The Other Boleyn Girl somehow manages to keep the sexiness out of one of the juiciest scandals in history.
While the story of Ann Boleyn is widely known, this narrative focuses more on the rivalry she developed with her sister over the affections of King Henry VIII than Ann’s relationship with the king himself.
Ann (Natalie Portman) grew up in the country with her younger siblings George (Jim Sturgess) and Mary (Scarlett Johansson) but even as children her father (Mark Rylance) hoped she could be used to further his own ambitions. Opportunity presents itself when the king of England (Eric Bana), dissatisfied with his marriage, visits the Boleyn estate; only he is taken by the already married Mary, not Ann.
Her father and uncle (David Morrissey) thrust Mary into the position of mistress, but Ann grows increasingly jealous and thirsty for revenge. When Mary is bedridden by a difficult pregnancy, Ann is commissioned to keep Henry’s attention. Their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) voices concerns that her children are being “traded like cattle for the advancement and amusement of men.” However, Ann seizes the opportunity to set her own plans into motion. She steals the king’s affections, banishes her sister, and displaces the queen. However, Ann’s ambition is her downfall and leads to the eventual ruin of her family and her own beheading.
While this sounds like an intriguing tale, the film plays very subdued. It is lacking the fire such a story evokes and needs to play well on screen. Yes, it is beautiful to look at but where is the passion?
Based on real-life reputations, one would have expected the roles to be cast in reverse; but then again, even girl-next-door Jessica Alba played a stripper in Sin City. Nonetheless, Johansson is convincing as the underestimated, understated beauty even though it looks like she is trying hard to keep it in check. Portman, on the other hand, narrows her eyes a lot and always smiles as if she is hiding something (because she usually is). Bana's part is limited and requires he look disappointedly into the distance more often than he speaks, which appears to suit him.
For a film led by three very attractive actors and a story that centres on lust, sex, betrayal and beheading, the result is very chaste. This is yet another case of the book, by Philippa Gregory, being better than the movie.