Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Mature Thematic Elements, Sexual Content and some Violent Images
Directed by: Justin Chadwick
Written by: Peter Morgan
(based on the novel THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Rylance, David Morrissey, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Juno Temple & Andrew Garfield
Word of warning: I might sound like a pretentious snob in this review, but that’s a result of the frame of mind this movie has put me in. THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL tackles a highly fictionalized account of Henry VIII’s marriage with his second wife Anne Boleyn and the affair he committed with her sister Mary. To say that this film is historically inaccurate would be merely scratching the surface of how Peter Morgan’s script (based on Philippa Gregory’s novel) murders an interesting piece of history that changed the face of England forever. Movies are movies. Books are books. History is history. There’s no full-fledged way that a film or written work will ever fully do justice to events that have already passed. There can be masterpieces nonetheless (12 YEARS A SLAVE, GOODFELLAS, among many more), but a fictional story portrays itself as being a true account of how things went down is mind-bogglingly insulting. OTHER BOLEYN GIRL commits such a heinous crime and goes further to vastly mischaracterize the historical figures it’s trying to portray.
When Catherine of Aragon cannot produce a male heir, Henry VIII is on the lookout for a mistress. Having an inside ear to all of the happenings within the castle, the Duke of Norfolk throws his niece Anne Boleyn into Henry’s path. The two seem to get along relatively well, but the king is more entranced with Anne’s younger sister Mary. Sure enough, this causes a ripple between the previously inseparable Boleyn sisters. When Anne’s jealously gets the better of her, she causes Henry VIII to do something that tears the country apart beyond repair and spells out her bloody fate. I should state right now that I will give away plot developments that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Indeed, Henry VIII had relations with Anne and Mary Boleyn, but it’s not at all how the movie portrays it. Eric Bana’s Henry VIII is a poor victim of would-be love. In reality, Henry was a man who could do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted in whatever fashion he wanted. That was the perk of being king and eventually led the man into madness. Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson aren’t convincing as the Boleyn sisters either. Due to sloppy screenwriting, the relationship between the siblings and perils it faces feels too rushed to be compelling. Going back to Bana’s performance as Henry VIII, he turns the highly educated king into a gullible sap led on by the cunning Anne Boleyn. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare too well either, though it was neat to see a bunch of bigger names from today in earlier roles (e.g. Benedict Cumberbatch, Juno Temple, Andrew Garfield, among others). At least the production values are good as far as convincing costumes and the extravagant sets. I believed I was watching a tale set in this time period, but it just wasn’t at all anything resembling the actual events.
The dialogue is made up of melodramatic drivel and the story only gets interesting near the ending as Anne Boleyn’s fate draws nearer. The real crime in THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL is that it screws up genuinely awesome material that’s nearly tailor-made for a compelling historical drama. A great movie could have been executed (pardon the pun) from the actual history of what really happened between Henry VIII and the Boleyn family. The biggest historical inaccuracy is that Anne Boleyn’s temptress ways are solely what made a reluctant Henry VIII tear off into his own church. The reality is that if Henry VIII wanted to have sex with Anne Boleyn, he could at any time he pleased to and ordered her to do so with a smile on her face (or act as if she enjoyed it). It was a blatantly horrible time for sexism (among other things like medicine, science, racism, and class systems) and to portray it as otherwise is not only dishonest but insulting to the intelligence of those educated in or unaware of English history.
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL isn’t a fully irredeemable piece of trash, because it looks gorgeous in the set design and costumes. The final 30 minutes also drastically pick up the pace into interesting territory as Anne Boleyn’s inevitable fate is given. The writing is horribly inaccurate for the most part and takes the “blame the victim” scenario as far as Henry VIII’s second wife is concerned. In this day and age, to use such a misguided trope is a little scary. Though beautiful to look at and boasting a lot of big name talent, BOLEYN GIRL is the most historically inaccurate plot I’ve seen committed to film. The visuals and last third entertained me, but the film ends up being a pretty looking mess. As far as the truth is concerned, you could do better watching Homer Simpson’s portrayal of Henry VIII in the “Margical History Tour” episode of THE SIMPSONS.