The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl

Film review by: Witney Seibold

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            “The Other Boleyn Girl,” is sumptuously costumed, beautifully shot, and impeccably scored. The good-looking cast of Hollywood “It”-types really tries to draw out the fullness of their characters. The director, Justin Chadwick, does his darndest to place us in the era of Henry VIII with as much realism as possible. And the screenplay, by “The Queen” scribe Peter Morgan, attempts to maintain every bit of depth and drama from Philippa Gregory’s novel on which the film is based.

 

            And all of this is exactly the wrong way to make a film like “The Other Boleyn Girl,” a film that may be masquerading as a feminist parable, but is, really, at its heart, nothing more than a trashy romance novel. Morgan tried to squeeze every bit of seriousness from the source material; women use their limited womanly powers to placate a lustful king among the ultra-ambitious Tudor courts and consider that dubious and temporary honor their true strength. By all accounts, though, Gregory’s novel is nothing more than a populist piece of smutty fluff, more about the sexual conquests of Henry VIII, the lustily included details of the Boleyns’ sex lives, and the soap-opera-style scandals of infidelity, catfight revenge, sexual betrayal, and, yes, even incest and murder, than it is about real human emotions or historical concerns.

 

            Not to be remiss in my critical duties, here is a rundown of the story: The eldest of the two Boleyn sisters, Anne (Natalie Portman), is willful and brassy and is selected by her ambitious father (Mark Rylance) to “entertain” the King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) when he comes for a visit. Anne does her best, but Henry’s wandering eye falls instead upon Mary Bolyen (Scarlett Johansson) who is quieter, more demure, and has bigger boobies. Mary is called to court, despite her being married, for the express purpose of occasionally boinking the king. Anne feels betrayed, naturally, and when Mary gets knocked up, and has to spend her days bedridden as to protect the potential male heir to the throne, she takes her honed seduction skills (learned in a brief stint in France) to arouse the king. It is then only a matter of time before Anne is (singlehandedly, mind you) urging Henry to found the Church of England, divorce the queen, turn his back on Mary, and ravish her legitimately.

 

            If you know history, you know what happened to her. If you don’t, let me say that she’ll not have to go hat shopping again anytime soon.

 

            A few beefs: Eric Bana is a handsome and cut man. Mary falls in love with Henry because he’s such a good looking stud and such a tender lover.  Henry VIII may have been a good lover (it’s not really recorded anywhere), but he was certainly not a cut stud; he was a fat guy. I think the film would have done better to cast a fat actor in the role. Sure, we wouldn’t have a scene in which the gorgeous Johansson sensuously bites her lips in orgasmic ecstasy while the rippling abs of Baba press firmly into her soft supple body, but we would have had a trashier and dirty look at what kind of story the film really wanted to tell. Johansson, for her part, is given a somewhat dull role, and, poor thing, can’t squeeze the necessary fiery jealousy that would have made the role interesting. Portman, surprisingly, chomps on scenery as a seductive firebrand, and only needed to take things a bit further to be perfect.

 

            I’ll reveal a plot point here which I will reveal only to further illustrate what kind of movie this wanted to be: There is a scene near the end where Anne miscarries the king’s child. She sits weeping on the ground, screaming that the fetus, wrapped in a sheet, be thrown into the fire. She then implores her brother (Jim Sturgess from “Across the Universe”) to impregnate her in order to disguise the miscarriage. I’m sorry, but incest? Bloody fetuses? Are you sure this is still a PG-13-rated film? Did we wander into a 1970s Russ Meyer film?

             Had Meyer done “The Other Boleyn Girl,” or a young Brian DePalma, or John Waters, or, best yet, Paul Verhoeven, oh it would have been a glorious work of pulp costume trash. The way it is, it’s legit, safe, mainstream… and totally pabulum.

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Published in: on March 8, 2008 at 2:09 am  Leave a Comment  

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