Despite the best efforts of an award-winning ensemble cast, "The Other Boleyn Girl" is weighed down by a poor script with a myopic focus on the tawdriest aspects of the relationship between Henry VIII and the Boleyn sisters.
Based on the best-selling novel by Philippa Gregory, "The Other Boleyn Girl" tries to tell the story of the events leading up to the beheading of 16th century Britain's Queen Anne Boleyn.
And if you just read that sentence and are angry and think I have given some important plot point away, I say to you go back to school.
Having not read the novel myself, I can only take friends' word for it that the book was far better. My main criticism for the film lies in the close attention given to the sexual relationships between King Henry (Eric Bana, "Munich"), Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson, "The Black Dahlia") and Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman, "V for Vendetta") to the exclusion of all other political and religious realities of the day.
While Henry is historically known as a great womanizer which does bear up in the film, his other motivations in choosing to divorce his first queen, Catherine of Aragon, and marry Anne are hardly touched on in the film. Henry's obsession with producing a male heir, which he believed Catherine could no longer bare him as she was past childbearing age, is well documented in history and in the film.
England had been embroiled in a 100-year civil war, The War of the Roses, between two noble families prior to Henry's birth. The marriage of Henry's parents united the two families, and it was with this history in mind that Henry was do desirous of leaving a son to rule after him, to prevent further civil war. But no mention of this back history is given in the film.
The film also does not touch on the fact Henry had been seeking an annulment from his marriage to Catherine on the grounds she had consummated a previous marriage to his older brother, Arthur, years before he ever met Anne. For the viewer not familiar with the history of Henry, it would appear Anne had, in fact, completely confounded him with lust when in reality he was a strong and decisive man, with his own reasons for divorcing Catherine.
With the Protestant Reformation sweeping Europe, many Protestant reformers in England used Henry's quarrel with the pope and Catherine's cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to their own advantages and encouraged Henry's relationship with Anne who was willing to work with the Protestants in her quest for the throne. But again, none of this political back story is touched upon in the film, much to its discredit.
The choice of whether to include the political backdrops of the time is where such period pieces like the "Elizabeth," starring Cate Blanchett, succeed and where films like "The Other Boleyn Girl" fail.
While Portman, Johansson and Bana are all strong actors, I found their performances limited by a narrow script. Portman's Anne was, perhaps unfairly, a cold power-hungry social climber who betrays her sister Mary in her quest to become queen.
Mary, despite a fair amount of historical evidence that she had had numerous affairs before becoming Henry's mistress, is depicted as a sweet and faithful wife who at the behest of her father, uncle and own husband, agrees to bed the king.
All in all, if you're looking for a well-researched and well rounded depiction of King Henry VIII's court, I recommend tuning into the Showtime series "The Tudors." If you're looking for a Paris/Nicky Hiltonesque revision of the life of the Boleyn sisters, look no further than "The Other Boleyn Girl."
"The Other Boleyn Girl" is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content and some violent images and has a running time of 1 hour and 55 minutes.