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  Publicity Stills of "The Other Boleyn Girl"
(Courtesy from Shaw)

Director: Justin Chadwick
Cast: Natalie Portman, Eric Bana, Scarlett Johansson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Rylance, David Morrissey, Eddie Redmayne, Jim Sturgess, Benedict Cumberbatch
RunTime: 1 hr 57 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: NC-16
Official Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/theotherboleyngirl/

Opening Day: 10 April 2008


Based on the best selling novel by Philippa Gregory, "The Other Boleyn Girl" is an engrossing and sensual tale of intrigue, romance, and betrayal set against the backdrop of a defining moment in history. Two sisters, Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlett Johansson) Boleyn, are driven by their ambitious father and uncle to advance the family's power and status by courting the affections of the King of England (Eric Bana). Leaving behind the simplicity of country life, the girls are thrust into the dangerous and thrilling world of court life – and what began as a bid to help their family develops into a ruthless rivalry between Anne and Mary for the love of the king. Initially, Mary wins King Henry's favor and becomes his mistress, bearing him an illegitimate child. But Anne, clever, conniving, and fearless, edges aside both her sister and Henry's wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon, in her relentless pursuit of the king. Despite Mary's genuine feelings for Henry, her sister Anne has her sights set on the ultimate prize; Anne will not stop until she is Queen of England. As the Boleyn girls battle for the love of a king – one driven by ambition, the other by true affection – England is torn apart. Despite the dramatic consequences, the Boleyn girls ultimately find strength and loyalty in each other, and they remain forever connected by their bond as sisters.

Movie Review:

“A man’s love is worthless”, declares the ambitious, reaching Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman). “Love is of no value without power and position”

And so the tragedy of Anne, elder sister Mary (Scarlett Johanssen) and His Royal Highness King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) unfolds towards its bitter, heartbreaking, inevitable end.

Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, the movie is shot in sepia-tinted, desaturated tones, perhaps in an attempt to suggest the gritty, disillusioned nature of life. This in a world where marriage is not a matter of love or affection, but contract, negotiation and opportunism (not unlike its real-life counterpart, some might say). Nevertheless, the opening and closing shot of three children running in golden fields suggests that there is hope in the world after all, especially once the final denouement is made known.

Students of European history will be familiar with the facts at hand: Henry VIII, King of England, wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. But because the Catholic Church would not sanction the move, he broke with it and formed the Church of England, plunging the country into years of political turmoil. This movie concentrates on the neglected Mary, who in real-life was the mistress of Henry before Anne came along. But this is history as soap opera, in a movie that feels more like a small domestic drama, all wordplay and meaningful glances. With very few wide shots, it could even function as a play. The emphasis here is not on re-creating 16th century England, but on the dance between the 3 main characters. We have intrigue, adultery, sexual depravity, and even incest, so there literally is something for everyone.

There are some impressive English accents from the two American leads on display, unlike that of Bana, who seems to have recycled his accent from Troy. He looks faintly ridiculous in his ostentatious royal outfits, and lacks a royal air. Worst of all, Bana struggles to rise above his role as lusty Lothario. We get no real sense of him as a man or a character, other than the fact that he likes to sleep with pretty girls (shock horror!). There is very little insight into his motivations for tearing apart not only his own marriage, but the country itself, in his quest to bed Anne. Surely he has more reason to do all that than just a roll in the hay?

With the caliber of actors on display, your reviewer was constantly waiting for something dramatic to happen. But the story lacks flow, and the script doesn’t really give the actors a whole lot to work with. While Portman projects an air of wit and mischief, she never quite manages to light up the screen. She doesn’t really convince as the scheming bitch either, though she does have her moments. When a heavily pregnant Mary (with Henry’s child) tells Anne that she loves Henry, her icy reply alone is worth the price of admission: “Well, perhaps you should stop then.” The movie itself though never really comes to life, and the process by which she seduces Henry is given a grand total of two scenes. It is only right at the end that some real pathos is seen, when the Boleyn family is completely destroyed.

Nevertheless, the drama itself remains compelling. Among the supporting players, Kristin Scott Thomas, as the Boleyn girls’ mother, is a standout. With a quiet, wounded dignity and grace, she is the moral voice of the story, though she ultimately does nothing to stop the Machiavellian scheming that goes on around her. Ana Torent as Catherine of Aragon is impressive too, though her Spanish accent is just mildly grating. She has probably the best line in the entire movie, with her priceless greeting to the two girls: “Ah, the Boleyn whores.” Ultimately, these two veterans have to show the young ones who it’s done.

Movie Rating:

(Tries hard, but turns into soap opera light. Could have been a much better movie with a better script and better direction.)

Review by Nicholas Yong


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