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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Other Boleyn Girl (review)

Good to Be the Queen?

Some people are just meant to be movie stars — they’ve got that indefinable It that makes them glow onscreen, that makes them impossible not to watch. They make movies a joy to watch. Maybe they don’t render movies historically accurate. Maybe they don’t transform movies into Great Art. So what? They make movies fun and sexy. Mean and nasty. Whatever you’re looking for in a movie to let you escape from reality into a fantasy of intrigue and romance.
And that’s all in The Other Boleyn Girl, the fun sexiness, the mean nastiness, the oh-my-god-movie-starness of Scarlett Johansson (no relation — don’t I wish I could glom onto her gorgeousness) and Natalie Portman and Eric Bana. They are not movie stars who let you forget you’re watching movie stars — at least not in this movie, and maybe costume dramas bring that out in certain actors; they’re not, at least not in this movie, actors who can disappear into their roles. But that’s okay. It’s redolent of the kind of glamour and charismatic faux-trickery of Golden Age Hollywood, like watching Cary Grant or Katharain Hepburn in anything: you never really want to see a character, you want to just bask in their radiance for an hour or two.

That’s sort of not fair, when it comes to this flick, because it’s not like these three stars aren’t real actors, don’t want to be taken seriously: it’s just their own damn dumb luck that they’re so impossibly captivating in that movie-star way. And so the kind of sexual Mexican standoff in which they find themselves circling around one another becomes a ridiculously delicious soap opera. England’s King Henry VIII (Bana [Lucky You, Troy], and I’d never have thought to cast him, as big a fan as I am of his, but he’s scrumptious and infuriating in the best way) finds himself first entranced by the aristocratic but sweetly innocent Mary Boleyn (Johansson: The Prestige, The Black Dahlia), never mind that she’s already married to a perfectly nice if beneath-her-station merchant (she loves him, so who cares about station?). And then he decides he really wants Mary’s sister Anne (Portman: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, V for Vendetta), who, you know, really wants him too, cuz not only is he gorgeous like Eric Bana, he’s the king of England, which brings a lot of perqs to an overlooked daughter of a second-rate nobleman. Oh, and never mind that Henry was already married to someone else, too. It’s all to do with making sure he gets the male heir he desperately wants, and Bana’s monarch is so honkingly despicable, and the women are so graspingly power-hungry, that you can’t help but get caught up in it. Plus, you know, the clothes — which are absurd and fascinating at the same time — and the manners — which are like the clothes, baroque parodies of propriety and decorum barely covering scandal and outrage and vile ambition — and the delectableness of women grabbing authority whichever way they can, if they’re to be denied it via the routes men can take…

Who cares if it matches what history professors tell us? (Apparently, it doesn’t quite, though I’m not expert enough on the British monarchy to say so one way or the other.) I don’t mean to denigrate the study of history, which is supremely vital, but this ain’t about the past: it’s about here and now, as stories set in the past always are. Do you really want to keep women “in their place”? Because, look, you can’t keep a smart, determined woman down. It’s kinda hilarious, actually, that the “other” Boleyn girl here is the one history remembers best, Anne, the one who lost her head for love of the king… or love of the power that the love of the king could bring. Screenwriter Peter Morgan, adapting Philippa Gregory’s novel, has built a career on exploring the foibles of the ultra powerful — The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, the forthcoming Frost/Nixon — and he knows what he’s talking about. (British actor turned director Justin Chadwick wisely stands aside and lets his writer and stars do the heavy work.) You might take off a lady’s head once she starts to annoy you, but don’t be so sure that her daughter won’t have the the ultimate revenge in the long run.

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content and some violent images

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
  • I can’t claim any relation to Scarlett Johansson, either. (Yes, for those of you who don’t know: My surname is Johanson, just like MaryAnn. But we’re not related.)

    I’ve been considering going to see this movie, if for no other reason than to compare it to Showtime’s series The Tudors, returning for a second season next month: Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Henry VIII, and Natalie Dormer (from Casanova) plays Anne Boleyn. Mary Boleyn was introduced and disappeared from the story fairly quickly. The Tudors is lavishly soapy and I’m sure its historical accuracy leaves much to be desired, but it’s still fun to watch. (Especially Natalie Dormer. Yowza.)

