Judge Ryan Keefer doesn't recall this many fake British accents since Madonna was on a conference call with Britney and Gwyneth.
The ambitious Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary rival for the bed and heart of King Henry VIII.
Us Americans and our wacky distrust of period films; it's almost as if between gulps of Velveeta and Pepsi that when we see that a film is set in the 14th and 15th centuries, we've got to shut off and dismiss it out of hand, no matter who might be involved or attached to the project. And while The Other Boleyn Girl had some du jour eye candy, it didn't manage to catch on like the wildfire some might have hoped for. So what gives?
Facts of the Case
Peter Morgan (The Queen) adapted Philippa Gregory's novel which Justin Chadwick (Bleak House) directed. As a means to give his family more notoriety and wealth, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey, The Reaping) discusses with his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance, Prospero's Books) the possibility of getting Thomas' daughters closer to King Henry VIII (Eric Bana, Troy), whose wife, Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent, 14, Fabian Road) is unable to bear any more children and thus, unable to continue the bloodline via a male heir. Thomas first lines up his daughter Anne (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta) to be his interest, but this doesn't come to plan because of an accident that injures Henry. So the other daughter Mary (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation) is the next one up despite already being married, and she helps tend to Henry when he is injured, without seemingly to have an idea of what she's supposed to do. In the midst of this, Anne acts out in rebellion and banished to France, a bit of a suspension if you will. She comes back possessing more intellect and instantly draws Henry's interest, though she resists him. His urges are used against him by Anne, first to not speak to Mary again, just moments after she has a baby boy that could be is, and then to later renounce the Catholic Church's authority to divorce his wife and marry Anne. How'd that work out? While not a completely true-to-life account of events, The Other Boleyn girl was based on a novel to begin with, so don't gripe.
Some people have cited the main fault of The Other Boleyn Girl as being a little too much on the soap opera tip of things. And, compared to historical events, there are some radical liberties taken (history shows us that Henry and Anne found out that Katherine had died at one point and the pair was celebratory as a result), but when it comes to target audiences, The Other Boleyn Girl was looking more towards the dramatic, rather than the accurate, to begin with. Like it or not, The Other Boleyn Girl features a compelling little story for most of the film. You've got this sniping battle among sisters, one of whom is more focused on the important things (like family) while the other has her eyes on the prize. You've got the most powerful man in the land, seemingly having his chance at any woman he wants, or has presented to him, and he's willing to give up whatever he needs to in order to get what he wants. He pursues that which is retreating from him.
What also occurs in The Other Boleyn Girl is a strong message for women's rights without having to preach to hard on it. We all know that women have had it rough for a long time, but what occurs, simply by letting the film's events unfold, is nothing short of astounding. The women in the film find themselves at the mercies of their families, and Anne and Mary are virtually prostituted by their father and uncle without any remorse or second thought; it's embarrassing. Still though, when a women does find herself on equal ground with the men, such as the case when Anne returns from her international travel and manipulates Henry with her brains and her beauty, and when she starts to rely on it like a crutch, Henry seems to do anything to make her happy, and when he realizes the ramifications of it (not to mention some desperation by Anne), Anne takes too much advantage of her weapons, and pays the ultimate price for it.
All the way around, the cast's performances seem to be capable, though there's not too much new ground that's broken. As a much slimmer Henry, Bana seems to be a passionate man, and when he finds out that he's done all these things for Anne with no real benefit, you almost seem like he is going to turn green near the end, but his role is fine. Portman seems to be the one who pushes the equal rights message, but her British accent comes off as a little too thick at times, and you can't help but see a little Padme in her scenes. Johansson has spent the most time in period dramas and seems the most comfortable in her role, even if her presence in the film is a little lacking. There are other supporting cast members that contribute, including the Boleyn's mother (Kristin Scott Thomas, Mission: Impossible), and they help complement the stars.
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen with the AVC MPEG-4 codec, The Other Boleyn Girl is shot using the Genesis High Definition camera, and things look rather vivid to match the color palette of the times. Flesh tones look warm and realistic, and fine detail can be gained on most every shot. There appeared to be instances where blacks seemed to fluctuate (or maybe it was just me), but overall this is quite the solid presentation. On the audio side, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround graces the feature, and as it's a mainly dialogue-driven affair, everything is in the front speaker and presented a little on the soft side. While there are some directional effects and an occasional moment for the subwoofer to engage, the soundstage is pretty limited, and aside from having to crank the receiver, things sound fine.
Extras-wise, a couple of Blu-ray exclusives kick things off, the first being a picture-in-graphics track that, while featuring some of the usual production and trivia tidbits, also contains a host of trivia about the period past the initial material, so that is refreshing. You see biographical information on the characters, historical details, the works, and you can navigate them similarly to the Warner In Movie Experience, and it's a fun experience. In addition, Chadwick's commentary is decent, although there's a lot of dead air after the first half hour or so, but he does manage to talk about what he liked about the material and his thoughts on what it took to pull off the filming, you know, the usual director-type stuff. A dozen deleted and extended scenes follow (23:46), one of which was an alternate ending which features slightly different postscript cards and possibly a slightly recut ending. From there, some additional footage that further deepens the relationship between Mary and Henry follow, including some more time on Mary's family, including a sequence when she's at her husband's side as he succumbs to illness. All in all, some of this probably could have been included in the final cut, while other footage seemed redundant. Moving onto the three featurettes on the disc, "To Be a Lady" (10:33) features impressions and opinions of how women had to live and tolerate the times, with many authors and historians sharing their two cents on the matter, with clothing, dynamics, rituals and customs shown, among a whole host of material. "Translating History to Screen" (10:06) discusses the whole "reel vs. real" aspect of the production, and the lengths taken to get things right to achieve the balance. The cast discusses what they liked about the material and what the story is all about, while some camera test footage (2:16) includes Chadwick's narration and his reasoning for shooting in high definition. "Members of the Court" (16:48) focuses on the legacy the figures had and some details about them. If you're new to the period as I was, you'll learn a few things, like Henry VII having the "pre-Army Elvis" period before succumbing to the "Las Vegas Elvis" period of his life. The cast members discuss their characters and what they knew of them, and a whole bevy of information on Henry, Anne, Mary, Katherine, George Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk can be found here. Trailers for a whole host of Sony films complete the disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In retrospect while watching the film for a second time, the second and third act where Anne is occupying Mary's space and taking over her man to boot, sometimes it does feel like you're watching a centuries-old version of the Jerry Springer Show. And when things fall, they fall rather predictably because at least you know how one of the characters will meet their fate.
To quote the lovely Mrs. Keefer, "if they told history like THAT, then I'd watch more of these!" I've got to admit, at least in this case, I agree with her. The Other Boleyn Girl slightly modernizes what could easily have been a muddled mess, and the result is an entertaining little film that's designed to get you good brownie points with the women. Trust me on this.
Period historians might give this film a guilty verdict, however based on the intentions, the court is willing to let The Other Boleyn Girl go free on its own recognizance.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Justin Chadwick
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