May 26, 2008 -- “The Other Boleyn Girl” is a typical sort of British Royalty-related historic costume soap opera along the lines of “Anne of a Thousand Days,” “Elizabeth,” “A Man for all Seasons,” “A Lion in Winter,” “Becket,” and on and on. There seems to be a neverending supply of ostentatious, lavish self-important movies about the British royalty. The ending of most of these royalty soap operas is pretty much the same: somebody's head gets chopped off, often someone more noble than the King who orders the execution. This one is no different. Be warned. This is not entertaining to watch unless you are a true Anglophile, someone who thinks these ridiculous royal twits are worth all the millions of dollars spent to dramatize their childish peccadillos and their misuse of power. There is little nobility in it. It is a tale of royal pimps and whores. It is also a cautionary tale about the dangers of mixing politics and religion, which always results in corrupt politics and corrupt religion.
This particular movie is based on a novel by Philippa Gregory, which dramatizes the bittersweet relationships between Anne Boleyn (played by Natalie Portman of “Closer”), who was briefly the Queen of England, her sister, Mary (Scarlett Johansson of “Match Point”) and the king they both bedded, Henry VIII (Eric Bana of “Munich”). The movie depicts Mary as the more innocent of the two, maneuvered into an affair by her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) and his brother in law, Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) in a scheme to enrich the Boleyn family. The original idea was to have Anne ensnare the king, but when that didn't work, Mary was used next, even though she was already married at the time and Anne was not. Anne was furious at Mary's betrayal, even though it wasn't really a betrayal at all, at least not as depicted in the film (one of many plot weaknesses). Anne vowed revenge on her sister and finally got it, taking advantage of her sister's risky pregnancy to win the king's heart while her sister lay in bed with the king's unborn child.
Suddenly, the king sours on Anne and things go downhill from there, until, you know, chop chop. The Boleyn family is virtually destroyed by their own ambition, while Anne and Mary's mother, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas of “The English Patient”) is like a Cassandra, warning everyone of doom before the tragedies and then saying “I told you so” after all their schemes go south. The drama is almost as far over the top as a Monty Python comedy and the romance is understated. It is difficult to feel sorry for anyone in this dysfunctional bunch. The person in the film depicted as the most noble is the King's first wife, Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), but she has too few juicy scenes. She knows the score, but can't stop her husband's endless affairs and the royal marriage merry go round from spinning out of control. There are some intertitles used in the film to tell what happens to some of the main characters later on. These are injected somewhat awkwardly before the end of the film.
Is this story historically accurate? It's debatable. Mary was probably not as innocent as she was portrayed and Anne was probably not as manipulative as she is portrayed either. But then, who, besides Anglophiles, really cares? This film rates a C. The acting is fine, especially by Portman, Johansson and Bana, who let it all hang out. The costumes and sets are all fine. It is only the story which is a letdown. If only there was some nobility among these royals.
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