Starring: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana
Director: Justin Chadwick
Running Time: 115 mins
The Other Boleyn Girl is a British/American film about the history of the Boleyn sisters, Anne and Mary, and the complex relationship they both shared with King Henry VIII as Anne rose to become his second wife.
There’s no denying that history can be like a soap opera, and there are surely few periods of history that fit that description quite as well as the saga of Henry VIII and his wives. In that, The Other Boleyn Girl arguably hits the nail on the head with its portrayal of the rise of Anne Boleyn to become the King’s wife, along with the secret relationship between Henry VIII and Anne’s sister Mary.
So, the film provides some interesting and entertaining scandal throughout, and an enjoyably passionate eye for period history that many others lack. However, its soap opera style does more to cheapen the significance of the events on screen more than anything else, and along with a number of what we’ll call rather creative interpretations of history, The Other Boleyn Girl doesn’t quite hit home on a historical level at any point.
One of the keys, then, to enjoying this film is how you approach it. If you’re looking for a by-the-book, purely factual account of the controversies and machinations of Henry VIII’s court, then you will be sorely disappointed by this film. On the other hand, though, if you approach The Other Boleyn Girl as a romantic drama and embrace the soap opera that it is, then it can be rather good fun at times.
For me, that entertainment factor is definitely the film’s strongest point, with a glee for all things scandalous and Machiavellian in court that combines with a hyperbolic brand of drama throughout. As a result, everything really does feel like a soap opera, but for some of the backstabbings, infidelities and grand moments of history, that vibe works surprisingly well, giving the film a far more fun, enjoyable quality than what you may generally expect from a period drama.
Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson’s performances work well to add to that sense of high drama and controversy, with the pair putting on their best ‘innocent young girl with scheming ambitions’ faces throughout. That might not always do the best service to the historical fact of either of the Boleyn sisters, but it does contribute very nicely to the film’s enjoyably melodramatic tendencies.
However, as much fun as the soap opera style can be at the film’s most deliciously controversial moments, it really doesn’t sit well with those looking to gain something slightly more serious out of The Other Boleyn Girl. Of course, not every historical drama has to be a dry, purely factual affair (the less of those, the better), however a film like this does deserve a little more in the way of assured and confidently accurate history to hammer home the significance of the events it’s portraying.
As a result, I really didn’t find all that much satisfaction with the film from a historical perspective, something I looked to see more of from this film than what is ultimately an out-and-out soap opera. Its historical inaccuracies notwithstanding, The Other Boleyn Girl is a film that never really knows where to focus when it comes to widening the lens from just the scandal and romance of court, darting about with an untrained eye as it attempts to involve the wider-reaching political, religious and social impacts of what is undeniably one of the most important events in Western history.
When the film is doing its job as a soap opera, it works like clockwork, but its attempts to blend the rivalry/sisterhood of Anne and Mary Boleyn with the wider historical significance of Henry VIII’s marriage saga are consistently messy and dramatically underwhelming. Add to the fact that, for a film called The Other Boleyn Girl, the story is far too focused on Anne’s historical role, with nowhere near enough focus on Mary to really earn its place as a film that tells a story different to what most of us know.
Overall, then, The Other Boleyn Girl, while a surprisingly entertaining watch at times, isn’t the world’s most impressive film when it comes to historical drama. It succeeds in creating enjoyable melodrama with its glee for soap opera and scandal, but it fails to bring that into an effective historical context, missing the opportunity to detail the significance of its story and give a powerful account of an immeasurably important historical event, which is why I’m giving it a 7.1.