The Other Boleyn Girl

  • 2008-02-27
  • By Tim Oscher

Courtly love: Two sisters compete for the affections of the notorious lover/wife-collector Henry the Eighth.

Director: Justin Chadwick

"The Other Boleyn Girl" takes an enjoyable, if historically dubious, look at the complicated romantic relationship between Henry VIII (Eric Bana) and the Boleyn sisters, Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlett Johansson).  Mary, needless to say, is the "other" one.
Henry VIII is such an enduringly fascinating character that it would be hard to make a boring film on the subject. "The Other Boleyn Girl" is a pretty vulgar sort of mock-Tudor, but it's still a riveting look at a man whose libido dramatically changed the course of British history.
The opening scene is nauseatingly idyllic, it must be said, with the young Boleyn sisters frolicking around with their brother in a butterfly speckled meadow on a golden summer afternoon, all under the loving eye of their parents.

But when Henry's wife Catherine delivers a stillborn baby son, the Boleyn's scheming uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) has the bright idea of setting the king up with the beautiful and scheming Anne as a mistress. The hope is that the generous use of her genitals will further the wealth and position of the whole family.
Anne's mother is opposed to the plan, but her ambitious father is all for it, and so the three siblings are promptly sent off to court. It's once the Boleyn sisters get to court that the film starts to get really interesting.
The family plan goes badly wrong as Henry finds himself more attracted to the virtuous Mary rather than Anne. And she, flattered by his attentions, soon falls in love with him and ends up with child, to use the old-fashioned phrase for it.

But then Anne captures the king's affections, and Mary is pushed aside, not least because her baby turns out to be a girl instead of the boy Henry so desperately wants. And so the convoluted story goes on, until its bloody conclusion of multiple decapitations.
Eric Bana is a fine actor but he cuts a pretty incongruous Henry VIII. In one scene we see him take off his nightshirt to reveal a gym-toned body that belongs on the cover of Men's Health magazine rather than 16th-century England. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman seem equally ill-suited to historical authenticity, although both actresses wear their bodices very well.

"The Other Boleyn Girl" will doubtless have historians groaning at its inaccuracies but it makes a fine period soap opera. All in all, it's a worthy prequel to "Elizabeth." 

 Opens Feb. 29 in Estonia and Latvia, and March 3 in Lithuania


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