In anticipation of revisiting one of my favorite historical periods, I waited in line to see "The Other Boleyn Girl," directed by Justin Chadwick. New perspective, what's not to like, I thought. I even invited one of my friends to join me at the Metreon cinema south of Market Street. After the preview, Barry and I drowned our cinematic sorrows around the corner at Jillian's restaurant, and that was expensive grieving.
Look, there is a reason poor little Mary is known as the other Boleyn girl, to the extent she is known at all. She simply did not have an impact on history. Despite the best efforts of Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn and Eric Bana as King Henry VIII, this "rice crispy" version of little Mary's soap-opera life does not signify.
King Henry VIII ruled England from 1509 to 1547. He married six times; he divorced two of his wives and executed another two. One died in childbirth and the last one managed to outlive him. He was a ruthless lecher, among other things, but we're still fascinated by him and his times. Mary Boleyn, "the other Boleyn girl," gave in to the predatory king too soon, and she became a footnote in Tudor history. Anne held out for a crown and became the mother of Elizabeth, one of England's great queens. Henry had his wife Anne killed when their daughter was a toddler.
So much rich history, which has been filmed many times, both for the big screen and for television's Masterpiece Theatre over the years. At best this new film is about beautiful costumes and well-groomed horses galloping along tree-lined paths from one medieval house to another. At worst it's filled with trivial dialogue and misleading history.
Natalie Portman is really convincing as Anne Boleyn, the famous "Anne of a Thousand Days," brought to life so beautifully by Genevieve Bujold in the 1969 Charles Jarrot film. However, Portman's best efforts as Anne are sabotaged by second-rate writing. In the earlier Bujold film, a play by Maxwell Anderson was adapted for the screen. In "The Other Boleyn Girl," a novel by Philippa Gregory is the inspiration. Both Gregory and the screenwriter who adapted her work have "credentials," but no amount of acting, editing or explaining could salvage this unfortunate script.
The Tudor period with its cold-blooded kings and unhappy queens remains popular, filled as it is with power struggles, assassinations, religious purges, and graphic exploitation of young female nobility. Kingdoms and empires rose and fell on the basis of whose wife could produce a healthy heir. That's why Anne Boleyn's story continues to fascinate, as does that of her murderous husband, Henry VIII, and her brilliant daughter, the first Queen Elizabeth. Mary Boleyn's story, on the other hand, does not arouse one's interest at all.
Go for the horses, rich costumes, countryside views, well-preserved medieval houses, and good performances by Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman. Ignore the script.
March 27, 2008
(c) 2008, 2009 Jeanne Powell
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