Usually when it comes to something like the story of Anne Boleyn it takes a lot to make me happy. I remember discovering a love of the Tudors in seventh grade watching “Anne of the Thousand Days” and since then I’ve devoured anything and everything concerning Henry and Anne. There story to me is timeless and yet it hasn’t been told right since 1969. As a movie does “The Other Boleyn Girl” provide some entertainment, no not really, and it sure as hell doesn’t do justice to the historical context behind it.
Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory “The Other Boleyn Girl” follows sisters Mary (Scarlett Johansson) and Anne (Natalie Portman). One is the quiet, married one while the other is fiery and full of spirit. When it becomes apparent that the King of England, Henry’s (Eric Bana) wife is unable to bear a male heir the Duke of Norfolk (David Morissey) believes that giving Anne to the King will elevate their status and put a Boleyn on the throne. It all goes according to plan until Henry falls for Mary and Anne is put into exile. When she returns she convinces Henry to leave Mary and oh what a tangled web is weaved. If you don’t already know the story of what happens to Anne Boleyn let’s just say it doesn’t end happily ever after.
I did highly enjoy the set decorations in this movie and the costumes were literally a feast for the eyes. What almost all versions of Anne and Henry’s are able to achieve is a beautiful set up. The advertising campaign for this movie does gloss over the fact that this is really Anne’s story. Yes Mary does alter the course of the film and pops in now and then but the driving focus is Anne and the ads for this are not playing that aspect up. I enjoy a good Anne Boleyn story so I was very happy that this movie didn’t try to tell Mary’s story.
Really that’s about all I enjoyed about “The Other Boleyn Girl.” I did mention that Anne is the driving focus and that’s because Mary isn’t exactly that interesting. She’s the typical docile Elizabethan woman and she comes off as incredibly subdued. A lot of this has to do with the way Johansson plays her which I’ll get to later but every time Mary showed up to “save the day” I just wanted to get back to Anne. Another misleading aspect of the advertising is how much screen time Eric Bana gets. Aside from a few moments Bana just seems to fade into the background. If he’s not just striding around places then he’s sitting in a chair contemplating or seething. Either Bana gets short shrift in the movie or they just didn’t know what to do with Henry’s character and that’s a major issue with this movie is that they don’t know which characters to include sometimes. We’re introduced to Mary’s husband but then he disappears, never to be seen again and we’re supposed to forget him when Mary remarries. We also spend more time with Anne and Mary’s brother George (Jim Sturgess) then Henry, which was enjoyable but he took up a lot of time that could have been devoted to other characters. The movie itself is also incredibly long-winded and by the end events that take months and years in history are wrapped up neatly in the span of two days according to the movie. It’s almost like the screenwriters were trying to squeeze everything in to make the ending work that you’re not sure how much time has passed and it makes the characters reasons seem hasty and rash. The big sticking point for me with this movie is the blatant historical inaccuracy. Yes I know many people wouldn’t notice if they didn’t study the material but a lot of the movie relies on shock value like George and Anne having a relationship that just makes history seem sordid when it wasn’t. The real story of Anne Boleyn is extremely compelling and I don’t think it needed “soap opera” embellishments.
The acting in this is rather hit or miss. Natalie Portman does make a decent Anne Boleyn. Her accent seems a bit forced but I did enjoy her snarky one-liners and her rise to power and Portman comes off naturally. Eric Bana gives a rather quiet performance as Henry the VIII and I could take him or leave him. The weakest acting comes from Scarlett Johansson as Mary. First the costumers are trying REALLY hard to make her look plain and it ends up making her look so white that she’s transparent. She also seems incredibly wooden and monotone, almost as if she’s reading off cue cards. Her accent also seems incredibly generic. I do have to commend Jim Sturgess who was amazing as George Boleyn. Most of these versions don’t do George justice and I was glad to see his story told (even if it was wrong) and Sturgess made the role. I also loved Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Elizabeth. You feel for her as she watches her children stab each other in the back and she gives a riveting performance.
If you’re a history buff then avoid this movie. If you hate period pieces then avoid this movie as well. Overall I give “The Other Boleyn Girl” a 2/5. It could have been so much better without resorting to “Desperate Housewives”-like tactics.