Reviewed: The Other Boleyn Girl

A best-selling novel, but does the film compare?

Beautiful scenery, lavish costumes, the racy and raunchy: Justin Chadwick’s adaptation of the tragic story of Anne Boleyn seems to have got it spot on. Despite small historical discrepancies – for example, the fact that Henry VIII appears exceedingly good looking considering his age and notorious lifestyle habits – the film truly brings to life the story of a woman so commonly misunderstood.

The film takes us right through from the rise of Anne and her sister Mary, their subsequent falls, ultimately ending in tragedy. What is interesting is the prominent role of Mary Boleyn, who is often cast into the background. Her quick rise and even quicker fall portray brilliantly the fickleness of the relationship between mistress and master in early modern England. Forced by the pressure from her family, it is easy to see why this type of situation became so common in the court of the king. It was a constant struggle for power and prestige, faction fighting faction. The swift substitution of Mary with older sister Anne shows just how competitive life in the English royal court was – her own blood was willing to depose her.

Natalie Portman is brilliant as the second queen of Henry VIII. She is both the sultry and alluring siren of the initial chase of the King, and the crazed, desperate shell of a woman seen towards the end of the film. The final hours of ‘the King’s whore’ are portrayed excellently, with real emotion as we see the once cool and confident queen break down as she is faced with her fate. It’s hard to imagine how you would feel in the same situation, but Portman’s performance is able to give us a good insight into the feelings of a condemned woman.

Scarlett Johansson provides ample support as the younger sister of the queen, but appears weak and insignificant compared to Portman’s acting. However, is this really sub-standard acting, or just Johansson’s own take on the story of the wronged sister? Eric Bana as the tyrannous King Henry also gives a strong performance. He manages to act with all the ferocity and fire of the infamous monarch, as well as providing an interesting glimpse into the life and pressures put upon the royal family to secure their dynasty and control their kingdom, especially with regards to religion.

The glamour and intrigue of the Tudor court come to life in this fascinating film, which on the whole stays true to the facts. We’ll never know the truth about whether Anne really did almost resort to incest to provide an heir, but given the desperate, hopeless situation she found herself in, is it really a too big a stretch of the imagination to believe her capable of this if it meant saving her neck?

Philippa Gregory’s award-winning novel was bound to attract some Hollywood interest, given the poignancy and brutality of the story, and it’s safe to say that “The Other Boleyn Girl” fulfils all the criteria that make for a good adaptation of historical fiction. This dramatisation deserves any praise and critical acclaim that comes its way. It is rare to find a piece of film which manages to capture so accurately our imagined visions of a world gone by; a darker and more dangerous world.

Not seen it yet? Watch the trailer here:

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