By Jae-Ha Kim
Theatrical release: Feb. 29, 2008
A tale of two sisters competing for the same king, The Other Boleyn Girl uses historical facts as window dressing for this work of fiction that is entertaining, if not wholly believable.
Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) is the doe-eyed vixen ordered by her power-hungry uncle to bewitch King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). Her shy sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) has always been in Anne’s shadow; Anne is prettier, more accomplished, and desired by many men.
So when the King picks Mary–the “other Boleyn girl”–as his mistress, Anne turns on her sister and schemes to become not only the King’s consort, but his new queen.
With a pair of American actresses in the lead roles and an Aussie portraying their hunky object of desire, the English accents are all over the place in this period piece with a modern feel.
Though the Boleyn girls’ mother points out that her “daughters are being traded like cattle for the advancement of men,” it is Anne who ultimately throws her slight weight around to bully Henry into doing her bidding. When he begs her to give herself to him, Anne–wearing a Carrie Bradshaw-esque “B” pendant on her neck–counters, “Make me your Queen.”
Is the audience really supposed to believe that Henry the VIII–the most powerful man in the land–would divorce Catherine of Aragon, separate from the Catholic church, and put England in upheaval simply because Anne refused to sleep with him until he jumped through all her hoops? “I have torn this country apart for you,” he hisses at her before finally getting his way.
Based on Philippa Gregory’s bestselling novel of the same name, The Other Boleyn Girl features an attractive cast and a familiar plot with some icky twists. Kieran McGuigan’s cinematography is breathtaking and is as crucial to setting the film’s tone as the dialogue. Actually, it fares better: Lines such as “Well? Did he have you?!” sound almost comical.
But the sweeping shots of Henry’s kingdom and the carefully framed closeups of Portman and Johansson are breathtaking in their beauty and say what words simply cannot.