  • MaryAnn

    I haven’t seen *The Tudors,* so I can’t compare them.

  • getoutofthewaterophelia

    I thought this book–and most of Gregory’s “historical fiction”–was total harlequin nonsense. So I really shouldn’t have been surprised that the movie was too. You can enjoy harlequin nonsense if the film/books KNOWS it’s harlequin dribble but that was the problem with both the book and movie–they take themselves wwwwaaaayyyy too seriously to allow you to partake in the trash.
    MJ, I think I’m the only person who doesn’t get Scarlett Johansson AT ALL. Before she glammed herself up to impersonate Monroe (I love how red lipstick, bleached blonde hair and a good stylist can make you a throwback to Old Hollywood. We should all give it a shot!) she was a pretty plain looking girl. I find her acting incredibly lazy and one-track–every line in every film is delivered in that same flat, deadpan monotone, with a limited number of facial expressions. I find it kind of strange that all her roles are played along the same line: her work in Lost in Translation could have passed for Girl with the Pearl Earring, which could have passed for The Other Boleyn Girl, which could have passed for The Prestige and so on…
    Maybe to some people that’s depth and wisdom beyond her years, but to me it just comes off as a lack of range and an easy out if you want to impress critics–after all, it’s hard to call someone a bad actress if they don’t really, um, ‘act’. Smart girl, that Johansson. I’ll give her points for that.
    While Portman often misses her mark as an actress–misplaced histrionics or pulling out the ingenue card when all else fails–I do appreciate the fact that she throws it all out there and genuinely looks like she’s done her homework and is trying to get under the skin of her character. You talk about movie stars, MJ–I think that’s the difference between Portman (and several other rare young actresses today who are few and far in between) and Johansson: the former is trying to be an actress, the latter is trying to be a movie star. Which makes for a very awkward chemistry, as was the case with The Other Boleyn Girl.

  • Jan Willem

    Not having seen the film, an not in any particular hurry to do so, I would like to abuse this opportunity to send a note of encouragement to getoutofthewaterophelia. I don’t see why Scarlett J. is considered such a hot property, either. She was pretty useful as a dull background for bespectacled motormouth Thora Birch in Ghost World, but she and Jon Rhys-Meyers bored me to death by non-acting in Woody Allen’s awful Match Point and Lost in Translation was pretty much lost on me, too. Let’s agree to disagree with the majority out there.

  • getoutofthewaterophelia

    I gave ScarJo a chance, honest I did. Her pallid performances could pass for maturity when she was still a young teenager, but now the gig is getting old. There are plenty of pretty faces who get by and are fully acknowledged by Hollywood as ONLY pretty faces–so when a bland-looking, bland-acting starlet receives a Mt. Olympus-sized portion of hype for both, I just don’t understand it. I think she’s gotten used to playing the husky somnambulist, top that with (an increasingly creepy) Woody Allen pronouncing her his new and foremost muse, and what’s left to do but sit pretty and let the applause roll in?

  • Well, truth be told, my interest in Scarlett is almost completely prurient. ;-) I like her voice, and obviously she’s very attractive. But a great actress, she is not, not even in Lost in Translation. Natalie Portman is a much better actress, and cute to boot.

  • MaryAnn

    I like Scarlett, and I think she’s a fine actress, but be fair: she’s still very young, even if she’s not still a teenager.

    Not that I’m suggesting that Portman is not a goddess…

  • Lis

    Like another poster said, the very inaccurate novel and its movie adaptation take themselves a bit too seriously. Pacing seems to be off in the second middle half and there’s not enough meat in this puppy. The Tudors TV series, which seems aimed at the same audience, is trashier but bolder, and succeeds more than The Other Boleyn Girl.

  • drusillaO.

    23 is not terribly young, MJ–especially in Hollywood years. Scarlett’s not a teenager anymore; like getinthewaterophelia said, she’s a very one-track actress. What I find funny (is that the right word?) is that Johansson’s pretty outspoken and often downright insolent in a lot of her interviews–I keep thinking of ther Vogue interview last year where she harrassed a poor French Creole server, teasing him about “voodoo and witchcraft”. So where’s all this sassy fire onscreen? Why are we left with the same lifeless performances film after film?
    This movie def. seemed like it had a lot of conflicting tones from its leads–in the end I was left wondering if this wasn’t just a vehicle to stud the screen with a costume-clad Portman & Johansson.

