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March 5, 2008 > Movie Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

Movie Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

By Mona Shah

Powered by a strong cast, "The Other Boleyn Girl" is a story of greed, sex, betrayal, faked affection, and above all else, power. A richly appointed period piece, it features kingly tantrums, mistresses, bodices, incest, and...mutton.

The opening sequence treats us to sweeping shots of the British countryside, and so begins the eagerly awaited period movie based on Philippa Gregory's "The Other Boleyn Girl," a book that has seduced millions of readers and launched a profitable empire in Tudor-mania.

The title refers to Mary Boleyn - Queen Anne Boleyn's sister who also bedded Henry VIII and bore him an illegitimate son. In Gregory's novel, Mary Boleyn is the sympathetic narrator who recounts the romance and political intrigue of the Tudor court, from her own position as a family pawn to her sister's relationship with the dashing king who's slowly turning power-mad. "The Other Boleyn Girl" plays fast and loose with the real story but that does not deter us from the pure entertainment value of this chick-lit film.

Early in the movie we're exposed to the unseemliness of the Boleyn men, as they engineer a liaison at the family's country estate between their eldest eligible lass, the dark-haired flirt Anne (Natalie Portman), and King Henry (Eric Bana), whose queen, Catherine of Aragon has failed, over and over, to provide a male heir. The Boleyns try to lure him with Anne, but he is attracted to the wholesome and blond Mary (Scarlett Johansson), despite the fact that she is already married. No matter. Her husband sees her position as royal mistress as an excellent career opportunity, another glorified act of pimping in addition to the father and uncle.

In spite of her sister's obvious affection for the King, Anne, who after a brief exile to France, edges Mary aside and is poised and ready to exert her influence over the King in a way that's ruthless and yet admirable. She will have the King after all, but on her own terms. Things go horribly wrong when Anne disappointingly gives birth to a daughter (Elizabeth), and then a stillborn. She tries to seduce her brother to conceive a baby with her, but that doesn't quite pan out. Nonetheless, the news gets around, and Anne is tried for treason, adultery, and incest.

"The Other Boleyn Girl" offers the pleasures you want, and expect. As Henry, Bana, mighty and bearded, wears his layers of decorative fabric with majesty. Portman's Anne sparkles with deception, daring to flaunt passion as well as ambition. No one does the dewy eyes, moist lips parted, better than Johansson's Mary. However, there seems to be no depth to the characters, all black and white, good Mary versus bad Anne. The movie's ending where the sisters reconcile is hardly palatable, the Boleyn girls finding strength and loyalty in each other!

Yet, it's hard to fault the pure entertainment value that British director Justin Chadwick brings with his richly textured, erotically laced and emotionally taut creation of "The Other Boleyn Girl."

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 114 mins.

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