The Red Right Hand

Two Sisters Divided For The Love Of A King

Justin Chadwick

Natalie Portman
Scarlett Johansson
Eric Bana

The Other Boleyn Girl does not thrive on the political or international plots and scandals of the monarchy, more the internal workings of court and the emotional tragedy that unfolds when investing in an erratically minded king. Despite the lack of production connections, this film forms the unofficial prequel to Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Granted it doesn't feel as grand but historically speaking, it's relatively accurate; which is possibly more important. For those reading unfamiliar with British history, Henry VIII [Bana] ruled over England with his queen, Catherine of Aragon [Ana Torrent] but having failed to produce a male heir, his attention was diverted and he began looking elsewhere. He took Mary Boleyn [Johansson] as a mistress then divorced himself from his first wife and the Catholic Church, in order to marry Mary's sister, Anne [Portman]. As always, the book did a better job of delivering this.

For whatever reason, both lead actresses were required to play against their cast-type niches. The results highly favour Portman's offering as the manipulative deviant (a portrayal loyal to the book though possibly not historically spot-on) whereas Johansson's character (and subsequently her performance) feel a little hollow and flimsy, as if she had been cast in The Other Boleyn Girl With The Pearl Earring. Henry VIII, himself, is also treated as an object not a subject and as such feels a little like a pawn whose only requirement is to sit and stare moodily. It's a great shame for the fact that I felt Eric Bana was rather well cast as the overbearing monarch. Despite the portraits of the time, Henry VIII wasn't always a 'spot of grease and blood on English history', during his early reign he was renowned for being fit, talented and an intense romantic. Unfortunately, as stated, we never get inside the King's mind, we simply observe his reactions from the perspective of these two young women. Although each part is fairly well played, the Americans did the typical American thing by speaking out-of-turn, allotting the female characters more social grace than they would have been granted back then. My intention is not to highlight this error as just, simply to show that it is an anachronism and one that mars the finished product.

Unfortunately, the constant shifts in loyalties and various family betrayals leave the film feeling like a bloated soap opera draped in Tudor garments. I'm not stating the truth may have been far off but as the script fails to highlight anything else, the audience is simply sucked into scenes of random sex and seedy betrayals. In addition to this, the directing and editing were a little off. I appreciated the concealed, voyeur angle but the shaky-cam work felt sloppy and unnecessary and the big sweeping tracking shots felt tired and repetitive. If you're in any way unsure of what I mean there, allow me to describe a typical scene: I, King Henry, am angry! I shall pay a visit to someone in another room! Curses! Said room is at least four corridors away! Step aside peasants! Aside, I say! [cut to a closed door which swings open forcefully] Grrr! Behold the stomping rage of the Tudor monarchy! [another sealed set of double doors opens] I have arrived! Look at my face! Witness the rage!

...or something like that

As with all big-budget historical pieces, the costumes are the main highlight and the acting behind the elaborate get-ups take somewhat of a backseat. Being British, I should probably address something we are all thinking - why, exactly, did the studio feel it necessary to cast two yanks and an aussie in the lead roles? I'm not bashing the actors because they're non-native, after all 3:10 To Yuma was a fantastic western, yet the two leads were Welsh and Australian born. The reason I'm having at the actors was because I could think of so many British actresses who could do a better job. As I said, I'm not going to dwell on it, just bring it to your attention. In the end, the film is quite enjoyable and worth a watch if you're into the whole period drama thing. To be honest, I would recommend A Man For All Seasons as my preferred version of this tale but at least The Other Boleyn Girl was better than The Tudors, which was just absurd.

Release Date:
7th March 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
I'm going to highlight a moment rather than a scene - which I seem to be doing quite often of late. The final freeze frame shot, focusing on the young Princess Elizabeth felt so forced and poorly done that I just rolled my eyes. You'll have to watch the film to know what I'm talking about but trust me, it's annoying.

Notable Characters:
Natalie Portman got to genuinely shine by displaying a side to her acting that is so rarely seen but I was actually more impressed with Kristin Scott Thomas in the role of the mother, Elizabeth Boleyn. Unlike her husband, Elizabeth deeply cares for the wellbeing and future of her children and displays an underlying intelligence, foresight and clarity that surpasses all others on screen.

Highlighted Quote:
"You'll learn to get what you want, not by stamping your feet but by making him think he's in charge; that is the art of being a woman"

In A Few Words:
"A fairly commendable piece that neatly compliments the Elizabeth series but feels a little too much like a soap opera to have a lasting positive effect"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon