The Other Boleyn Girl


Directed by: Justin Chadwick
Written by:Peter Morgan
Starring: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Morrissey, Eddie Redmayne, Oliver Coleman
Released: March 13, 2008
Grade: A-

When I was in grade 9 at high school (back in 1991), I had a choice of studying either history or geography.  I chose geography.  History sounded boring.  What as the point of learning about all these ancient people and events and then having to sit exams about them?  Geography felt more relevant and topical.

Funnily enough, my appreciation for movies has also developed my appreciation for history.  Last November, I saw Elizabeth: The Golden Age starring Cate Blanchett.  Whilst I wasn’t a huge fan of the film, it raised my interested in the subject matter.  I did a lot of internet research after I saw the movie to find out more about Queen Elizabeth and her 45 year reign as England’s monarch.  They were turbulent times.

For those who have seen the two Elizabeth movies, The Other Boleyn Girl is best described as a prequel.  It looks at the relationship between her father, King Henry VIII (played by Eric Bana) and her mother, Anne Boleyn (played by Natalie Portman).

Henry VIII ascended the throne in 1509 but came under increasing pressure from the public when his wife, Catherine, could not provide a male heir.  It was suggested to the King that he take on a mistress.  Thomas Boleyn (Rylance) put forward both of his daughters, Anne and Mary (Johansson) as suitable candidates.

This may sound like a strange proposition but it was a sign of the times.  It was considered to be an honour to be the mistress of the King and Thomas thought that it would provide wealth and stability for his family.  Anne relished the opportunity.  She used her intelligence, beauty and charm to win the King’s favour.  Mary was reluctant on the other hand.  She preferred a simple life in the country and wasn’t too keen on fame and fortune.

Those familiar with the story will know how it ends.  I won’t reveal it for those less knowledgeable of 16th Century English history (like me).  Like a great Shakespearean tragedy, there’s love, greed and betrayal.

I was sceptical about the film going into the cinema because of the casting of Australian Eric Bana (Chopper) and Americans Natalie Portman (Closer) and Scarlett Johansson (Lost In Translation).  Couldn’t they have found some English actors to play these roles?  It looked to me like the producers were casting some big name Hollywood stars to boost its exposure and box-office takings.

With the luxury of hindsight, I can safely say that all the performances are solid.  Writer Peter Morgan (The Queen) and director Justin Chadwick have done a great job in distinguishing each member of the cast.  There are a lot of characters but the story is easy to follow – that’s not an easy achievement.  The standout for me was Natalie Portman and her emotionally energetic performance.  She’s fantastic.  Also worth a mention are the great costumes from Academy Award winner Sandy Powell (Shakespeare In Love, The Aviator).

There’s a lot more this story and I’m sure a few people will be disappointed that certain details have been omitted to squash the film into its 115 minute running time.  It didn’t bother me though and I liked what I saw on screen.  If you’re looking for more detail, you can read the novel from Philippa Gregory (with the same title) on which the film is based.