  • yeatsco.

    Personally, I just thought this film was terribly miscast from beginning to end. I don’t know about anyone else but I’m so sick of Hollywood using the same starlets every damn time, without even glancing at the more talented (and often more attractive) actors out there. I thought Emily Blunt or Eva Green would have made terrific Annes; Romola Garai would have been a wonderful Mary, so would Sophia Myles. True, none of those are ‘celeb’ names, but even with Portman/Johansson at the helm this film is still doing pretty mild at the box office.
    I agree with the above posters, Johansson’s pretty dismal to watch onscreen–no matter how much boob & lip she keeps throwing at us, Monroe she is not and never will be. I think she’s the collective product of a powerhouse PR firm, ballsy agent and your classic stage mother–don’t even get me started on her upcoming role as Mary Queen of Scots and the influences that snagged her the part. (Mommie’s producing? Hmmmmm…wonder if any other actresses were even auditioned?)
    I can take or leave Portman–when she’s good, she’s very good and when she’s weak it’s pretty painful. Her Anne was certainly the most interesting of all the characters, and far more multi-layered than Bana’s horny king and Johansson’s autistic Mary.
    I just think the film was way too cheesy and Lifetime-esque considering how seriously its actors took their roles. Surely they knew they were signing on to do some serious schmaltz????

  • MaryAnn

    even with Portman/Johansson at the helm this film is still doing pretty mild at the box office.

    Actually, the film did quite well in its first weekend: it had the highest per-screen average, by far, of the top 10 films.

    I agree with the above posters, Johansson’s pretty dismal to watch onscreen–no matter how much boob & lip she keeps throwing at us,

    Yeah! Why doesn’t she cover up her lips like a proper, decent woman?!

  • yeatsco.

    Actually, MJ, I think the better question is: “Why doesn’t ScarJo take some acting lessons like a proper, decent actress?”
    Well, at least those lips of hers that can’t seem to shut themselves drew a good audience for the opening weekend…there’s hope yet.
    –BTW, I love how you choose to comment on the most minor details of my post; it wasn’t about her lips/boobs, it was about her acting. I notice how little you have to comment about that. Interesting.

  • loraleilee

    I actually loved how the movie’s poster exagerrated ScarJo’s and Natalie’s lips to ridiculous portions–along with several other details. God, I love Hollywood.
    Let’s face it, folks–in our age of reality TV, flimsy blockbusters and plastic actors, we’re desperate to find and elevate a cinematic icon. Look’s like Scarlett’s it for now.

  • MaryAnn

    BTW, I love how you choose to comment on the most minor details of my post; it wasn’t about her lips/boobs, it was about her acting. I notice how little you have to comment about that. Interesting.

    Interesting that you clearly do NOT notice how I HAVE ALREADY COMMENTED on Johansson’s acting, both in the review and in the comments above. Must I repeat myself endlessly? I don’t see the point in that.

  • Mel

    I have to admit that I liked this even less than The Golden Age–not just for the historical inaccuracy (I’m one of those weird people who thinks the real history would make a great movie), but also because it didn’t make much sense. The machinations of the Howards/Boleyns, even with the license Gregory took, at least made coherent sense in the book. The book’s timeline made sense–the movie, of course, had to compress 20+ years of events into 2 hours. Henry’s sexual aggression (to put in mildly) towards Anne was gratuitous. But even the actors I liked in other things just weren’t terribly compelling–Cate Blanchett at least makes a fairly believable and interesting Elizabeth.

    And my brain just boggles at Anne Boleyn raising the young Princess Elizabeth. There has to be a point at which historical revisionism is Not Acceptable. People actually do leave the theatre thinking this stuff is accurate.

  • mrsdarcytoyou

    What do you mean? Does Anne not lose her head at the end of the film? I read the book, but haven’t seen the movie yet–hadn’t planned onit. But now you’ve got me intriqued–don’t tell me they have her living for a while in order to raise the future Queen Elizabeth?! LOL. LOL A LOT.

