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Overall Rating
3

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look45.45%
Average: 13.64%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 31.82%

2 reviews, 10 user ratings



Other Boleyn Girl, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"a.k.a "Who Wants To Be Eric Bana?"
1 stars

My guess is that unless you are a student of British history, the sum total of your knowledge of the relationship between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII can pretty much be summed up by the inarguable facts that they got married, she failed to bear him a son who could rule England (though she did give him a worthy successor in daughter Elizabeth, though that is a different and altogether better movie) and she paid for this transgression at the hands of the royal executioner. The problem with “The Other Boleyn Girl,” based on the best-selling novel by Philippa Gregory, is that it doesn’t seem to know much more of the subject beyond that and it desperately tries to goose the material along by throwing the historical record out the window and transforming it into an over-the-top melodramatic stew of sex and betrayal. In the right hands, this can be sort of fun–no one will claim the current Showtime series “The Tudors” as being historically accurate but it does make for amusingly cheesy entertainment–but this film doesn’t even work along those lines. Too silly to work as drama and too turgid and boring to work as camp, this is such a mess on virtually every level that when the executioner finally makes his appearance at the end, it will probably inspire the kind of delirious relief and good cheer from audiences that is usually only experienced when Christopher Walken makes an unexpected cameo.

After a brief prologue showing the Boleyn family in happier days gamboling through the fields without a care in the world or any notion of the treacheries and betrayals that will soon consume them (at least I’m guessing that was the point behind this sequence), our story opens as Mary (Scarlett Johansson), the youngest, fairest and sweetest daughter is about to be married to a poor-but-humble dope while older sister Anne (Natalie Portman) looks on approvingly. At the same time, King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) is having a few problems–his wife inconsiderately refuses to bear him a male heir and this has begun to drive him to such distraction that he is about to begin looking for a mistress to relieve his stress. Learning of this, Mary and Anne’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) rushes out to the Boleyn house with a plan that can’t possibly fail–invite the king out to the house for a hunting expedition, have Anne use her charms to worm her way into her heart and the entire family will soon be living on easy street as part of the royal court. Naturally, Mom (Kristen Scott Thomas) is horrified but Dad (Mark Rylance) is all for it and Anne is quick to accept the challenge. When Henry arrives, Anne pours on the flirty talk (when Henry asks how she will manage to stay on the horse that she is planning on riding in the hunt, she coquettishly replies, in the first of many groaner lines to come, “As you do–with my thighs”) but she nearly blows the entire deal when she causes him to be injured during their ride.

However, Mary gets the job of nursing him back to health and Henry is so taken with her sweetness and kindness (not to mention certain other attributes) that he eventually invites her court to serve officially as one of the queen’s handmaidens and unofficially as his lover. Naturally, Mom is horrified while Dad and Uncle begin to plot how they can use this to further their standing in the court. Regarding Anne, she is now super-peeved that Mary has usurped her plans for becoming Henry’s mistress and after some pouting, she runs off and marries another nobleman. Unfortunately, he is already betrothed to another woman and this marriage is quickly annulled with Anne being banished to France until she learns her lesson–back then, it seems, France served the same basic purpose that Baltimore-based dance academies do these days. As for Mary, she is at first mortified at the idea of being the king’s mistress–not to mention the ease with which her father and husband have essentially traded away her virtue–but before too long, she finds herself falling in love with Henry and a royal bump begins to show itself. After a brief health scare confines Mary to bed for the remainder of her pregnancy–luckily, the palace already has in place an isolated bedroom that looks and feels just like a prison cell when the cinematographer’s lighting package is set up just right–and Anne is called back from France to help take care of her.

Seeing another opportunity to get what she wanted in the first place, Anne uses her wiles to entrance Henry but refuses to allow him to seal the deal until he gives up both his wife and Mary and makes her the new queen. This is not as easy as it seems–the former will require a complete break from the Catholic church and the latter is complicated by the fact that Mary may be bearing a much-needed son–but Anne continues to withhold her favors until both the queen and Mary are banished for good; in the case of the latter, her fate is sealed even as she is giving birth in the next room. Amazingly, Mary is too decent and noble to hold a grudge against her backstabbing sibling and when rumors arise that Anne consummated her brief marriage to that nobleman, Mary lies about it to Henry so that the wedding can proceed and even finds herself serving as one of her sister’s lady-in-waiting. Inevitably, Anne seriously overplays her hand and when her first pregnancy ends in a daughter, she finds her position in serious jeopardy. When a second pregnancy ends in a miscarriage, she keeps it a secret and hits upon a desperate plan involving her brother, George (Jim Sturgess) that sends Mary fleeing for the country once again and bring about a series of executions that even Sister Helen Prejean would probably wholeheartedly embrace if it meant bringing this thing to a merciful end.

