The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)


One of those films that you consider turning off a half-dozen times whilst watching it, and yet finish up liking a little, The Other Boleyn Girl finally survived in my DVD player chiefly because of a last-act swerve into a strange and dainty kind of terror, as Natalie Portman's Anne Boleyn, have batted eyelashes and bitchified her way into the role of Queen, finds that she has written herself into a tragedy with starring role as tragic heroine. Portman finally gets a chance to do the nervy desperation that's becoming her stock-in-trade, having spent most of the film looking embarassed when having to speak lines of dialogue like when, in response King Henry's question as to how she'll stay on a horse, she replies with all the seductive wit of a Carry On character, "With my thighs." She goes to the chopping block with brittle dignity and saves England from dynastic wars and the movie from disaster. Screenwriter Peter Morgan's lapses into vulgar obviousness, which kept poking its head up throughout The Queen, dominates here. The bulk of the film is pure comic book history, with Anne battling her pleasantly dim younger sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) for the affections of Henry VIII (Eric Bana), at the crafty behest of their wicked uncle Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey). Anne is eager - too eager, and nicey-wicey sis Mary is bedded by the king first. Mary soon gets knocked up, and then shunted aside when Anne returns with some new learning in ze French arts of ze lovemaking, oui oui.

Certainly this is based on a pseudo-historical potboiler, but those have been made into terrific films before; witness Otto Preminger's adaptation of Forever Amber. This is more like Temporary Turquoise. The first scene in the film that tweaked me out of amused torpor was Morrissey's solicitations to Portman, Morrissey all brusque, rapacious opportunism, nakedly searching for a willing courtesan, and finding Portman a suitably illusion-free candidate. Little of the movie has such snap; the love scenes are prissy piffle and the politics rushed, leading to the impression that the whole of the English Reformation can be boiled down to an excuse for Eric to give it to Natalie roughly from behind. Bana and Johansson make no impression whatever, but that's not really their fault - Mary and Henry are barely characterised, the former who has to be the nice girl victim and the latter stuck straddling an uncomfortable duel responsibility of being romantic lead and tyrannical monster, at once casting him as villain for cutting off Anne's head for not giving him a son, but also as misunderstood lonely guy who protects Mary. The film literally cannot decide on a key for his character, so obviously neither can Bana. This may have been spun into a profound statement of the corrupting nature of power and the strange entanglement of desire, love, and hate with politics, but no-one seems to have taken the time to really think about this film before making it.

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