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, Anne loses her head at the end of the film. And later we see young Elizabeth, maybe three or four years old, playing with Mary’s children. I can’t remember whether the film states explicitly that Mary and her husband raised Elizabeth — which would, I think, be historically inaccurate — or whether Elizabeth is merely playing with her cousins.

    Still, the idea of the ending is that the Boleyn ambition for power would be recognized a generation later with Elizabeth.

  • m

    Script. Problematic. And after some thought — I just watch them and score them; I don’t write them — I think I understand why.

    Peter Morgan’s “Queen” and “Scotland” scripts were brilliant, but they were based on much more modern monarchies than the Tudor dynasty.

    In attempting to make the action accessible, he’s using modern idiom — both in his characters’ lines and his screen directions — instead of the one in the century where his action is placed.

    BTW, MaJo – I read Jezebel, and I mentioned you over there today in a film critic discussion, so if you get a sudden influx of readership, I’d like my props in the form of a quietly and tastefully rigged giveaway. *kthx* :D

  • I cannot wait to see this, it opens in South Africa next week Friday…YAY!

    Loved the reiew.

  • Mel

    Sorry, I meant Mary and mistyped. Even playing with Mary’s children is beyond unlikely, given Mary’s marriage beneath her station etc. (And don’t get me started on movie!Stafford.)

  • A. Nonymous

    Scarlett Johansson (no relation — don’t I wish I could glom onto her gorgeousness)

    Oh, I’d say you got your share… ;-)

    Re: the whole question of whether SJ is a good actress or not, the primary goal of Hollywood films is to make money. People are cast because it’s believed their presence will contribute to the bottom line. If being a good actor was the primary consideration, Brooke Shields wouldn’t have had a career. But I’ll give Brooke credit, it’s only taken her a scant 30 years or so to go from laughable to passable.

    However, SJ “plain” looking? Dang, what island of Amazons do you people live on where she only rates a “plain”?

  • Robert

    Just rented this.

    A lot of the above commentary is spent on SJ’s acting. I haven’t seen enough of her work to make a comprehensive statment on her abilities but it seemed to me she gave a performance that was appropriate for the character and film. Her character was the more introverted of the sisters.

    I wonder if was a different actor who they didn’t have a predisposition to dislike, if they’d use phrases like “economical”, “less is more” or whatever. John Wayne was essentially the same in every movie he did. Do DeNiro or Pacino change radically from one film to the next?

    I watch films like this under the assumption they’re going to take liberties with history, not that it’s meant to be historical non-fiction. If one insists on complete accuracy, it’s probably a safe assumption they didn’t have Pantene hair and Colgate smiles. Pics of Hank 8 even in his youth sure don’t look anything like Eric Bana. From what I’ve read, the film seems to hit the major historical points fairly faithfully. I believe a lot of the detail isn’t known with certainty, there’s a certain amount of speculation regarding a lot of it.

    It’s never been quite clear to me why Anne Boleyn had to be killed, on trumped-up charges no less. Why not simply give her the bum’s rush as he did Katherine Of Aragon? Who btw I thought was a superb character in this film.

    The mind boggles as to how different the psychology and mindset of people of this era was, seemingly more similar to Middle Easterners of today than what Americans are accustomed to. Daughters regarded as so much chattel, Henry VIII had wives killed for adultery when he committed such acts with impunity. Amazing that a wife would so readily accept her husband being such a dog, but that sort of thing seems to be rampant even today among political types.

    A bit of history I ran across, is that it’s reported that in an effort to lessen her suffering Anne’s executioner called out “Where is my sword?” just before striking her so she wouldn’t realize it was coming. I would have thought that would have been worthy of putting in the film.

  • Robert

    The mind boggles as to how different the psychology and mindset of people of this era was, seemingly more similar to Middle Easterners of today than what Americans are accustomed to.

    I should amend that, more similar to totalitarian regimes throughout history, including more modern times.

  • bitchen frizzy

    The rumors and charges against Anne Boleyn snowballed into crimes punishable by death. Nobody wanted to argue her innocence, so the inertia of events carried her to the chopping block.

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