I realize that I should not expect an enormous amount of historical fidelity from a film like “The Other Boleyn Girl,” especially when you consider that it was based on a book that took enormous liberties with the truth in order to spin a more palatable storyline.(For example, the historical record suggests that Mary was actually the older of the two Boleyn sisters and was apparently far more of a tart than the idealized innocent depicted here.) What I do expect from a film like this is a screenplay that allows us to get to know and understand the characters so that we can see them as real people instead of as historical personas. A film like Sofia Coppola’s brilliant “Marie Antoinette” may not have been entirely accurate from a factual standpoint but the portrait of the central character that Coppola created was so vivid and nuanced that she felt like a human being that we could actually understand and relate to for once. By comparison, “The Other Boleyn Girl” offers us ciphers who merit one central character trait each–Mary is impossibly good, Anne is impossibly bitchy and Henry is impossibly helpless in the face of a pretty face–and never allows them to grow or develop at all over the course of its running time. There is absolutely no depth to be had in the characterizations (or anywhere else, outside of the necklines) and as a result, it is impossible to care about them or even to understand why they behave the way that they do. Towards the end, for example, Mary risks her life to go to Henry to plead for Anne’s life and he, knowing full well the ways in which Anne has hurt and betrayed her over the years, simply asks “Why are you here for her?” If the film had worked at all, we would know the answer to that question but since it doesn’t, what would seem to be the key scene of the entire enterprise simply lays there and dies before our eyes.

A complete lack of understanding for its characters is the film’s biggest failing but it certainly isn’t the only one. The screenplay by Peter Morgan (the normally reliable scribe of such wonderfully detailed historical dramas as “The Queen” and the hit play “Nixon/Frost”) is a real mess–in telescoping Gregory’s sprawling novel into a feature-length script, Morgan has given us little more than a collection of scenes with virtually no through line to pull them together and enough uncomfortable transitions (such as endless scenes of people frantically riding horses from one place to another) and dangling plot threads to suggest that a lot of material wound up on the cutting-room floor. Of course, debuting director Justin Chadwick doesn’t do the screenplay many favors either–he keeps alternating between making a sweeping historical epic and a more intimate work but lacks the chops to pull either one off. He also lacks an eye as well–even after taking into account the fact that it was shot on hi-def video and transferred to film, the lack of any discernible visual pizzazz on display is fairly startling to behold. There is also the inescapable fact that this movie drags along at a snail’s pace–at the point when Anne finally snares Henry and banishes Mary, I looked at my watch, expecting to discover that it was nearly over, and almost wept when I discovered that it was barely half over.

Even the performances in “The Other Boleyn Girl” are lackluster, which is especially disappointing when you consider the seeming sure-fire casting. Natalie Portman is one of the best young actresses working today but based on the evidence seen here, the combination of ornate costumes and stiff, unnatural dialogue must have caused her to flash back to the “Star Wars” prequels that she appeared in because this is the most lifeless work that she has done since them–her Anne is such a wildly unpleasant one-note shrew that it is impossible to work up any sense of sympathy for her or her plight. As her sister, Scarlett Johansson fares a little bit better but her contemporary persona never quite meshes with the rest of the material–she seems more like an actress posing for a “Vanity Fair”photoshoot than a real person from this specific period of time. Eric Bana can be a powerful screen presence with the right material (as anyone who saw him in the terrifying Australian import “Chopper” can attest”) but he doesn’t have that material here and as a result, he feels less like the ruler of England and more like a day player at a second-rate Renaissance fair. However, the worst performance of the bunch comes from David Morrissey, an actor you may not be familiar with unless you have a taste from dreadful movies about seemingly dangerous monsters appearing out of nowhere to terrorize the United Kingdom (such as “The Water Horse” and “Basic Instinct 2"). Here, playing the vile Duke of Norfolk, he delivers the kind of bad acting that is so pronounced that you cannot understand why no one didn’t take him aside after the screening of the first rushes and explain that it just wasn’t working out. Here, he comes across less like a Machiavellian schemer and more like an exceptionally ridiculous version of those overly pompous twits that John Cleese used to regularly skewer on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

“The Other Boleyn Girl” is a throwback to the kind of period filmmaking that hasn’t been seen on movie screens in a long time. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing, unless you have a soft spot for muddled costume dramas in which history is carelessly reduced to the level of insipid soap opera and a bunch of uncomfortable-looking actors stand around reciting virtually unspeakable dialogue while wearing the kind of sheepish expressions that let us know that a.) they realize that they are currently being outacted by their various outfits and b.) that they realize that those outfits aren’t even bringing their A game to the table. The best part of the entire film, not counting the uncommonly attractive poster, comes when Anne is asked about the time she spent with the Queen of France and responds “Last I heard, she was entertaining Lutherans and heretics.” Oddly enough , those are two things you can do this weekend that will be far more entertaining and personally fulfilling than sitting through this disaster.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17002&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/29/08 16:00:00
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User Comments

7/29/10 Nigel P. Different spin on a story tha's otherwise been done to death. And has Natalie Portman. 4 stars
3/26/09 mariah good melodrama 4 stars
1/16/09 Anonymous. like a prequel to elizabeth, it's beautiful scenery and moving story are worth a watch :] 4 stars
1/12/09 Daniel Radcliffe It was a fantastic film by my buddy jim sturgess 5 stars
11/01/08 Denis Moore Dumbed down pap for the masses 1 stars
8/17/08 BoyInTheDesignerBubble The book rocked! Why couldn't the move? 3 stars
5/09/08 Misti K I loved the costumes and acting... pretty impressive movie 4 stars
3/09/08 Bubba O'Reilly If you knew from the title that this was about Henry VIII, then you probably won't like it. 3 stars
3/05/08 Lynne Great movie which cannot be compared to the novel, no movie can, so lets not. 5 stars
3/03/08 Nicholas Plowman Brilliant acting but it felt like a period-soap opera, with flaky direction 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  29-Feb-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Jun-2008

UK
  N/A

Australia
  13-Mar-2008



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