The Other Boleyn Girl movie poster
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The Other Boleyn Girl Movie Review

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It is many men's dream. Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson and one man. Granted, in most of those dreams, the one man in question is the person having the dream, not Eric Bana, who plays King Henry Tudor of England in The Other Boleyn Girl.

Justin Chadwick, in his big screen directorial debut, brings the two beautiful actresses and the talented Aussie together in the period piece "political" thriller, about two sisters who vie for the heart of the King of England. While Anne Boleyn (Portman) is selected for the esteemed position of mistress to the King, it is Mary (Johansson) who truly wins his heart. The three become involved in a wicked love triangle, one that could result in the women's deaths.

The Other Boleyn Girl is an okay period piece, with suitable acting and an interesting enough story. It keeps the attention for the most part, but never sinks its teeth into you the way a film of this nature should. In fact, a period piece needs to grab you by the throat to stand out from what has become a hit-or-miss genre.

Unfortunately, The Other Boleyn Girl is a gentle miss. The film lacks the grit, power and sensuality that this story needed, and a lot of the blame must land on Chadwick's shoulders. This really should have been an R-rated picture, and not just because I want to see Portman and Johansson have R-rated sex scenes. The Other Boleyn Girl needed to be dark and gritty, with riveting performances, sensual sex scenes, thrilling politics and so on, more in line with Elizabeth than a teen-grade, PG-13-rated drama.

The performances are good, but not stand out. I've seen all three main actors do better in more powerful films, and it's as if they know this film is nothing more than a device to tease men with the thought of a three-way involving the two leading ladies.

The Other Boleyn Girl isn't a disaster, but it lacks the spark, charisma and purpose a film like this needs. Everything about it is just ordinary, but no director should ever set out to just do an ordinary film. I would pass on this film, as there are so many better period pieces out there.

Review by Robert Bell (C)

Historical dramas have, in the past, been regarded with a great deal of dignity and respect. There was a time when any Merchant/Ivory production with a pulse was garnering critical praise and Oscar buzz. Times have clearly changed. One could argue that the resurgence of films reflecting on the nature of heroics, and classical Western ideologies may stem from the recent political climate, or the advent of immediate gratification in a technology driven world. That may be oversimplifying things. Regardless, films like Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The Other Bolelyn Girl, in attempting to simplify their narratives, are finding themselves lacking the dignity and respect that they may have garnered ten years ago.

Bolelyn is a relatively engaging film with beautiful costumes, a marvelous colour scheme, and some solid supporting performances, but struggles in convincing characterizations and narrative flow.

The story starts with the marriage of Mary Bolelyn (Scarlett Johansson) to the son of a merchant family William (Benedict Cumberbatch). Mary's father Sir Thomas Bolelyn (Mark Rylance), urged by his brother-in-law The Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), decides to push his other daughter Anne Bolelyn (Natalie Portman) into seducing and beguiling King Henry VIII (Eric Bana), despite the reservations of his wife (Kristen Scott Thomas).

Henry, suffering the disappointment of his wife's (Ana Torrent) inability to provide him a male heir, is easily swayed by a Bolelyn girl, just not the right one. As Henry begins an affair with the reluctant Mary, Anne is filled with a jealous rage, eventually being exiled to France as a result of her passive-aggressive marriage to Henry Percy (Oliver Coleman).

Upon Anne's return, she finds Mary bedridden and pregnant and the King free for her to act on.

The Other Bolelyn Girl is most noteworthy in its visual flair. The colour scheme, costume design, and appropriate score are welcome and sumptuous. The sets are wonderfully decorated, and Justin Chadwick's direction takes aim in letting it all sink in. His direction also propels the movie forward at a decent clip, keeping the viewer relatively engaged, never glossing over plot points with distracting stylistic impulses.

Unfortunately, Peter Morgan's lackluster script does little to add value to the film. This is somewhat surprising considering the fine job he did with the Oscar-Winning The Queen. The characters in this film are never fully developed. Mary Bolelyn is effectively meek and gentle, but never gives us a glimpse of anything tangible aside from her loyalty to family. She talks of loving King Henry VIII, but nothing in the film indicates this aside from their occasional sex scenes. King Henry VIII himself is even less developed. He is easily manipulated throughout, and never seems to be much of a character aside from thoroughly enjoying sexual intercourse with both Bolelyn girls. Coming across with slightly more effect is Anne Bolelyn, who busts at the seams with ambition and determination. While her self indulgent fancies are painted well, the script fails to capture any forms of weakness or humanity, ultimately leaving the emotional denouement less effective than it should have been.

The performances are also a sore spot for this film. Eric Bana is completely disengaging and flat, making one wonder if he even wanted to be there. Johansson is passable, certainly playing the passive victim admirably, but fails to give her character any spark, coming across as milquetoast. Portman is all over the place in this one, occasionally commanding the screen and radiating powerful emotion, but also dipping into hackneyed territory with awkwardly delivered lines and actorly gestures. This might indicate more fault behind the camera than with Portman herself, but is a problem nonetheless. Kristen Scott Thomas stands out in her supporting role, conveying a wide range of frustration and gentle manipulation, all while do the unenviable job of delivering dialogue specifically intended to point out already obvious subtext to the audience.

The Other Bolelyn Girl is far from being a perfect film. A weak screenplay and some bad acting are the main culprits. It is however, a relatively entertaining movie. It is simplistic, and aims for an emotional catharsis that isn't fully earned, but it provides for a relatively engaging diversion.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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