This period drama could be called Elizabeth: The Prequel for potential marathon showings with the Cate Blanchett films. It does, after all, deal with Elizabeth's mother and her rise and fall from grace, not to mention her role as a key figure in kick-starting the English Reformation with King Henry VIII. However, despite this being based on fact, I would not go so far as to view it as a history lesson. I am not so sure I would recommend viewing it for entertainment either. Despite a cast boasting Natalie Portman, Scarlet Johansson, and Eric Bana, I would be hard pressed to rave about the acting, or anything else.
The Other Boleyn Girl concerns itself with the sexual and personal politics used by families to gain stature, power, and wealth. It also shows what happens when one wields more power than they actually have and dig themselves in a hole of insurmountable depth. To top it off, the proceedings are handled in dry, melodramatic fashion that makes it look like a stage play with close-ups.
After sitting through the two-hour long film, I am left wondering just what I was supposed to take from it. Was it the corruption of power (perceived or otherwise)? Or perhaps the ties of family? Maybe it was just about the relationships and ways of a bygone era. Whatever the case may be, I left not really caring about any of it.
To be honest, the film is not bad on any technical level (of course, it did not excel either). It is shot well, has decent pacing, and generally looks good. The problem is in the execution; it fails to bring any sort of heart or energy to the screen. I found The Other Boleyn Girl to be lacking in the character department — I could not get up enough of a reason to care about the Boleyn girls or their fate.
The Boleyn family saga plays out like a twisted soap opera, with betrayal, seduction, and manipulation. If not for the execution of the tale, theirs is one of complicated fascination. The era is vastly different from our own and I cannot claim any real working knowledge other than what I remember from history class and what I have gleaned from other period dramas.
The father of the two Boleyn girls, Mary (Scarlet Johansson) and Anne (Natalie Portman), seeks to use them to increase the family's standing and power. When the opportunity arises, he jumps at the chance and sets Anne about the task of seduction in order that she may become the mistress of the king.
What follows is Mary catching the eye of King Henry VIII, despite her being married already. He takes her as his mistress, which sets off Anne, who believes that to be her rightful place. Several betraying and manipulating steps later, the places of the two girls switch. Anne's power rises higher and higher, and we all know what happens once you reach the top — there is no place to go but down.
I will spare you many of the boring details of the story. While the individual details themselves might be interesting, the lack of anything of substance binding them together causes the story to come across blandly.
A big problem are the performances, or perhaps it is the way they are written. I just did not like any of them. Are we supposed to see romance? Intrigue? Personal drama? Whatever they were going for I just did not see it. I could not identify with or even like them. The father is weak and selfish, Anne is manipulative and power hungry, and Mary… well, she's the closest to human but still lacks much depth.
This movie just may not be for me and it belongs to a genre that more often than not escapes me. I sat there wanting to like it, but I couldn't. There is definitely plenty of intrigue to be milked, but everything is so stagy that it just sucks the humanity out and leaves melodrama that would be better served on the stage.
Bear witness as Eric Bana's King Henry VIII stomps around like a petulant child who doesn't get what he wants and just sits on the floor and pouts. Watch as Scarlet Johansson whimpers her way through as Mary, never giving us anything to root for, simply making sad faces throughout. All the while Natalie Portman's Anne chews up everything in sight; nothing is left untouched as she boils over with supposed emotion.
Nothing clicks, and when it came to a merciful end I was left wondering why. There is certainly plenty of talent involved, why is this not more involving than it is? Why is everything so drained of personality in the midst of wildly overdone theatrics?
Whatever the truth behind the fiction is, you would likely be better served reading the biographies written about Anne Boleyn than getting mixed up with this film.
Bottom line. You could do a lot worse on the big screen, but you could also do a lot better. Those who eat this stuff up are likely to enjoy seeing this dry telling play out. I hope it works out for you. As for me, I hesitate to call it bad, but it certainly could have been a whole lot better.