each other, and possibly even attempted engagement, but Cardinal Wolsey scotched that, thus earning Boleyn's undying hatred. There is no suggestion, as far as I know, that they had a secret marriage. I did mention this on the phone to the company, but by then it was all in train, and, you know the way things are……

And then, in the filming, they simply pushed artefacts and people around to 'look good' without any worry about authenticity. Why bother having a consultant, I wondered.
But I was enjoying the whole thing so much, I didn't want to argue.
Perhaps in the end they'll decide to go for accuracy, and I'll hit the cutting room floor.

But no regrets: it was a fascinating day.

The Other Boleyn Girl should hit British Cinemas in February. And so, if you sit through all the credits, and are sharp-eyed, you might even discover who Fr Justin really is! And you'll know that this Tudor-looking priest is actually carrying an iPod in his pocket.


Ma Beck said...

Wow! I can't wait!
What a cool experience.

Anonymous said...

Is that for real???

gemoftheocean said...

"The 'bride' and 'groom' expressed a certain anxiety when they learnt that I was a real priest, that their marriage might also be a 'real' one."

:-D I'm sure you told them it "didn't count" as long as they had their fingers crossed. Did you have an "under five?" Or did you get more than five lines? In the US they have to pay you more for that, don't know how that works in the UK.

White Stone Name Seeker said...

Sounds like a fascinating-if hot-day.

God bless

Fr Justin said...

Actually, Gem, I had more than five, but they were simply the words of the service, which the groom had to repeat after me, and a short blessing. The fee was agreed in advance, and as I know little of these things ('under 5s' &c)I just accepted what they offered.
And yes, Jackie; this was for real.

White Stone Name Seeker said...

Father I read recently that the Sacrament of Marriage was not regulated before the 12th Century and that only after Trent was a proper ceremony formulated. The implication of what I read was that there was no regulations for marriage and it was barely considered a Sacrament in the true sense of the word.
I am confused by this-and the wording was rather vague.

Can you clarify? I would be grateful. Thanks
God bless

gemoftheocean said...

Glad you had a good time. It's certainly a lot of standing around just to set up a single shot. Of course, now that you've done ONE such role, you might be asked again. :-D

This could be the start of something big! :-D

Mac McLernon said...

Wow... I know a fillum star!

Fr Justin said...

Dear WSNSeeker:
Up to a point you're right. Marriage was pretty much unregulated, and it was considered that a couple might agree to marry, consummate their union, and, bang, they were married. In fact, I think the Catholic Church still holds this. However, since the decree 'Ne Temere', she requires her own children to marry in front of a priest or deacon duly delegated before she will recognize it as valid. So baptized Protestants marry validly and sacramentally even before a secular official. But certainly since the middle ages, people married before the priest—the text I have reproduced elsewhere is from well before the Council of Trent.

White Stone Name Seeker said...

Thank you for that Father.
I must do some more reading...sometime.

On the side of the angels said...

I would appreciate some help please:

Tear me to shreds if necessary; my intentions are sincere but I'm only emphasising the detrimental aspects of the issue. I desperately need the voices and intellects of others to assist and clarify the root causes and the remedies.

Insuetus said...

So we gotta watch for the film credits eh??? ah hah!!!