In history class, students learn about the English reformation, the line of kings and queens, and the wars that went on. However, they don’t learn about the love lives of those specific characters. In ‘The Other Boleyn Girl,’ the characters featured in history are brought to life to tell the story of a king besotted by two sisters and the twists and turns that evolve.
Based on the best-selling novel by Phillippa Gregory, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ is set in England in the 1500s. At the time, Henry VIII, played by Eric Bana, is king and is married to Catherine of Aragon. Sadly, Catherine is not able to bear a son for Henry. The duke of Norfolk, who is good friends with the king, gets wind of the information and secretly passes it on to his cousin of the Boleyn family. They decide that it is an opportune time to catch the king’s attention, since he would most likely be looking for someone to console with due to the queen’s inability to produce an heir. It is an important move for the family to improve its status and relationship with the king.
The mission to beguile the king is given to the duke’s niece (Natalie Portman), who is to seduce him with her charm and intelligence. That week the king arrives at the Boleyn manor to be entertained by the duke. In the king’s presence, Anne acts ambitious and fearless, but is too headstrong for Henry.
Behind it all, her younger, golden-haired sister, Mary, played by Scarlett Johansson, catches the eye of Henry with her open heart and generosity. Even though she is married, he is quite taken with her ability to nurse him back to health. He demands that Mary and her sister leave the countryside and enter the court, where they are to act as ladies in waiting to the queen. Thus, begins the rivalry between the two sisters.
Upon entering court, Mary becomes Henry’s mistress while Anne is left in the shadows. Though Mary feels uncomfortable in this new environment, Anne relishes it. However, she is ultimately banished to France when she secretly becomes engaged to a lord in court who is already betrothed to another. The initial affection the king feels for Mary diminishes when Anne returns to the English court and enthralls the king with her changed personality. While Mary is driven by true love, Anne is driven by ambition and will not stop until she becomes the queen of England.
Ultimately, the story is about the bond between two sisters and the dangerous yet thrilling life they lead in the English court. Directed by Justin Chadwick, the movie has all the elements found in a romance with added violence and intrigue for effect. The plot is slightly jarring at times but always interesting, making you question what will happen next. Also, the way the movie is filmed makes it feel as if you are a bystander, watching the complex web become more and more intricate as the plot continues.
As for acting, hands down, the best performance is by Portman, who portrays Anne as flirtatious and coquettish but also methodical and self-driven. In the middle of the movie, when Anne returns from France, Portman shows the transformation that Anne has gone through. She is dressed more sophisticatedly, moves with more grace and speaks more eloquently. Her attitude is much more restrained as well and she has a captivating power over Henry that no other woman has.
At the end of the movie, she shows a range of emotion, becoming hysterical at points and showing clear understanding of her fate. Johannson fits the role of Mary well, acting very shy and demure yet sensual throughout much of the movie. Bana, playing Henry, acts the part of the proud and pompous king who becomes more and more enraged toward the end of the movie.
‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ is an entertaining movie. Set in the 1500s, the period costume and setting add all the necessary effects to an already scandalous plot. It is definitely worth seeing on the big screen and may make you want to the read the book as well.