Mothers wheeling down the supermarket aisle reading tabloid magazines as they shop should put down those tabloids, push aside those shopping carts and head over to the cineplex to watch a movie that is sure to tickle their fancy. Justin Chadwick’s “The Other Boleyn Girl” will bring a smile to the faces of those seeking a high dose of melodrama. But while the acting is done skillfully, the dialogue and action belong more in an episode of “Xena: Warror Princess” than in a historical film.
The opening scene shows Anne and Mary Boleyn (Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, respectively) prancing around a countryside field while their parents discuss Mary’s arranged marriage to an ordinary English countryman. At the movie’s conclusion, the same fields are shown, with a new generation of children — among them, Elizabeth, who will rule England for decades. These sudsy scenes, meant to appeal to the audience’s maternal instincts, tie everything neatly together and bring the movie to a peaceful conclusion, but in a manner entirely too cliché.
Before long, the two sisters are jealously vying for the bed of King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). After Henry VIII shows a preference for the wrong sister, Anne does all she can to remove her from Henry’s good graces. In order to accomplish the goal of marrying the King and becoming the Queen of England, Anne confronts issues of exile, incest, infidelity and, of course, treason. Anne’s Macchiavellian journey to the throne tests her allegiance to her family members, country and self — and, as everyone knows, ultimately leads to her public beheading.
Even an audience that is not well-versed in the controversies of Tudor England gets a clear sense that this film is not made with close attention to historical accuracy. Henry VIII, for example, was famously overweight and disease-ridden, not the chivalrous knight that Eric Bana plays.
“Boleyn,” replete with quiet moments, pangs of violent outbursts and intense debate over how to secure a position of grace, honor and wealth, involves high drama during moments that do not need them. Every so often, the movie brings the Boleyn family together in a side room of Henry’s castle where Anne and Mary are chastised and directed to wiggle their way into the king’s chambers. Anne and Mary’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), a measured character who sees events clearly and in perspective, has views that counter those of her power-hungry husband. The intensity of the couple’s exchanges continues to add drama that seems irrelevant and disconnected.
Once there, the movie very seldom takes leave from Henry VIII’s court. The scenery — with its elaborate windows and archways — reminds the audience of typical Gothic architecture, not unlike Yale’s. Yet the major problem with the scenery is its stagnation. Although the castle is large, elaborate and corresponds well with the characters’ melodrama, after a while these dark stone interiors become oppressively boring. With such heightened drama throughout the film, a scene change is necessary in order to allow the audience to take a breath and relax — even just a glance out the window would have sufficed.
The film’s lack of subtlety, intense gossip and drama, beautiful celebrities and Yale architecture ensure an enjoyable movie-going experience for the kind of people who devour Star Magazine and the National Enquirer. But for anyone with at least a 7th-grader’s knowledge of English history, “Boleyn” does not deliver.