Movie Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

Starring: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana
Directed By: Justin Chadwick
Written By: Peter Morgan, from the novel by Philippa Gregory
BBC Films, 2008
PG-13; 115 minutes
2 stars (out of 5)


The Other Boleyn Girl was the first of Philippa Gregory's novels that I ever read—I picked it up at an airport bookstore, as I recall, prior to some trip—and probably still my favorite. So maybe this movie already had a strike against it going in, or at the very least some prejudice to overcome.

But here's the thing: while I can remember liking the book quite a lot, it's been long enough since I read it (and I've read enough other stuff since then) that I only remember a few details from the novel. So it's not as if I were watching this movie and saying to myself, "Well, in the book . . ."

What I was doing was thinking, "None of this rings much of a bell."

That is to say, the movie itself felt vague and without substance. I know enough about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to pick out the historical blurs in the story, but that didn't bother me so much; it's happened often enough that film and television punch things up, move things around, for the sake of a better story. Fine. But this didn't feel like a better story. It felt like a mishmash, a jumble of events that were weirdly disconnected, or maybe only thinly connected, like pearls held apart from one another on the same string. For example, William Carey at some point dies, though one either has to know the history or watch the deleted scenes to figure that out.

Johansson, for her part, did a lovely job as the demur Mary Boleyn. And Portman is believable as someone underhanded and nasty, though her luring of Bana's Henry didn't play quite true. The tension was lacking. In fact, every actor did a fair to fantastic job, but when put all together, the movie fell short of the sum of its parts. Baffling.

Makes me want to go re-read the book.

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