If you’re not up to date with your history, let director Justin Chadwick’s film cloud it for you. I’m not sure how much leisure The Other Boleyn Girl is having with its historical references, but I suppose nothing can be an exact replica of the past.
King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) needs a male heir to his throne that his wife Katherine of Aragon cannot produce. The Duke of Norfolk convinces his sister, Elizabeth Boleyn to let one of her daughters vie for the King’s attention. Sleek, resourceful, quick-witted Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) is given the task to bed the King, give him a son, and make her family prosperous. Simple enough, a little medieval adultery never hurt anyone.
But the King has his eye on Anne’s innocent, shy, earnest sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson). Jealousy, regret, anger and revenge fuel what is to follow. There are so many (not-so-clever) twists and turns, that the viewer may spend too much time trying to catch up and ask “Why”.
Portman has no problem proving to us that she is one of the finest actresses of her generation. A squint of her eyes refers to pure narcissistic rage that embodies her Anne. Portman is great at being devious; she outshines the rest of the cast by a long shot.
The quiet demeanor of Mary is something Johansson has tackled before and better in Girl with a Pearl Earring, but she gives the little that is demanded of her, making the best of sparse material. And Bana, a fantastic actor, has fun with his constant screaming and throwing of objects, but his performance, along with most the film, falls flat.
Another issue to discuss is the once-so-secure line of the PG-13 and R ratings. Films like Beowulf, The Kite Runner and now The Other Boleyn Girl are seriously blurring a line in the ratings system. These are not light films, and while I would never argue for the MPAA, I am very surprised at what heavy, sexually-themed content is allowed to pass for kids under 14 to see.
There are better historical films to see. Start with Girl with a Pearl Earring. But fans of Portman’s will be in for something new, a talented, young actress stretching a little past her comfort zone, and nailing it. C