THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL directed by Justin Chadwick, written by Peter Morgan, from the novel by Philippa Gregory, with Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess and Kristin Scott Thomas. A Columbia Pictures release. 114 minutes. Opens Friday (February 29). Rating: NN
I dunno, maybe Natalie Portman just can’t pull off that royal bearing. Have the Star Wars prequels taught us nothing?
The Other Boleyn Girl wants to be both a royal power fantasy and a bodice-ripping yarn, and succeeds as neither.
In the court of Henry VIII (played by Eric Bana as a horny, impulsive dolt), Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman are the Boleyn sisters, Mary and Anne. When Katherine of Aragon fails to produce an heir, the Boleyns’ calculating father offers Anne to Henry as a mistress.
Kings being an fickle lot, Henry takes Mary into his bed instead – and when Mary eventually gives birth to a son, a resentful Anne finds herself exiled to France. But fret not; she returns in a blink, with new poise and attitude that soon have His Royal Highness slobbering with desire. Promises are promised, oaths are sworn. And if you’ve been following The Tudors on CBC, you know this all ends in a bloody mess.
Screenwriter Peter Morgan is known for subtle meditations on political players (The Queen and The Last King Of Scotland both sprang from his pen), so it’s strange to see him turn Philippa Gregory’s novel into such a clumsy compression of historical events.
I suspect there’s a good half-hour or so of character development lying in an editing bay somewhere. How else to explain the way The Other Boleyn Girl leapfrogs over key events in a rush to squeeze in one more shot of Portman’s heaving bosom, Bana’s fretful glower or Johannson’s waxen face? (Seriously, imagine a movie about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn that doesn’t even mention Thomas More.)
Still, the failings of a patchy script could have been overcome if director Justin Chadwick had allowed his cast to have some fun with the material. Instead, he forces everyone to put on his or her most serious costume-drama face while the camera prowls around them expectantly, trying to build a sense of tension that simply isn’t there.
But the thread count on those royal linens? Exquisite.