History, but not as we know itBy Kim Francis
March 12, 2008
The Other Boleyn Girl (15)
Starring - Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johannson & Eric Bana
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll already have a good idea that The Other Boleyn Girl is a Hollywood-ised version of historical events.
In other words, the historical accounts of Anne Boleyn, her sister Mary and Henry VIII are largely ignored and some very large liberties are taken with history for dramatic purposes.
All very well, you might think, but the viewer makes the assumption it is real, which is potentially problematic.
In this case, to ignore history is also a little odd, since the accurate version is actually more intriguing and complex, making for a potentially better story.
The plot concerns Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson) and her affair with the king, Henry VIII (Eric Bana).
With a father and an uncle keen to better the family’s position, the beautiful Anne (Natalie Portman) is pushed to flirt with the king with the intention of becoming his mistress. However, when Henry takes a shine to the younger, married sister, Mary, things begin to unravel, ending in tragedy.
The biggest problem with this film is the portrayal of Henry VIII. Aside from the fact that he is better looking and in far better shape than history remembers, he is shown to be little more than a tyrannical sexual predator.
There is little exploration of Henry’s character and psychology and we are left with a vast number of questions about him.
Most confusing perhaps is that he appears initially to care a great deal for Mary, but we do not know for sure if he loved her or was simply a cad.
We do not see him with any other woman except Anne with whom he is extremely rough, in stark contrast to the tenderness he shows her sister. However, Anne is deliberately provocative and manipulative and Henry comes to realise this.
With Mary painted as a good woman through and through and Anne as ambitious, selfish and ruthless, The Other Boleyn Girl plays like a Shakespearean tragedy.
Anne is without doubt a product of her family. Despite a strong, moral mother who tries in vain to persuade her husband not to bow down to the uncle’s wishes, Anne cannot help but take on the family’s baser leanings.
Although both Anne and Mary are played by Americans, their accents are believable and their performances solid.
However, Kristin Scott Thomas’s screen time is lamentably limited as Lady Elizabeth Boleyn; one of the potentially more interesting and likeable characters.
After initially speeding through events at the beginning, allowing little time for anything extraneous, it slows as it approaches the denouement at which point it rushes to a conclusion. Consequently, we find it difficult to identify or sympathise with either sister, watching instead in a detached way.
Ultimately, The Other Boleyn Girl is a lightweight take on an intriguing historical story.