Finally, the two most talented and impressive actresses under the age of the 30 to emerge this decade, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, are headlining the same film. Throw in Munich bad-ass Eric Bana and Oscar nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan into the mix and you have what would seem to be a foolproof formula for success. Granted that not everyone is at the top of their game here and the final product isn’t exactly the type of film that wins awards, The Other Boleyn Girl is still a pretty good movie. It is actually quite a rare film when you compare it to other pictures of its ilk. What can virtually be acknowledged as a prequel to Shekhar Kapur’s presumed planned Elizabeth trilogy is, thankfully, not as boring as the recent Elizabeth: The Golden Age. In fact, there is a lot going on here and furthermore, the film’s biggest weakness is that there’s probably too much going on. But let’s just be grateful that there’s enough sufficient material to explore for two hours. In spite of itself, The Other Boleyn Girl is recommendable on the basis of its all-world cast and it’s infallible ability to intrigue.
The stillborn Elizabeth’s father, King Henry VIII (Bana), is frustrated by his wife’s, Katharine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), inability to produce a male heir. Vowing to never ‘lay’ with her again, he begins to look for a mistress. He summons the Boleyn Family to court, whose daughters include the strikingly beautiful Anne (Portman) and Mary (Johansson). Mary has always been the most favored of the two, but now that she has taken a husband, Anne sees this as an opportunity in which Mary cannot interfere with. But then the king meets Mary for himself and desires to have her, married or not.
It is surprising to see this potential Oscar bait picture being released at this time of year but the film is not good enough to win any such award. On the contrary, it is a welcomed sigh of relief in this dour month. Although The Other Boleyn Girl is slow to start, and feels like a soap opera at the end, the film does hit some really fine stretches in between. Like I said, there’s a lot going on and writer Morgan, unwisely overloads the ending with catharsis coming from numerous players and the film itself is desperately working to tie everything up. Originality may be non-existent, but where the film succeeds most of all is it’s exploration into the sisterhood of Mary and Anne and the plot is adequately advanced by the greed and lust for nobility of the Boleyn family. Morgan could easily make these aspects paint-by-the-numbers but the viewer is actually surprised to find the amount of depth and complexity that there is.
Natalie Portman and Scarlet Johansson are very good as the Boleyn sisters and there are times where it’s wonderful to see them onscreen together. The characters are each well suited for the actresses. Portman owns the flashier character and commands attention as Anne while Johansson delivers a palpable turn away from the spotlight as Mary. When the betrayal factor kicks in, it is Anne who is sucked into the dark side while Mary becomes the more sympathetic character. Despite every wicked thing Anne does to her sister, Mary is able to turn the other cheek and forgive her.
The supporting cast is loaded. Eric Bana is overlooked as Henry, as you can probably already tell from this review. What’s most interesting about his character though is his interminable willingness to do what it takes to have the one he desires, and that includes potentially turning the English government into chaos. Jim Sturgess, who was delightful in last fall’s Across the Universe is also underused as Anne and Mary’s brother until the final twenty minutes or so of the film. Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas and David Morrissey have the meatiest roles of the supporting cast as Anne and Mary’s father, mother, and uncle and the performances do their characters justice. Finally, Ana Torrent, who has played in many TV shows on the same subject, is a wonderful surprise find as Queen Katharine.
When it comes to costume dramas, The Other Boleyn Girl isn’t exemplary but it does suffice for a nice slice of post-Oscar entertainment. The picture couldn’t have come out at a better time. I’ve already seen several trailers for upcoming similar films with names like Kiera Knightley and Ralph Fiennes playing in them. If the public decides that the genre has run its course for the year, it is likely that The Other Boleyn Girl, being the first of the bunch to be released, won’t be blamed.