Powered by the strongest, most seductive performance of Natalie Portman’s career but undone by a lackluster, rushed ending, The Other Boleyn Girl is a story of greed, sex, betrayal, faked affection, and above all else, power.
Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, the story begins with two characters familiar to us through history and the movies, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Henry (Eric Bana) is portrayed not as a corpulent slob, which is how we most often see him, but as a virile ruler who beds women as much out of his sexual appeal as his standing as the King of England. When his Queen cannot bear him a male heir, a scheme is hatched within his inner circle to have Henry take young Anne Boleyn (Portman) as his mistress to provide that heir for him.
Somewhere during that courtship, Henry fell for Anne’s younger, less worldly, plainer sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson), and it is Mary who carries the King’s child when Henry develops the Anglican Church, which allows him to divorce his wife and marry – you guessed it – Anne Boleyn, conniving older sister of the woman who gives birth to a bastard son of a king.
If The Other Boleyn Girl sounds a bit like a soap opera, allow me to introduce you to the alarmingly screwed up personal lives of England’s ruling Tudor family. There are centuries full of bizarre courtships and double dealings, although this one is famous for a number of reasons.
What is less known, though, is the story of Mary Boleyn. You could call her the other Boleyn girl, except for a time, Anne is the other Boleyn girl. Johansson is less glamorous than Portman in the film, which is by design, and there are times when she feels adrift. Eric Bana is more in each moment, but they are both overshadowed by Portman, who has always displayed many great qualities as an actress, but authority over a room has never really been one of them.
She has matured into an extremely versatile talent with films as varied as Closer, Garden State, and V for Vendetta, and her radiant beauty is matched by the ridiculously good period costumes. There are two scenes in particular where Portman’s dress draws your attention away from other actors without her having to say a word; Anne Boleyn is clearly the star of this show.
But then, as if it’s boring you with history you may already know, The Other Boleyn Girl resolves its dysfunctional story too quickly, providing more consequences than emotional recoil. If director Justin Chadwick were to watch his film more objectively, he would probably see that an emotional conclusion makes more sense here than a straight historical record.
The Other Boleyn Girl
Starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, and Eric Bana
Directed by Justin Chadwick