While the political and historical ramifications are alluded to at end of the film, The Other Boleyn Girl is a lushly drawn period piece about two girls who are pimped out to the King of England by their father and uncle.
Thanks to Masterpiece Theatre and countless English period films, Henry VIII is probably the best known of that country’s monarchs after Elizabeth II. The Other Boleyn Girl deals with the situations that eventually led Henry to break with the Roman Catholic Church – an action that brought The Church of England into existence and made England a political island as well as a literal one.
Essentially, the set up of this lavishly appointed, yet almost claustrophobic film is that Henry [Eric Bana] needs a male heir and his current wife, Katherine of Aragorn [Spanish actor Ana Torrent in a nicely regal appointment] has not given him one.
Enter Sir Thomas Boleyn [Mark Rylance] and his brother-in-law, the Duke of Norfolk [David Morrisey]. The two determine that Sir Thomas’ elder daughter, Anne [Natalie Portman], should find a way to make herself the King’s mistress – it being likely to advance the fortunes of the two men. When Anne proves herself to be the better rider on a hunt [Henry follows her and winds up hurt], that idea dies – but the two men then push Anne’s sister, Mary [Scarlett Johansson] to try her luck [despite her being recently married!] In the meantime, Anne is shuttled off to the French court to learn how to be devious.
Once Mary is pregnant, the king seems to lose interest – though Mary bears him a bastard son – because a much changed Anne has returned from France and utterly beguiles him. Even the girls’ brother, George [Jim Sturgess, late of Across the Universe] is somewhat less than impressed – and Sir Thomas’ wife now holds him and her brother in the greatest of contempt. History being what it is, the inevitable end does come, though it is much too late for this film. By then, we’ve endured plodding betrayals, jealousy from supposedly unexpected persons, and enough connivance for half-a-dozen period bodice rippers.
I haven’t read the Philippa Gregory novel, so I have no idea if the book is as badly paced or woefully soapy as the film. What I can say is that the three leads – Bana, Johansson and Portman – strive mightily with the material and actually manage to surpass it at times. Unfortunately, their performances notwithstanding, the film is ponderous yet rushed, opulent yet oppressive and succeeds only in reducing a small but important period of history to a tale of two girls who are pimped out to the King of England to produce wealth and power for their father and uncle.
Even the clichéd graphics that inform us of the ultimate fates of the remaining Boleyns deal only with Sir Thomas, The Duke of Norfolk and Mary [she married a nice boy and raised her son and Elizabeth] and utterly ignores the one moral character in the film – Lady Elizabeth Boleyn [Kristin Scott Thomas]. It’s kind of sad, actually.
Final Grade: C-