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Movie Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

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The Other Boleyn Girl is one of those movies that a professor with an agenda would love, because it filters history through a single viewpoint, leaving all other reasons and motives conveniently on the cutting room floor. This is a girl power version of historical events, something a rabid Jane Austen fan would write.

Not that the real story doesn’t lend itself to this idea. By all accounts Anne Boleyn was quite the little firecracker in her day, and the rules of the day forced women with any ambition to resort to backhanded manipulation to get what they wanted. The problem with this movie is only that it erases any other factors that were in play. In the 16th century, everyone resorted to backhanded manipulation. Anne Boleyn was not the only snake in the garden, not by a long shot.

The Other Boleyn Girl, directed by Justin Chadwick and with a screenplay by Peter Morgan based on Philippa Gregory's book of the same name, focuses on sisters Anne and Mary Boleyn, products of a ruthlessly ambitious family. When it is learned that the king is losing interest in his queen now that she is older and has yet to produce a male heir, the family hatches a plan to make Anne his mistress. They invite the king and parade Anne in his face, but it is her younger married sister Mary that catches his eye.

What follows is a series of sisterly backstabbings. Mary, at first hesitant and bewildered by her role, soon comes to relish her status and falls for the king. Anne however, never forgives Mary or Henry for the slight, and is determined to get her revenge. When Mary becomes pregnant with the king’s child and is forcibly bedridden, she makes her move, and from then on King Henry and the rest of England don’t stand a chance against her feminine wiles.

Really? Although it is true that Henry VIII did end up breaking with the Catholic Church and forming the separate Church of England in large part to secure a marriage with Anne Boleyn, it is difficult to believe that was his only reason. The film leads the viewer to believe he did it all not to lessen the Pope’s influence on his kingdom or for pure ambition and power… no, he did it all to get in a little girl's pantaloons.

Eric Bana as the king does nothing to make the man matter. Henry VIII was recently the subject of Showtime’s The Tudors, and anyone who watched that has to shake their head at this version of the man. There, Jonathan Rhys Meyers played him as an intelligent, sexy, and vital creature, as manipulative and conniving as the wild girl he chose to be his wife. Here, Henry is reduced to one of those empty-eyed buffoons that come out on A&E's Millionare Matchmaker. Although this is probably due to the narrowness of the script, it is the job of an actor to overcome these barriers and Bana failed miserably to move beyond what is essentially a caricature.

Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman fare much better. Johansson's Mary is a lush, angelic creature, and as always, she gives her character an effortless sensuality. Mary is the “good” sister, but she manages to give the girl an edge nonetheless. It is a joy to see her slowly come alive and embrace her role as a mistress, a girl who grins mischieviously when her powerful lover offers to send her irrelevant husband far away. The role of Mary is limited too, but Johansson is a better actor than Bana and can make what could have been a boring good girl role into an interesting and ultimately tragic one.

Natalie Portman as Anne is a bit more troubling. Portman is a wonderful actress, and she infuses the role with her natural intelligence. The casting of these two women makes sense too, because although Portman is undeniably beautiful, it is not a stretch to believe she would be overlooked when compared to Johansson, at least at first glance. Portman has the type of face that grows more and more captivating the more you look at her. When compared, hers is the more interesting beauty. The problem here is that for all her charms, there is no real chemistry between herself and Henry. There is the suggestion in this film that Anne got her way due to her “bewitching” of the king, but the film fails to make this believable. For all her clever lines, Anne comes across as more of a little brat than a seductive woman. Portman, for all her abilities, looks tiny and young, a little girl playing at the coquette. It is ludicrous to believe a king would jeopardize his kingdom for such a child.

The Other Boleyn Girl is not a bad film. On the contrary, it could be a lot of fun, and it is a good way to get younger people into history, especially young girls. But it is history-lite, and pales in comparison to the recent version by Showtime of the same story (The Tudors). But if anything, the film does make the viewer want to look into history to see what really happened, and that is never a bad thing.

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About Vanessa

  • Toria

    Great movie. Much better that the lousy version of “Tudors” on Showtime TV. Too full of lies!

  • LMI

    I wonder if the reviewer or the screenwriter ever actually studied Tudor history.

    Henry was banging Mary long before he met Anne. It was the liaison with Mary that hoisted up her family members, notably Mary’s father, brother, and uncle, into the English court. It was only after Henry tired of Mary and then tired of another mistress (never identified) that the Boleyn males decided to pimp out Anne and got Katherine of Aragon to make Anne a lady in waiting. It was then, a year or so after Mary, that Henry started up with Anne.

    Both Mary and Anne grew up in the French court; Mary was NEVER thought to be a “good” girl. In fact, her reputation as a slut was very well known in both the courts of France and England. Anne, on the other hand, was supposedly a virgin when she stared up with Henry, but some doubt it. Some of the evidence against Anne just before she got her head chopped off was that she had had an affair with William Wyatt before she met Henry. This evidence is more credible than the rest, which includes allegations of incest and affairs with 3 other men while Anne was queen.

