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The Other Boleyn Girl

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Another Pretty Face

Mar 22, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Portman and Johansson; the production design.

Cons:Pacing, story, style, the entire adaptation.

The Bottom Line: The movie really isnít worth its running time. If youíre interested in the story, read the book.


There is something seductive about the idea of two of cinema’s most striking leading ladies being featured in a sensuous, lush historical drama. The idea becomes even more enticing when you place a gentleman with dark, searching eyes between them. And just as different opinions on religion flow in out of fashion in the Tudor court, the historical drama itself has thrust itself into the forefront of our movie going conscience; the season is ripe for films like Focus Features’ The Other Boleyn Girl.

In this adaptation of Phillipa Gregory’s excellent novel, the forces of Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman are combined. They are cast as the Boleyn sisters, Johansson as the innocent, light Mary and Portman as the dark, dangerous Anne. Gregory’s story is one filled with seduction, greed, lust, betrayal, obedience, and, most significantly, ambition. She weaves together fact and fiction to tell a famous story from the outsider’s eyes. The eyes of the other Boleyn girl, the eyes of Mary.

While it’s true that Gregory does use a bit of literary license in her novel, she stays to true the overarching facts of history. She creates a story that is both entertaining and intriguing. A story that challenges the reader to take sides, to dare to judge the people involved, and then shows in the end how we are all merely, simply human.

Where the novel succeeds in it’s richness of detail, bringing to life the court of King Henry VIII, the film unfortunately fails. I mention the novel’s strengths to offer a counterpoint to the film’s weaknesses. Where Gregory plays with facts to enhance the story, the filmmakers change facts completely for a purpose that I could not fathom. Where Gregory gives us rich details that add depths and bring the reader’s imagination to life, the film is overblown, silly, and pretentious. Where Anne, Mary, and George Boleyn of Gregory’s imagination are siblings whose complicated relationships are at once believable and sympathetic, the film’s Boleyn’s are dense and unremarkable.

The film’s director Justin Chadwick and cinematographer Kieran McGuigan are able to paint a pretty picture but there is nothing of substance beyond it. Which in itself seems to miss the point of the story they are attempting to tell. I found the stylistic decisions to often be distracting. When your production design is as gorgeous as this film’s, I want to see it, I don’t want half of my frame obscured by some random foreground object, the other half out of focus.

However, I think the biggest fault is in the writing. I don’t understand the choice to open the film as they did, with King Henry visiting the Boleyn estate and having Anne thrown at him. It is one of many departures from both the novel and history and serves only to offer us a drawn out and completely unengaging representation of events. The entire first act is slow moving, fails to develop any of the characters, and left me not caring one bit about anyone.

The development of Anne and Mary gradually improves as the plot unfolds but this has more to do with the strength of the performances than anything else. At least by the end of the film I had a sense of who these two women were supposed to be, if nothing else.

What I really do fail to understand though is the reasoning behind all of the changes that are made. Having read Gregory’s novel I know that while long it is certainly an adaptable story. The film’s greatest flaw is its failure as this adaptation. Rather than focusing on one element, one protagonist (which sensibly should have been Mary since that’s whose story the novel tells) the film cannot make up its mind and as a result it is no one’s story. It becomes a string of plot points. A boring history lesson in which the history you’re learning is not even a history you can trust.

Which I suppose brings up questions such as what is a version of history that can be trusted? Since the storyteller easily manipulates truths, events come to mean whatever those relating them want them to mean, etc. And if I thought something like was what the filmmakers were trying to give us then, well, that could have been thought provoking at least. But I don’t think that is what they were trying to do and their point had about as much presence as Eric Bana’s King Henry (that is to say, not a lot).

The Other Boleyn Girl is another pretty face with absolutely nothing behind it. It loses its charms after first glance and never gives the viewer anything worthy of a second look. If historical drama is the fashion you crave, the novel is available in any major bookstore.


Recommend this product? No


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