March 24, 2022
The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
Grade: 52/100

Director: Justin Chadwick
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Eric Bana

What it's about. Yet another movie about the Tudors, the best-known of all royal families save for the present-day Windsors. This one is set circa 1520 to 1536. Henry VIII (Eric Bana) is King of England, married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent). Their marriage has resulted in only one living child, the future Queen Mary, but Henry wants a son and Catherine has entered menopause.

What is a king to do? At first he is satisfied with a mistress, Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson). But he loses interest in her. The Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) seeks another beauty at court to placate the king. Mary Boleyn's father, Thomas (Mark Rylance), proposes his other daughter, Anne (Natalie Portman) entertain the king, over the objections of his wife (and Anne and Mary's mother) Kristin Scott Thomas.

Henry annuls his marriage with Catherine (this momentous event in English history, switching the king from Catholic to Anglican, is briskly covered) to marry Anne. Alas, she is also unable to provide a son, though she bears the future Queen Elizabeth. Anne attempts to conceal a miscarriage via a new pregnancy, and implores her own brother George (Jim Sturgess) to do the deed.

The plan is soon found out by the Duke of Norfolk, and both George and Anne are executed. Mary Boleyn is spared, but forced to leave the court.

Benedict Cumberbatch has a supporting role as Mary Boleyn's first husband, William Carey.

How others will see it. Despite its two gorgeous A-list leads, the movie drew little notice on the festival scene. Not even for its cinematography, costumes, or art design, all of which are quite good.

But the movie nonetheless has 111K user votes at, indicative of a commercial success. The user rating of 6.7 out of 10 is okay-plus, and moderately higher from women (6.9) than men (6.6). The user reviews are generally meh, pointing out historical inaccuracies and reverse sexism.

How I felt about it. What annoyed me most about this movie was Anne's insolence to the king, on multiple occasions, both in public and private. Her behavior is unthinkable in any era, much less when the king's will was law and he could have someone executed on a whim.

I also object to the depiction of King Henry VIII as a fit, handsome man in his 30s, when the actual king (as depicted in period paintings) was older and overweight, more like Charles Laughton (who won the Best Actor Oscar playing him) than Eric Bana.

The film greatly simplifies the court intrigues against Anne. Several different men were accused of having sex with her (Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton, Thomas Wyatt, Richard Page). It seems likely that the king had tired of Anne and her inability to produce a son, and wanted her out of the way so he could marry Jane Seymour. It is highly improbable that, as in the film, Anne concealed her miscarriage from the king and pressured her own brother to impregnate her. Even if the purported plan had succeeded, the baby would have been born months late.

At the end of the film, Mary effectively kidnaps the baby Elizabeth, and no one raises a hand to stop her. Given Elizabeth's significance at the time (second in line to the throne), such a scene is preposterous. Also, Elizabeth was three years old when Anne was executed.

The film attempts to cover too much ground. Anne's marriage to the king is rushed between the wedding and the final miscarriage.

I do not object to the depiction of Anne's father as encouraging his two daughters to become mistresses of the king. We are talking about five centuries ago, when the king could do as he pleased with women, and the family could certainly benefit from such an arrangement.

It also doesn't bother me that the Duke of Norfolk is such a jerk toward the Boleyn family. It is easy to believe that a person in his position would be consumed with schemes to enhance his power at whatever cost to others.

I continue to impressed by Scarlett Johansson as an actress. She makes her role as believable as can be expected. I can't say the same about Natalie Portman, though she is encumbered by the insolence (there's that word again) of her lines.