The Other Boleyn Girl, based on Philippa Gregory’s novel, is a mildly entertaining retelling of part of King Henry VIII’s life.
The other Boleyn girl is Anne’s sister Mary, who is the first to catch Henry’s eye, played with a surprising flatness by Eric Bana. Henry VIII is a character to relish. Jonathan Rhys Meyers dug his teeth into the role for The Tudors and played it for all it was worth, and seems to bring out the character of the king I grew to know in GCSE History much more effectively than Bana, who spends much of his time brooding in the shadows with his fist under his nose.
Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson play Anne and Mary. Despite their best efforts their affection for one another is never quite realised.
The Boleyn family are in financial straits, so Anne is charged with “diverting” the King so that he might make her his mistress, and so reward her family with land and money. However it is Mary who charms her way into the King’s favour, alas she has just wedded William Stafford.
Stafford and the sisters are given a position at the King’s court, and the former is rather willing to sacrifice his wife for her family’s sake.
Mary is the first to be invited to the King’s bedchamber, and Johansson looks so young, sweet, and naïve that Bana seems a lecherous older man in comparison.
This movie was never intended to be historically accurate; however the limits were really pushed in a scene during which Henry was encouraging Anne’s advances while Mary lay in her bedroom holding their newborn son.
Henry see-saws between the women so frequently it is surprising that there was no hair-pulling between them. When he finally settles for Anne, she refuses to have him until he is rid of Queen Katherine.
Anne is portrayed as a conniving young woman who is restless in trying to ensnare the King. Here she is the one who encourages him to break with Rome.
However Henry is reluctant to let Katherine (Ana Torrent) go. Katherine, as always, is shown as a woman with a good head on her shoulders, which is more than can be said for Anne, literally and figuratively. When Henry does annul the marriage and splits the Church, he practically rapes Anne in an attempt to convince himself it was worth it, that she will give him a son.
When their daughter is born Anne goes through what can only be described as the most severe form of post natal depression known to womankind. After the miscarriage of her son, she is so terrified that she is willing to commit incest to give Henry a boy.
Portman carries those scenes well, and despite her misdeeds it is difficult not to feel sorry for Anne. Portman had already proved - in V For Vendetta - her ability to adopt an English accent, and Johansson also does it well. As in Girl With A Pearl Earring she acts with her eyes and expressions. I half expected Colin Firth to turn up and paint her.
David Morrisey gives a pantomime-like performance as the wicked uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, who sets the whole thing in motion along with the girls’ father.
Kristen Scott Thomas is wonderfully understated as their world-weary mother who goes through great pains over her children’s circumstances, yet can do nothing. I almost cheered when she slapped her husband, Sir Thomas (Mark Rylance).
Some of the shots look like a Holbein painting, and the movie seems like a precursor to the superior Elizabeth.
Director Justin Chadwick does not turn the movie into the bodice ripper the novel set out to be. It is left up to the viewer to decide whether this is a strength or weakness. Personally, I find that a director who assumes the viewers have an imagination shows them some respect.