Historical dramas aren't as popular as they were during the years when they were routinely clogging Oscar nomination lists and taking home awards, so it's a source of curiosity every time one comes out to see what concessions have been made to increase the story's popularity with today's multiplex-going audiences. The Other Boleyn Girl, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, comes from BBC Films, which has a long and respected reputation for this sort of motion picture. The director is Justin Chadwick, whose previous credits include helming the critically acclaimed Bleak House for the BBC. So what's the compromise? For this very English tale, none of the three leads is English. To maximize appeal, the cast is highlighted by Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, and Eric Bana. Fortunately, though none of the trio is British, they are capable actors, so the story does not suffer. The result is an entertainingly sudsy trip through early 16th century English history.
The Other Boleyn Girl is divided into two sections. The first part is a romantic melodrama about the sisterly rivalry between Anne (Portman) and Mary Boleyn (Johansson) for who will capture the affections of King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). The second part rushes through various events of historical importance, such as the creation of the Church of England, to emphasize Anne's rise to prominence as the Queen of England, followed by her fall. The early scenes, which have a more leisurely pace and are less concerned with plot development, are more enjoyable. The tragic arc of Mary's story is more affecting than that of the less sympathetic Anne. King Henry, while accorded a fair amount of screen time, is more of a plot element than a well developed individual. The story is presented from the points-of-view of Anne and Mary; the king is always an object and never the subject.
Historically, the film boasts a reasonable (although not flawless) accuracy. It helps that things from that time period are not all well known - this allows more artistic license to be taken, and since the figures portrayed herein have been dead for some 450 years, they're not going to complain. The primary purpose of The Other Boleyn Girl is to tell a story, not to provide a history lesson. Anyone searching for more than a cursory examination of why Henry broke with Rome won't find it here. The movie is about Henry, Anne, and Mary's domestic lives not their public ones (to the extent that those can be separated). Once the narrative has joined Anne and Henry in matrimony, it shifts into the fast lane and accelerates toward the unhappy conclusion. By then, the story has been told - it's just lacking an ending. The consequence of this approach is that some audience members may sense things are missing during the race to the climax. The pace is so fast during this section that it's almost unseemly.
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