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Review: The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) 

Directed by: Justin Chadwick

Premise: Dramatization of the love triangle between Mary (Scarlett Johansson) and Anne (Natalie Portman) Boleyn and King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). 

What Works: The Other Boleyn Girl retells a familiar story, with more focus on the female characters and how they interact within the male dominated power structure. The take works and the film allows the characters of Mary and Anne and their mother Lady Elizabeth (Kristin Scott Thomas) some interesting discussions and drama in which the family is corrupted by ambition. The scenes between the three of them are very real and grounded enough in the familial tensions to not get lost in the larger political game being played. Portman is especially good in the film and gives one of the best performances of her career.

What Doesn’t: The film starts out very slow and takes time getting going. In the second half, the whole picture shifts gears and improves dramatically but it’s a little too aimless to begin. Although Portman and Johansson give strong performances, two roles are critically miscast and underwritten: Eric Bana as King Henry and Ana Torrent as his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Bana has the physical goods for the role, but he does not have the swagger and charm of Richard Burton in Anne of the Thousand Days or Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Tudors. Bana fumbles through a role that does not give him much to do and it’s hard to believe that women are so obsessed by him. In most versions of this story Lady Catherine is generally portrayed as the dignified victim; The Other Boleyn Girl takes a similar path but it’s not able to do much with her character and leaves her story incomplete. In dealing with the politics of the time, The Other Boleyn Girl skims over the subjects of Papal authority, Henry’s break with the Catholic Church, and the volatile nature of the Reformation. This lack of context robs the love triangle and the Boleyn family’s ambition of more serious gravitas that would make the situation even more precarious. The same is true of the sexuality in the film; The Other Boleyn Girl is done in a PG-13 style and so the events are conveyed in a way that is suitable for a high school crowd but don’t get into the down and dirty of the love triangle.

Bottom Line: The Other Boleyn Girl is an honest attempt to delve into the issues of gender and power that the Boleyn sisters have come to symbolize. The result is mixed. Portman gives a great performance but the film is too restrained for most adult audiences and it skims over too much historical information. This might be best considered an alternative to The Tudors for younger or more sensitive viewers. It also makes an interesting companion piece to Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Episode: #182 (March 16, 2008)