- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

Behind every great man is a great woman. Behind Henry VIII were many women of varying degrees of integrity. “The Other Boleyn Girl” (based on the best-selling book by Philippa Gregory) muses on several of them, including one whom history has all but forgotten: Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister and the king’s mistress.

Like the original story of two siblings vying for one powerful man, the film is a steamy, sordid affair. It offers viewers lust, betrayal, riches, greed, royalty and lavish costumes, yet in its quest to scintillate, it glosses over historical context, tweaks pertinent facts, rushes from one scene to the next and veers into melodramatic territory.

Part of the problem can be attributed to the complexity of the real-life story as well as the novel. Screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “The Last King of Scotland”) tries his best to focus on key scenes and events and whittle down the large cast of characters (scrapping Cardinal Wolsey, for example). Nevertheless, the film remains cluttered and the characters underdeveloped.

When the story begins, Henry VIII (Eric Bana) is maddened that his wife, Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), has failed to provide him with a male heir. Odds are good he’ll begin prowling around for a mistress, and the patriarchs in the Boleyn family are all too happy to lend a hand, offering up the handsome Anne (Natalie Portman) when the royal rides through town.

As fate would have it, Anne proves too spirited for the king, and he instead takes a liking to the gentle Mary (Scarlett Johansson). Never mind that Mary has just been wed; her father, Sir Thomas (Mark Rylance), and uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), insist that it’s her duty to improve the family’s lot. They’ll force her to go to court with Anne in tow and give the king what he wants — much to the dismay of the girls’ outspoken mother, Lady Elizabeth (an excellently icy Kristin Scott Thomas).

After a few amorous evenings, Mary begins to fall in love with the king and soon finds herself carrying his child, but a difficult pregnancy leaves her bedridden and the opportunistic Anne with an idea: What if she can make Henry want her so badly that he’ll forsake Mary and his wife, making her not just a mistress, but queen? Of course, this will require him (and England) to break with the Roman Catholic Church so he can secure a divorce, but to Anne, this doesn’t seem like such a big deal. In fact, it doesn’t appear to be one for the filmmakers, either, as they reduce the monumental event to merely a few lines of dialogue.

This adaptation might have been more successful as a miniseries — unsurprisingly, perhaps, given director Justin Chadwick’s TV background. Much gets lost in the shuffle. For a movie about two sisters, for example, this one spends far too little time on the relationship between Anne and Mary.

The female leads, Miss Portman and Miss Johansson, are compelling; their British accents seem shaky at first but cease drawing attention once the ladies get into meatier scenes. Mr. Bana also proves quite capable, seething quietly as the cold, calculating king, yet he never exudes the kind of electricity that Jonathan Rhys Meyers does playing the same role in “The Tudors.”

This is that kind of film — the kind that’s good but keeps reminding you of something even better.


TITLE: “The Other Boleyn Girl”

RATING: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, sexual content and some violent images)

CREDITS: Directed by Justin Chadwick. Written by Peter Morgan. Based on the book by Philippa Gregory.

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

WEB SITE: www.theotherboleyngirl.com


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