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Published June 23rd, 2007 | by Mike Barnard

The Other Boleyn Girl Review

Classification: 15 Director: Justin Chadwick Rating: 3.5/5

Getting to choose between Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson for a lover would be an ideal situation for most men, yet Eric Bana somehow looks reluctant to choose either of them playing King Henry VIII. As sisters Anne and Mary, Portman and Johansson look and act the part of toying siblings vying for the hand of the King of England – Bana just skulks around with a face looking more bored than entranced. The Other Boleyn Girl, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, is a finely written period film set against the backdrop of a defining moment in UK history, it just lacks the decisive performance needed from the leading man to provide the full of the intrigue, romance and betrayal.

Anne Boleyn was famously beheaded as the second of Henry VIII’s six wives, and this movie paints the picture of how Anne and her sister became entwined in his court leading to her death sentence. The King’s first wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon (Torrent), was unable to give him the son and heir he so desperately needed so Sir Thomas Boleyn (Rylance) and The Duke of Norfolk (Morrissey) plot to have Anne present herself as a willing mistress. When she embarrasses the King on a riding trip, his attentions turn to the married Mary who gives her body to him. However, Anne does not give up her pursuit of his majesty and soon finds herself at the centre of a regal scandal ever her manipulative ways cannot control.

Director Justin Chadwick captures the period setting perfectly with a broody atmosphere in the King’s inner sanctum, while Portman and Johansson play the bickering sisters perfectly: you’ll think they grew up together. Backstabbing in their love for the King while supportive e face-to-face, the deliver the typical “I want what she has” tantrum-esque desires which evaporate into hugs and support when together. Looking sumptuous in front of Henry Tudor, it would be no wonder if he would be torn between the two.

However, Bana’s normally dominant performances in positions of power don’t bring a hint of life here. Underplayed and too often out-of-the-picture, Bana spends most of his time sitting in a stance it’s hard to tell whether he is wrought with pondering over which Boleyn girl to go to or simply resting his chin because he has nothing better to do than sit or stand in the background while Sir Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk take on the majority of the behind-the-scenes plotting. As a result, he drifts in and out of the movie without ever stamping any authority. While this enables Portman and Johansson to rightly take centre stage, it is, after all, their characters which push Henry’s into the wrong decisions, his absence is telling. Without the manipulated being seen to be play, The Other Boleyn Girl gets lost talking about repercussions rather than witnessing them: by the time Anne faces her punishment it’s hard to feel any sympathy for her wrongdoing given the stark warnings she is handed. The film stands up on the performances of the leading ladies, but with a little extra depth to explore the King’s role in the love triangle, this could have been a much darker, brooding adaptation that understood the dubious morals on show rather than simply presenting them.

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