The Other Boleyn Girl *** (out of ****)

Director: Justin Chadwick
Writer: Peter Morgan based on the novel by Philippa Gregory
Cast: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Mark Rylance, Kristan Scott Thomas
Rating: PG-13 (mature thematic elements, sexual content and some violent images)
Running Time: 114 min
Release Date: 2/29/08

The Other Boleyn Girl is a historical drama about a notorious English king’s divorce and relationships with two sisters. Be warned form the outset that his film is more drama than historical. Many of the facts are in this case are obscure and several of those that are well known are misrepresented. For example the ages of the Boleyn sisters were reversed. With that said we proceed with the movie’s version.

Henry VIII (Eric Bana) had been unable produce a male heir to the English throne with his first wife Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent) and now the palace watchers intelligence network has determined that the Queen no longer has her periods. This information is delivered to Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) by his scheming brother the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey). The men naturally hit on the plan to have the older unmarried daughter Anne (Natalie Portman) become a mistress to the king. They hope that she will have a son by him as so provide him with a male heir.

This plan goes south when the king is injured in a hunting accident due to Anne’s impetuous behavior. (As an aside did women go fox hunting in the early sixteenth century? Oh, well!) They decide that it would be best if the recently married Mary (Scarlett Johansson) be the King’s nurse. The king was so taken with Mary that married or not, he has her invited to the palace as a lady in waiting to the queen. It isn’t long before he seduces her and gets her pregnant. The child is a son but since he is a bastard he is not a suitable heir. Gee, Sir Boleyn and his brother should have though to that! Anne who had been schooled in courtly skills during a brief exile in Paris sure did.

Anne feels that Mary cheated her of her rightful position quickly employees her “French coquet skills” to charm the hell of the King Henry. Before long she has engineered the split with the Catholic Church in order to allow the king to devoice Catherine and marry her. However, she also fails to produce son but she did give England a daughter, i.e. Queen Elizabeth I. Good for England but not for Anne. She miscarried on her next pregnancy and events quickly spiraled out of control for her and the whole Boleyn plot. Heads would soon roll!

This films treatment of historical events lacks accuracy but does provide an entertaining period piece. Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson seize the opportunity to play characters opposite their usual type. Portman plays Anne with a somewhat villainous gusto. Her work her can put advance her prospects to establish her as one of Hollywood’s emerging character actresses. On balance The Other Boleyn Girl treats Henry VIII too kindly and Anne a little too harshly.


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