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The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

TUDOR history seems to be very much back in vogue thanks to the success of TV shows like The Tudors and films such as Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

The Other Boleyn Girl, based on the popular novel by Philippa Gregory, examines one of the most fascinating periods in English history and largely succeeds in delivering a compelling – albeit highly romanticised – version of events.

Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlett Johansson) Boleyn are two sisters driven by their ambitious father (Mark Rylance) and uncle (David Morrissey) to advance the family’s power and status by courting the affections of King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) once it becomes clear that current queen Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent) can’t produce a male heir.

Initially, Mary wins the King’s favour and becomes his mistress, bearing him an illegitimate child. But Anne slowly edges aside both her sister and Katherine in her blind desire to become Queen of England – only to find herself hopelessly out of her depth once she has got her own way.

Justin Chadwick, who has previously directed the BBC hits Spooks and Bleak House, opts to keep this well-known story as intimate as possible, eschewing the traditional epic sweep given to such movies in favour of a more personal approach (it’s the first period movie to be shot on high definition cameras).

As such, he’s rewarded by a number of excellent performances that serve to paper over some of the cracks in Peter Morgan’s screenplay, as well as some of the lapses in historical accuracy.

Portman, in particular, channels a great deal of scheming and malice into her portrayal of Anne early on, only to balance this with the innocence, naivety and fear of her later predicament. It’s a gutsy performance that continues to show what a fine actress she continues to be. But Johansson is better than she’s been for a long time as Mary – emerging from wide-eyed innocent to determined, wiser sister in suitably convincing fashion.

Bana, too, injects understated menace and plenty of inner turmoil into his portrayal of Henry (despite insufficient screen-time) while Kristin Scott Thomas is superb as Lady Elizabeth Boleyn, wearing the anguish of her mother with utter conviction. Only Morrissey really lets the side down, playing his scheming Duke of Norfolk a little too hammily and standing out like a sore thumb.

Given the well-known nature of the story, Chadwick also skips over a lot of the key historical events in a bid to avoid feeling too episodic but deprives the film of any real political conviction and allows family melodrama to take over instead. More could (and should) have been made of Henry’s own turmoil and ruthlessness in order to lend the film a sharper sense of menace and desperation.

What remains is an absorbing guilty pleasure of a film that should appeal to fans of period costume dramas even if the meat and bones of history play second fiddle to imagination and romanticism. It’s fun and lovely to look at while it lasts (making good use of its historic locations) but instantly forgettable afterwards.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 1hr 50mins
UK DVD Release Date: June 30, 2008