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The Other Boleyn Girl

One of the most pivotal and provocative periods in English history is given the soap-opera treatment in this handsome but hollow drama.


Adapted from Philippa Gregory's novel by no less than Oscar-nominee Peter Morgan (The Queen), this is a speculative dramatization of the relationship between sisters Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson), each of whom shared a bed at one time or another with no less a monarch than Henry VIII (Eric Bana). History has shown that Anne's relationship with the King would have a mammoth, long-lasting impact on the Throne and on the Church of England. However, this film is more concerned with the intimate details of the sister's relationship with each other and with Henry, than with any historical resonance. This serves only to make a melodrama out of material with far greater potential. Few of these characters ever seem to perceive, or even care about, the consequences of their actions--so it's not terribly easy to empathize with them, despite the best efforts of Johansson and Portman to imbue their roles with emotional depth.


Those expecting fireworks between onscreen siblings Portman and Johansson will find their dramatic scenes together more incongruous than incendiary. Neither is particularly bad, although they are among the more unlikely screen siblings in recent memory, and both are comfortable in period surroundings, but there's the unmistakable whiff of a missed opportunity in the air--that the hoped-for chemistry between them isn't coming together. Although Bana is one of the handsomer screen Henrys, he's portrayed as little more than a bed-hopping hunk. He may exchange smoldering glances with Portman and/or Johansson, but there's a distinct lack of passion (on several levels) to these proceedings. David Morrissey sneers throughout as the manipulative Duke of Norfolk, who essentially gets everybody into this mess in the first place. As the girls' father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, Mark Rylance sports an ill-fitting beard and a befuddled expression throughout, as he basically pimps his daughters out, while Kristin Scott Thomas suffers nobly as Lady Elizabeth Boleyn, who knew all along that this would end up badly--but whose warnings (naturally) went unheeded.


Most of Justin Chadwick's previous work has been in television, and it shows. The Other Boleyn Girl is heavy on the talk and light on the action. This story might have been better, and more persuasively, told as a TV mini-series--as fans of the Showtime series The Tudors, which covers some of the same dramatic territory, might well attest. This story undoubtedly made for a juicy novel but comes up dry on the big screen. The Other Boleyn Girl is stately and opulent, but the fires of the story's passion have been dampened by soap suds. By the time the ax is ready to fall--and upon whose neck you should already know--the entire affair, such as it is (and they are) feels anti-climactic. The viewer never really gets a sense of the scope of this story, as if the filmmakers simply presumed the audience know the outcome from the beginning and felt no need to delve any further into the historical ramifications. To have combined the two approaches would have made for a much more well-rounded and satisfying film.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.