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The Other Boleyn Girl

March 20, 2008
The Other Boleyn Girl tells the story of sisters Anne and Mary, daughters to effette but ambitious Sir Thomas Boleyn, a man eager to manipulate his family’s fortunes by passing the girls decorously beneath the nose of the king. Childless, with the fate of the nation in the balance, king Henry needs a distraction, and Thomas believes he can supply the goods.

Now, you need a strong man as the captain of a ship on choppy waters. And when that ship is going down as spectacularly as this film sinks, you need that someone to be a man with a calm and assertive presence. So, why get Eric Bana to play Henry VIII? Backed up by Scarlett Johannson and Natalie Portman? It seems almost like comedy casting, and the trailer (holy shit, right?) does nothing to disavow you of that thought (“In an age when a woman’s destiny…”, etc.). Unfortunately, these ‘heavyweights’ act merely as dolorous ballast, with all the acting ability of wet sandbags.

Thank Fuck, then, for Mark Rylance as Sir Thomas. Rylance has been one of our unsung acting stalwarts and heroes for God only knows how long. As a stage actor he’s untouchable, and as a screen presence he’s mesmeric. For much of this woeful adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s historical potboiler he holds the centre calmly and authoritatively; and it is odd indeed that in the role of a weak and feeble man he lends the film almost all the gravitas it can muster. It’s called acting, apparently. David Morrissey and Ana Torrent, as Katherine of Aragon, help out nobly, but Rylance is the main guy here, easily acting the socks off the Eric, Scarlett and Nat triumvirate, who essentially end up being clothes horses. Aren’t the costumes lovely, you’re expected to say. Well, that’s as maybe, but they have no substance, these people, nothing that makes you give a shit about them, or hate them, or feel anything strongly about them at all. They’re not Josh Hartnett bad, or Hayden Christensen bad, but you end up with that all-time worst feeling, instead of the comfort of derision, you get indifference.

We lose Paul Schofield and gain Eric Bana. Maybe God reads Heat magazine, after all.

Jesus, Mary and J-Lo, but The Other Boleyn Girl is poor. These big name Hollywood stars stomp around clenching their buttocks and grimacing in dark corridors whilst hopping in and out of bed with each other, while declaiming actorly insights into the punctuations of English history:

Henry: I have torn this country apart – for you!

Norfolk: If the king anulls the marriage he will break with Rome!
Anne: Then why not? A new Church of England!

Norfolk: Why, this piece of paper that Your Majesty has just signed turns out to be some sort of death warrant!
Henry: Oops. …and I can’t go back on it without destroying the whole basis of the British Constitution…!
Norfolk: I fear not!

OK, maybe not the last one, but God’s Toenails, there is so much shouting and waving of meaty exam-level soundbitery in here it’s difficult not to see it as anything other than a pointless exercise in didactic historical simplicity. In one scene, the feisty Katherine of Aragon is saying she won’t recognise the divorce Henry expects, and in the very next he’s telling Anne that he’s just ripped the kingdom away from Rome. Oh aye? When did that happen then? Do these things that ‘change a country forever’, as the laughable what-happened-next subtitled epilogues state, not take very long then? Five minutes, wa-ha-heyy, excommunicated. Bish bash bosh.

The annoying thing is that there are things to admire here, some imagery and brief splashes of style that catch the eye, but with the three woodentops nodding along after each other for the majority of screen time, it suffers, almost fatally, from being deadly dull. What I wouldn’t have given for Genevieve Bujold and Richard Burton chewing the scenery with passion and gusto, and Anne whispering, with tears in her eyes that she has a “little neck” ready for the sword. Go see Anne of the Thousand Days if you want the same story told with verve; apart from Rylance and a couple of his thespy chums, this, I’m afraid is not even laughably bad. It’s a bloodless emotionless mess.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 21, 2008 9:43 pm

    This is one of those films I know I don’t have to see because Mrs Self wants to go with one of her girlie friends. It’s a disrecommendation in itself. No offence luv!

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