The Other Boleyn Girl

Movie Information

The Story: The Boleyn girls -- Anne and Mary -- catch the eye of Henry VIII, with historically predictable results. The Lowdown: Dry and dull, this costume picture is about as thrilling as a waxwork display.
Genre: Historical Drama
Director: Justin Chadwick
Starring: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Mark Rylance, Jim Sturgess
Rated: PG-13

Despite its high-powered cast and its Peter Morgan (The Queen) screenplay, The Other Boleyn Girl is ultimately nothing more than yet another Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn yarn. (Gee, I bet you can’t guess how the story works out.)

So maybe the people are prettier than usual. Let’s face it, good ol’ King Henry never looked like Eric Bana before—either historically or cinematically. (Sure, a case can be made that this is a young Henry, but does anyone think this has anything to do with historical accuracy rather than Hollywoodization?) OK, so Bana does have ears that recall nothing so much as Bing Crosby or Clark Gable with a windstorm at their backs, but this is one Henry who’s been hanging out at Ye Olde Gym in his spare time. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing—if he weren’t so damned boring in the bargain. Bana’s beefcake Henry might make for a good pinup boy, but portly Charles Laughton bellowing orders, displaying appalling table manners and generally creating havoc in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) was a lot more entertaining. That’s the central problem with The Other Boleyn Girl: It’s just not terribly entertaining. And everyone’s at fault, from the writer to the director to the actors.

Remarkably, the filmmakers have taken a trashy, overheated story of court intrigue and sexual duplicity—complete with accusations of incest, heresy and treason, not to mention a few beheadings—and sucked the life out of it in the style of the worst of Masterpiece Theatre tastefulness. Apart from a few “shocking” interjections of earthy dialogue, an array of truly tepid PG-13 sex scenes, a dose of 16th-century feminism and the absurdly bloodless beheadings, the film is dull, dull, dull. It’s the living embodiment of Alfred Hitchcock famously complaining that he didn’t like period pictures because he could never imagine the characters in them going to the bathroom. And the movie is not helped by the fact that we know where it’s going from the onset.

Supposedly, it’s going to be the story of the “other” Boleyn girl, meaning Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson), but it’s only that to the extent that Mary’s story and the tension between her and her sister sets the stage for Anne’s (Natalie Portman) ill-fated royal romance. All the court intrigue in the world can’t make this fresh, and the film’s insistence on a virtual cornucopia of characters who seem to exist for no other reason than to stand around on the edge of things and look concerned only makes it all a bit silly. Chief among the myriad of characters are the other members of the Boleyn family. There’s the girls’ father (Mark Rylance, Intimacy), responsible for trading his daughters’ sexuality for social advancement. His job mostly consists of looking gloomy on the edge of the frame. There’s the mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), who spends the whole movie looking disapprovingly at the spectacle of bartering with daughters. Most of her contributions involve her being left alone at the ends of scenes so she can look worried or disgusted. And there’s the brother (Jim Sturgess, Across the Universe), who stands in the background until he becomes necessary to advance the plot to its conclusion in the film’s final scenes.

It’s stupefyingly bad drama of the kind that makes you really appreciate the visual panache and scenery-chewing bombast of last year’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age. At least that was fun. This isn’t. The further away I get from it, the more I resent the two hours of my life it cost me. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content and some violent images.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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