The Other Boleyn Girl (***)
The Other Boleyn Girl, scripted by Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) and based on Philippa Gregory’s 2001 novel, puts melodrama first and history second. This is wise, for its plot points (some of which are daringly outré, right out of a Shakespearean problem play) are, above all, titillating fun, rather than trite lessons on the making of the modern world. And its cast, especially Kristin Scott Thomas as the Boleyn mother, wants very much to share the romp with us. This alone puts the film head and shoulders above, say, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, in which only Cate Blanchett seems aware of the suds through which she is unmistakably wading.
Still, The Other Boleyn Girl casts a wide net, and is not the better for it. Gregory’s book is almost 700 pages long, and director Justin Chadwick appears rushed; no scene lasts much longer than a couple of minutes. And while this can give the film a kinetic bounce, it is often at the cost of logistics and character psychology. Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson both give startlingly acceptable performances as Anne and Mary respectively (the latter is typically somnambulant, but so is her character), yet there is not enough time alone with either of them to demonstrate this. Portman in particular is given a delicious career jolt with the headstrong Anne, yet her lines aren’t much more than coquettish and bitchy quips.
Following Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl offers a thesis: that throughout history women have ostensibly conceded power to men while actually taking firm hold of it. Anne is presented as an early Renaissance mover and shaker, with an interest in the Reformation; she is the real founder of the Church of England. But with all the bodice ripping, it’s hard to get a clear picture of this; indeed, The Other Boleyn Girl works best when it makes the bedchamber a metaphor for the court, slathering a naughty gloss on posterity.
The Other Boleyn Girl is now playing at Scotiabank Theatre (259 Richmond St. W.), the Varsity (55 Bloor St. W.), SilverCity Yonge & Eglinton (2300 Yonge St.) and others.