Director: Justin Chadwick
Stars: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana
Plot: Henry VIII’s quest to find a wife capable of giving him a male heir draws his attentions to two sisters, Mary and Anne Boleyn.
About five years ago, the popular perception of Henry VIII used to be as a grotesque, fat, ginger-haired king, working his way through six wives as easily as he would a banquet. Charles Laughton’s brilliant performance in The Private Life of Henry VIII merely fuelled this view, although many screen portrayals of arguably England’s most famous monarch followed, more recently Ray Winstone’s ‘Henry does Eastenders’ impression in the imaginatively titled TV movie Henry VIII.
A year after the advent of The Tudors, in which Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is the most unlikely Henry you’ve ever seen, The Other Boleyn Girl once again sexes-up the time period with a trio of über generic characters with perfect teeth and hygiene. Based on Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction novel of the same name, the plot twists the facts to focus on Anne Boleyn (Portman), her sister Mary (Johansson) and of course a dark, brooding Henry (Bana).
The story picks up towards the end of Catherine of Aragon’s tenure as queen, as she fails to produce the male heir that Henry so desperately needs. Anne Boleyn’s father and uncle arrange for her to be installed at court as a potential replacement for Catherine along with her sister Mary, but it is the younger sibling to whom Henry becomes initially infatuated. After much back-stabbing and conniving behaviour between the two sisters, Anne eventually takes her place in history as Henry’s second wife – but the back story which is largely fictional, forms the majority of the plot.
Purists would say this distorted view of Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall is not a fair representation of her life, nor of the period. But this is pure entertainment which isn’t supposed to be taken as a gospel, although only Portman really has a grasp of her real-life character, acquiring a near-flawless English accent. Bana and Johansson go through the motions as needed but the fabricated sister-centric storyline doesn’t grab you as much as it should.