Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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Sometimes, there are little extras in the films that I purchase on DVD. This time it was an extra tacked onto the much longer BBC miniseries, The Six Wives of Henry VIII that had my attention today. For it seems, there are not one, but two adaptations of Philippa Gregory's novel, The Other Boleyn Girl to film.
This one, with Natascha McElhone and Jodhi May as the leads as the two Boleyn sisters, was made for the BBC in 2003.
The film opens with the three Boleyn siblings -- Mary (Natascha McElhone), Anne (Jodhi May) and George -- romping in a good game of tag in a field. It's a brilliant day, and the three of them have grand futures ahead of them, or so they hope. Mary wants to marry and have children, and Anne wants to be loved. We never do get to find out what George wants, poor man. And quickly enough, Mary is wed, to a courtier in King Henry VIII's (Jared Harris) court.
And Mary is very much in love with her husband, William Carey (Anthony Howell) and her desires for a happy marriage seem assured. That is, until the king takes notice of her when paying a call on his wife, the Spanish Katherine of Aragon (Yolanda Vazquez). Almost instantly, the king desires her, and Mary finds herself ruthlessly pimped by her family, including her father, Thomas Boleyn (Jack Shepherd). She's thoroughly miserable about it all, especially when her husband urges her to become the king's mistress.
At first reluctant, Mary finds in the king a gentle lover, and manages a bit of happiness, despite growing coldness from her husband, and the catty comments from her sister, Anne (Jodhi May). When Mary becomes pregnant with the king's child and retires into the seemly seclusion demanded of a well-born gentlewoman to await the birth, Anne decides to make sure that the king remains in the clutches of the Boleyn family.
And Anne, as we see, is far more ambitious and determined than Mary could ever be. She plays the king like an eager trout, first urging him on then denying him the ultimate prize of her virginity. In an act of extreme cruelty against her sister, she has Mary's child, Henry, sent away to the family home at Hever castle, but demands that Mary stay at court as a chaperone to her own virtue.
Through Mary's eyes we see Anne's rise to being Henry's queen, holding out for a wedding ring, and the crown. But it's hardly a secure position, as Anne first gives birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, and endures her husband's infidelities. Highly strung to begin with, Anne quickly makes enemies and Mary can only watch as her sister sows the seeds of the Boleyn family's destruction...
What can I say? Directed and written by Philippa Lowthorpe, this has a very intimate feel to it, with characters sometimes speaking directly to the camera, plenty of shots of characters talking closely together, and action that takes place in small, rather claustrophobic rooms. And the atmosphere is further improved by using various Tudor-period castles for the backdrops and perpetually grey and cloudy skies. It's effective, especially when we get to see Anne's isolation at Hever in a fast-forward sequence when her dalliance with a young man is caught out by her family.
Now for the downside of this. It looks skimpy. Very little of the glamourous and luxury loving side of Renaissance England is shown. The women's costumes in particular look like there was a severe shortage in the costume budget, with too-tight bodices and narrow skirts. It just looks wrong, along with the flowing hair under all of the headdresses. The men's clothing is a bit better, but still look a bit off.
But the biggest problem lays within the source material. I've already mentioned my annoyance with Philippa Gregory's treatment of the Boleyns in her novels elsewhere, but I'll run over them quickly here. In her portrayal of Anne Boleyn and her spectacular rise and fall, the author has all of the rumours that were used against her as gospel truth. This includes witchcraft and most damning, the charges of adultery and incest with her own brother, George, which is shown rather graphically in this film. Too, Anne is shown as a rapacious, selfish b!tch and it is very hard for the viewer to feel any sympathy at all with her until the last moments of the film. Mary is a victim here, even when she grabs at freedom and happiness for herself in a second marriage. And the men -- oh it's dreadful! Thomas Boleyn is a quivering, wavering weasel of a man, showing some true spinelessness, which is the opposite of the truth as he was a very skilled politician in reality. Henry VIII is rather easily led about by his, urm, nose, and rather thick in the head at times. George Boleyn is another spineless wonder. Indeed, the only person who seems at all likeable is William Stafford, who in turn, never really seems to have any backstory or information about him except as a panderer to the king and handy escort for the ladies.
In short, despite in being only ninety minutes long, and having the virtue of tightening up and dumping most of the source material, it's not a great film. While it doesn't play as fast and loose with real history as the better-known and bigger budget film of the same name that was released here in the States, it still fails. The real story of the Boleyns is far more interesting than this, and really does deserve better handling.
Parents ought to take notice that there are some very adult scenes of sex and nudity here, so despite not having any ratings, I'd give this one a 'R' and keep it out of the hands of the younger crowd.
Overall, this gets three stars, and unless you are a junkie for costume drama, I would say skip it and find something else to watch.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age