    The primary reason for Henry’s bed hopping was not lust but to get Henry a legitimate male heir. Don’t forget, Henry’s dad ascended the throne following a bloody war with the Plantagenets; they still lurked the corners of the realm and coninued to claim that the Tudors were not proper royal blood. Henry needed to have a kid born to him while he was king to ensure the line of succession. Because neither Katherine of Aragon nor Anne Boleyn bore him a live male heir, Henry started grooming his illegitimate son by Elizabeth Blount to succeed him. This was an iffy Plan C, and it crumbled when the bastard boy died at age 16.

    If you follow the rest of Henry’s marriages and the Acts of Succession, you will see that Henry’s main focus was to ensure the future of his kingdom through his bloodline. Women and children frequently died early in life and many died during childbirth (like wife #3, Jane Seymour). Henry didn’t have a lot of time to waste on Kathrine of Aragon after she hit menopause; she was now useless for childbearing puropose. The same is true after Anne failed to deliver the goods and after Henry met and disliked the smell of wife #4, Anne of Cleves. Henry was always all about getting a wife young enough to give him a male heir and a spare. When the wife or the law got in his way, he got rid of them It was expedient.

    When the Pope stood in Henry’s way to marry Anne, Henry had no choice but to repudiate the primacy of papal law; it was the only reason he couldn’t annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. And, although Henry had had this rift with the Pope, Henry never drifted too far from the Catholic church, even after the Pope excommunicated him. Because Henry never relinquished his title as “Defender of the Faith,” one can easily see that Henry never really wanted a full scale war with Rome. He just didn’t want Rome to preclude him from getting the next young thing to be his queen because he needed the flexibility to get himself a prince. The fact that Henry burned both Lutherans and Catholics bespeaks his ambivalence about many religious issues, even up to the end of his life.

    The more truthful/fact-based tales about these historical figures are much more fascinating than the inaccurate, out of context versions. I recommend picking up a book. You’ll learn more, and the ideas will make more sense in context.

  • Rose

    RE: LMI
    I don’t believe Mary Boleyn was a slut! People make up lies. People did it back then just as they do today. Nothing ever changes GOSSIP is GOSSIP, and it would be the only way to make the king look better in everyone else’s eyes. It was better to make all the kings woman look like sluts to everyone in his court, so that King Henry VIII would have a good reason to move on to the next gal or slut as said. I would really like some proof and to see true facts that any of the Boleyn woman were ever as bad as history portrayed them. I really think not! Looking at these two womans paintings, they look like any other plain Jane in the Royal family, but absolutely and definitely NOT sluts!

  • Vanessa

    I love that you guys are arguing over historical facts. I think that ultimately the point of any film based on history is to get the viewer to look into what really happened.

  • Pete

    MOVIE:The Other Boleyn Girl– I thought it was done quite well. I would have to agree with poster ROSE, that these two woman were not sluts! They had to do whatever was expected of them to survive an evil king of that period of history. The royals living today are still the same as they were back then. Look at it this way, At least King Henry VIII, had at least one small bastard child (little Henry) Mary Boleyn’s son, who lived and has descendants running around on the earth today–LOL!

    Unlike the TV series I would say that this movie was a bit more historical history wise than that of the TUDORS version on TV.

  • Sandy

    The Boleyn Girls were not sluts! Give me a break! How would you like to be a rich slave? And perhaps beheaded for nothing you ever did wrong. The royals were mean people no doubt. Not much love going around within those families outside the bedroom. Very cold people! The movie was pretty good though…but quite sad for the Boleyn woman and that of their first husbands. GEEZERS!

  • Larry

    SO if Mary & Anne Boleyn were sluts. Than I suppose King Henry VIII was a male whore. Hows that?

  • LMI

    Do you people ever read??? Mary was a renowned slut BEFORE she went to Henry’s court…i.e. while she was in the court of King Francis of France. Pragmatism notwithstanding, she slept around and that violated a girl’s role at the time, thus making her a shockingly BAD girl.

    If you don’t believe me, consult authors who have spent their lives researching historical documents, written by multiple sources from the period. A very good author, actually award winning and well-respected by her peers, is Alison Weir.

  • Sam

    I have read many books and there is not much said that is truly true about the Boleyn woman. Perhaps you wish they were sluts, but I don’t believe for a minute they were. I do think about all the set-ups in those days if people didn’t walk a perfect line, and how they got rid of them. Mary Queen of Scots had garbage made up about her as well because queen Elizabeth was afraid of losing the English throne. And what about Princess Diana of today, and so on, and so on. I don’t believe they were as bad as people said they were. It was all just lousy, bad manner, gossip!

  • cathy

    LMI….WHAT books are you reading?…. Fairy tails?

  • movie fan

    I much better liked the older film Anne of A Thousand Days and have also thought The Tudors was well done. This movie left me a little flat after the other two I’ve seen.

  • chelsea

    Mary Boleyn was FORCED into those beds, LMI. People were cruel, and men were in control. It wasn’t Mary’s choice.