film review: The Other Boleyn Girl

She’s educated and for what? So she may be traded like cattle for the advancement and amusement of men?–Lady Elizabeth Boleyn

At its core, The Other Boleyn Girl is about sibling rivalry. Two beautiful sisters who have been very loyal confidantes find themselves vying for the King of England’s affections. Fascinating in its details. Everyone knows how the story ends: the beheading of Anne Boleyn. The Boleyn family is very ambitious. The father and uncle are members of the court and want much more power and have a plan in mind. When Queen Katharine continues to have trouble providing the King with a male heir, they see this as their time to swoop in. As Mary is already married, Anne is introduced to the King but an accident while fox hunting, quickly derails that plan. The King takes notice of Mary and requests that she be called to court to be in service to the Queen. Mary is reluctant to go. She had planned on a quiet life in the country with her husband. Anne is mad and jealous. Mary wants love and Anne wants power. Mary is charmed and seduced by the King enough that she falls in love with him. He tires of her of course as he bounces from woman to woman and after she gives birth to a son, he has already moved on to her sister Anne, who has just returned from France and the Queen’s court there. She is a completely new person, having learned a thing or two from the French and the King takes notice and is genuinely smitten by her.

The film adaptation works beautifully but is sometimes a bit too staid and should either be more serious or campier. Philippa Gregory’s novel certainly has its over-the-top moments. It’s a long, detailed historical novel. At some points The Other Boleyn Girl becomes a real life harlequin romance novel—the initial sex scenes between Mary [Scarlett Johansson] and King Henry VIII [Eric Bana] and then when Henry confronts Anne [Natalie Portman] after she has rejected his numerous gifts, is smoldering. There’s palpable chemistry between Portman and Bana.

While I cannot imagine any other actors in the roles of Anne and Mary Boleyn at this time, are there no British women to play the leads? Two American women [Johansson and Portman] and an Australian man [the sumptuous Bana] have the leading roles in The Other Boleyn Girl. BBC Films is part of the production of the film directed by a Brit, based on a novel by a Brit, and with Brits comprising the supporting cast. So that’s curious.

This is a layered role for Scarlett and her films with Woody Allen [Match Point] surely have prepped her for this challenge because The Other Boleyn Girl certainly has more scope than The Nanny Diaries. Mary is light and the honesty and innocence of her character remain constant in Scarlett’s beautiful, glowing visage. Anne is darker and has mysterious motives for which Natalie possesses the range: the scheming, the jealousy, the confidence, the charms, the madness, the desperation. It’s quite the juicy role and if you liked her performance in Closer, you will enjoy this as well. Kristin Scott Thomas is bold and admirable as Lady Elizabeth Boleyn. Jim Sturgess [Across the Universe] plays it sweet and comforting as the girls devoted brother. After directing Bleak House for Masterpiece Theatre, Justin Chadwick deftly contrasts intimacy and pomp to showcase the Tudor era—several years are covered in two hours. And while a bit choppy, it never jars. There’s a lot of material to get through. The sets and costuming are ornate, colorful and detailed just like everything in the Tudor era. It is much better than Showtime’s The Tudors which I find excruciatingly dull with little charisma. Bana has the chops to play a King. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, not so much. Bana broods, rants and can steam up the screen if need be. Remember how good his was in Munich?

The Other Boleyn Girl is a must-see for anyone who loves a juicy based-in-fact story. Yes, I know that it’s not completely accurate but who cares? The main facts are in there. There’s sex, intrigue, and beheadings. And if Scarlett, Natalie and Eric don’t do it for you, there are exquisite gowns in vivid colors. And plenty of horses.


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