Film Review: The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman cast a starry glow over Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl

“When was it that people stopped thinking of ambition as a sin and started thinking of it as a virtue?”

There’s something almost anarchic about the way in which The Other Boleyn Girl casually disregards history in favour of melodrama. But there’s no other way in which Justin Chadwick’s film could reasonably play it, concertinaing some 15 years of tumultuous history into less than two hours of really rather enjoyably trashy entertainment.

Peter Morgan’s screenplay adapts Philippa Gregory’s novel of the same name, and fully embodies the bodice-ripping nature of the historical fiction on which she has made her name. They reimagine Mary Boleyn as a virtuous, wholesome younger sister for Anne, thereby creating an unexpectedly complicated rival for Henry VIII’s affections.

And as this Tudor yarns romps gaily throughout historians’ nightmares, it does so with some flair. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman pair up and face off as the sisters, though Portman could possibly have gone a bit further with Anne’s manipulative nature. That said, the paciness of the script does her little favour as the actuality of her reign is hardly given any time here.

Around them, there’s a sterling cast of Brit talent to add ballast to this Hollywood frippery (Eric Bana is admittedly great fun as Henry). Kristin Scott Thomas and Mark Rylance hover around the edges as the Boleyn parents, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne both palely interesting as Mary’s husbands and David Morrissey’s puppetmaster-in-chief Norfolk is excellently done. Divertingly good fun.

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