Movie #38: The Other Boleyn Girl

I forgot how much I like period dramas. I used to enjoy the sumptuous costumes, the ornate dialogue, the spectacular buildings, and the historical intrigue of movies like The Other Boleyn Girl all the time. I guess they’ve fallen out of fashion since their heyday in the 80s and 90s when Merchant-Ivory productions (like A Room With A View) were in full swing. This movie tells the oft-told tale of Anne Boleyn (played by Natalie Portman) and her lesser-known sister Mary (played by Scarlett Johansson) who both caught the eye of England’s most famous king, Henry VIII (given a Hollywood makeover as played by Eric Bana). The new angle here is the attention given to Mary’s story (though from the title, I had expected a lot less focus on Anne than there was). According to the movie (based on a book), the parents and uncle of the Boleyn sisters used them to get the attention of Henry VIII, in order to win favour and wealth. At first, Henry’s eye went to demure and virtuous Mary, who became his mistress and eventually bore him a son. However, when his eye turned to the flirtatious and beguiling Anne, she forced him to split from the Roman Catholic church and divorce his queen (Catherine of Aragon) to marry her before they could be together. This movie characterizes the two sisters not only as opposites, but also as enemies most of the time, with their parents and uncle busy trying to pull their strings. Henry VIII himself is sadly reduced to little more than a patriarchal plot device that is obsessed with getting a male heir. I enjoyed the first half of the movie, with all the socio-political machinations and how the sisters cope with their situations and get closer to Henry. But the second half deals with their fall from royal grace, and the desperate (and perhaps historically-accurate) lengths that Anne went to in order to maintain her position. Unfortunately it all ended in tragedy, and it was not very pleasant (or interesting) to watch. As a movie, the latter half became a bit sloppy. Nevertheless, I thought all the actors were good (I especially enjoyed Portman’s Anne), and the look of the film was quite luxurious. I hope that the period-film machine really starts to get up and running again. (3.5 out of 5)

38 down, 12 to go!

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