The Other Boleyn Girl – film review

The Other Boleyn Girl

Director Justin Chadwick, starring Scarlet Johansson (Mary Carey nee Boleyn), Natalie Portman (Anne Boleyn), Eric Bana (Henry VIII), Kirsten Scott Thomas (Lady Elizabeth Boleyn)

“The Other Boleyn Girl” is based on Philippa Gregory’s novel which starts when Catherine of Aragon has produced a stillborn son endangering both her marriage to Henry VIII and the English Royal lineage.  The Duke of Norfolk knows Henry VIII will seek consolation in a mistress and ensures his nieces, the Boleyn girls, are available to his political advantage.  He even stoops to marrying their brother George off to a potential rival to get her out of the way.  It’s the sweet, younger, married Mary who catches the king’s eye first until she lies-in and produces an illegitimate son, paving the way for the king’s attention to turn to Anne.  After all if one sister can produce a son, the other unmarried sister can produce an heir.  But for the problem that the king is still married.

The girls’ mother is drafted in as historian.  Dryly she observes that she can’t be happy with the advantage and wealth her girls have brought the family since she has a son who’s married to a girl he hates, one daughter whoring for the king and the other about to be banished to France.  Anne bounces back, naturally, having taken her mother’s advice about charming a man into believing her idea was his to heart.  Anne doesn’t see a problem with breaking with the Catholic Church and creating a Church of England with a powerful king at its head.

Here the film displays its weakness.  Henry VIII is shown as a charmless womaniser and playboy prepared to break with the Catholic Church for the sake of a woman.  The real Henry VIII was ambitious, strong-willed and intelligent.  Qualities that could equally apply to Anne Boleyn, who moves from being prepared to have an affair with the king for the political advantage and wealth that her family would gain if she can also marry at least a duke afterwards to realising she has the opportunity to be queen.  But ambition stills ill on the shoulders of a Tudor woman and secures her downfall and ultimately her life. 

See for the strong Boleyn women: Scarlet Johnsson, Natalie Portman and Kirsten Scott Thomas all lift their roles from the weight of history and create women you want to side with and see succeed.  But ignore the portrayal of Henry VIII: it’s not his film but he’s done a great disservice here.  His marriage to Anne, reputedly his favourite wife, produced one of England’s most successful monarchs: Elizabeth I, but you don’t get any sense of Henry’s huge regard and respect for Anne here.


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