Wicked, like The Other Boleyn Girl, is the story of two women striving for power. But oh, Wicked does the story so much better.
(Note: spoilers for both will follow.)
In Wicked, we see Glinda and Elphaba as they follow ultimately divergent paths in their attempts to gain the power to change Oz. Glinda plays along with the powers that be, in the hopes of changing things from the inside, while Elphaba tries to forge her own way, but both wish to work for the good of Oz. Ultimately, Elphaba is killed, and Glinda is honored by the power structure, but neither is able to effect the change they would have liked to see, and it is very much a story of missed chances and lost dreams.
The story of Anne and Mary Boleyn– the real people– could easily be told in a very similar way, as astute commenter Colleen pointed out here.
I think they were both, in very different ways, trying desperately to lighten as much as possible the yoke of male domination. Anne harnessed her sexuality, the only power she had, to rise to a post in which only one man could tell her what to do. Mary bore it meekly as long as she could in order to lessen its ill effects, then at first opportunity ran off with someone who, by virtue of his far inferior class and income, would have a much harder time asserting his rights as a husband.
The parallels are pretty straightforward– Glinda/Mary doing things the “right” way, Elphaba/Anne being much more bold and uncompromising, Glinda/Mary receiving a pat on the head but no world-changing success, Elphaba/Anne being killed for their transgressions. And, of course, the idea that both girls are working for the same, honorable goal– fighting totalitarianism in Oz, fighting institutionalized sexism in England.
Except The Other Boleyn Girl doesn’t tell this story, with its parallel to Wicked. In the movie, as I’ve said before and before, we are shown the story of Good Mary and Bad Anne, an oversimplification that tells the tale from the patriarchy’s point of view.
Which is why, given trustworthy reports that the book tells much the same story, I’m going to declare Gregory Maguire to be a better writer than Phillipa Gregory.
Gregory Maguire started from a story of “Glinda Good, Elphaba Bad” to give us two women struggling for goals of freedom, striving together and then apart, growing, trying again, and ultimately making not a lot of progress. He showed us their love-hate relationship, he showed us their sex lives, he showed us their dreams and desires. In other words, he gave us two complex, real people and the struggles of their lives.
Phillipa Gregory took two complex, real people and the struggles of their lives, and gave us “Mary Good, Anne Bad.” She botched what was surely an interesting sibling relationship, ramped up the sex lives to titillate (Now with 200% more incest!), and left out all the dreams and fears that made these two women human. The actors did their best to compensate– Natalie Portman was fantastic– but it was ultimately a flat story.
They should have made Wicked a movie instead.