THE OTHER BOLEYN REVIEW
by John Topping
published February 29, 2008
The Other Boleyn
now playing nationwide
Like Sam Cooke, Art Garfunkel and Kenneth C. Davis, I don’t know much
about history. This is largely because my school teachers failed to convey that history is
actually fascinating, which I didn’t discover until adulthood. But I rarely have time to read
historical books, so I must largely rely on movies to fill in the gaps – well, not gaps, more like canyons. So before you read further, you need to know that I am pretty close to 100% ignorant about historical
details. But even with this confessed ignorance, I instinctively feel that The Other Boleyn Girl is not a movie I should trust for my continuing education.
The story is actually pretty interesting, even for history. There’s these two
sisters, Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) and Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson). In the movie, as
I believe was also true in real life, both Boleyn girls were Americans who studied English accents in order to fit in with the surrounding
Brits. Their politically ambitious family arranges for Anne to be the mistress/plaything of
King Henry VIII (Eric Bana), but he falls instead for Mary instead. The fact that Mary is
married deters neither the King nor Mary’s family nor even her husband. It’s the royal
equivalent of the casting couch; sometimes you just gotta do it to get ahead. Mary is
mortified until the first night she is summoned into the King’s bedroom; but once there, she
takes to whoredom instantly. He has a fantastically buff body and he’s really really handsome
and he makes love, like, SO much better than her husband, and she’s all, “This rocks.”
Everything’s cool until she becomes pregnant with his child, then he’s all like, “Later; catch ya after you give birth.” Anne returns from
France, where she’s been exiled for two months, and she’s totally different – enchanting, witty, bold, teasing – and he wants her to be his new
mistress/plaything. But she’s like, “Not even!” And he
sends her expensive gifts, and she’s all, “Oh no you dih-uhnt!” and sends them back. All a ploy to
drive him mad with lust so that she has him wrapped around her finger.
At this point, I had my first major problem with the movie. Scarlett/Mary is married,
and yet has no choice but to go to bed with the King if he so ordains it. Natalie/Anne is
unmarried (or so everyone thinks), but she gets to decide when and whether to have sex with the same King. So which is it? You can’t have it both ways. Further, it’s been established that the King wants Anne, lusts her, desires her – everybody knows it,
everybody sees it – but as a goading to get what she wants, she says to him, “Do you want to have to keep meeting in secret like
this?” Huh? And did I see people in the
background when she said it?
Further problems I had include that the hold Anne has over Henry – the spell she casts that makes him obsessed with her – is
entirely unpersuasive. Aside from there being nothing in the script itself to suspend
disbelief, there is likewise nothing between Natalie Portman and Eric Bana to make up for the screenplay’s deficiency. Also, the film constantly jumps ahead in time. The problem
isn’t keeping track of time, but that it zooms ahead in order to resolve issues just when it’s becoming interesting to see how they’re
going to work them out. And speaking of transitions, if you like the kind where, say, a
character moves in front of the camera to fill the screen with blackness, and then the next second we’re emerging from behind, say, a
column, then this is a film for you. Director Justin Chadwick loves those kinds of
transitions. Loves loves loves.
Anyway, Anne (Natalie) persuades Hank8 to put his wife on trial, who becomes un-Queened, and at last they’re married. But in the process, she has driven him over the edge.
When he can finally have her, he’s so crazed that he rapes her. Soon she must invent
increasingly nasty sexual acts to interest him in having sex with her at all (we’re never given the details). They both could have benefited from the platitude “Be careful what you wish for – you just might get
it!” Now she must provide him with a son or risk being un-Queened herself. She gives birth to a girl (Elizabeth, who is, unless I’m mistaken, played by Cate Blanchett in a stunning
cameo wherein she convincingly transforms herself into a baby). And the King is all, like,
“Whatever. Anyway, the son?” Bad news – next pregnancy is a miscarriage. As a solution, she enrolls her brother George to have sex with her in hopes of getting pregnant quickly
enough for everyone to think it’s the same pregnancy. Don’t worry, they don’t – but that they
even tried does the damage (I learned from the ever-reliable Wikipedia that, in real life, they did – barf me out!). She is put on trial and found guilty and penciled-in for a beheading. Mary beseeches Henry to spare her life. But I won’t spoil
the ending for you.
johntopping @ stageandcinema.com