The Other Boleyn Girl is a 16th century soap opera. At the beginning of the story Sir Thomas Boleyn learns that King Henry VIII’s marriage is on the rocks. Naturally he orders his daughter Anne (Natalie Portman) to try to become the King’s mistress. She agrees readily enough, but unfortunately the King’s eye falls instead on Anne’s gentle, pure-hearted younger sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson.)
I presume most readers will know the rough outlines of what is going to happen: Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn and the marriage ends badly, but not before producing the future Queen Elizabeth I.
I don’t think the screenplay will win any awards. Much of the dialog sounds faintly ridiculous. It’s not that I really expect them to speak in Elizabethan language. Still it seems odd to hear English noblemen speak so bluntly when plotting to pimp out their daughters to the King. For all I know they really did talk that way, but somehow I expect aristocrats to have more refined and indirect ways to discuss such matters.
The movie’s saving grace is the skill of some of the actors. Natalie Portman portrays a devious and ruthless Anne Boleyn. It’s easy to imagine her as the mother of one of England’s most powerful and devious monarchs.
On the other hand Eric Bana’s Henry VIII comes off as something of a wimp: vain, easily manipulated, the center of attention but not really respected by his courtiers. It seems to me that he should be a more formidable figure.
Consider that two previous English kings had contested the power of the Church and lost badly. Henry told the Pope to go take a flying leap, and got clean away with it. To pull that off, he must have been a more capable man than we see here.