The Other Boleyn Girl (Focus Features; PG-13)

film_boleyn-sm.jpg Anyway, you can read your history if you wanna know the factual stuff, which this movie largely adhers to. What you want to know is, does the film manage to be entertaining? For the most part, yes.


 

 

 

 

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The history of King Henry VIII and his various wives is well-known, so any new film taking on the Tudors once again better have a unique angle or some inspired casting to garner attention. In The Other Boleyn Girl, the new film directed by Justin Chadwick, it’s the casting of gorgeous actresses Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman as Mary and Anne Boleyn, respectively, that serves as the focal point. Mary is the gentler, more thoughtful girl, and initially her father Thomas (Mark Rylance) and despicable uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) hatch a plan for Mary to gain the king’s attention since his wife, the sad and dejected Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torent), has failed to produce an heir to the king’s throne. They wanted boys in those days, you see, and if a royal had to have a fling on the side to make that happen, so be it. Anyway, Mary’s scheming sister thinks she, Anne, is a much better bet for this king’s fling thing, especially after she returns from a stint in France where, presumably, she learned how to sharpen her wits and wiles (hanging out with the queen of that country) and to say things like “Love is worthless without power and position.” Anne, who is “not a simple, uncomplicated girl” like her sister, as her pop remarks with considerable understatement, sets about manipulating ol’ Henry, played by Eric Bana, and getting him all hot and bothered but refusing to give it up to him unless he marries her and makes her queen. Talk about wreaking havoc! You gotta annul your long-time marriage to the present queen, call up the pope, risk bringing down the church of England—little things like that. Sheesh, what some people will do for a little nookie.

Anyway, you can read your history if you wanna know the factual stuff, which this movie largely adhers to. What you want to know is, does the film manage to be entertaining? For the most part, yes. The costumes are gorgeous—both Portman and Johansson have moments of stunning regal splendor in their royal duds, especially the former in her green gown for one prolonged scene confronting the king. And while it could hardly be called expansive, the look of the film is authentic enough to underline the story, with a few truly striking scenes here and there (generally involving horses galloping through scenic terrain). The violence is thoroughly toned down, befitting a PG-13 production. So that brings us to the acting. Johansson fares best—she’s a fine, soulful actress who proved (in more memorable fashion, I might add) in Girl With a Pearl Earring that she can alter her voluptuous beauty to blend convincingly into a different era. Here, she strikes a pretty good tonal balance, almost underacting at times—which is good, because Portman has most of the big scenes. She’s fiesty in early scenes with Bana, and downright fiery in the latter part of the film, in which she has moments railing against just about everyone. Johansson and Portman create some stirring energy together, and they’re believable as sisters. The two ladies could have used more sessions with their dialogue coach, however…not being able to hear a Brit accent at times takes you out of the historical illusion here. As does watching Bana go through his fairly colorless turn as the egotistical H-man. C’mon, Eric—this is a big Hollywood film, not a movie of the week! By contrast, Torent and Rylance are poignantly compelling as the discarded missus and the pathetic, insecure Papa Boleyn. You’ll also find the charismatic Jim Sturgess logging another notch on his screen resume as brother George Boleyn (Sturgess is best known for his turn as Jude in Across the Universe). There’s enough in this film to mostly hold your attention, and it moves along at a decent pace. But it’s a far cry from Masterpiece Theatre, that’s for sure. Tudor-lite, you might call it. | Kevin Renick

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