The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Rylance, David Morrissey
Directed by: Justin Chadwick
With the critical failures of The Other Boleyn Girl and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, I hope studios have moved on from the idea that dressing up actors in period garb and having them speak in high culture accents is enough to make it seem like art. Because as this movie proves (as The Golden Age did before it), paying more attention to costume and set design than story is no more artful than is paying more attention to explosions and CGI.
Other than attention to period details and postcard perfect visuals of historical settings, there’s nothing else to recommend about The Other Boleyn Girl. There isn’t much to praise or critique the performers for, as they are saddled with empty, exposition-heavy dialogue and are mostly treated as set pieces as the movie strains to keep the plot moving through several years of Tudor history. At the same time, none of them do anything to elevate the movie by their performances, so they aren’t entirely blameless for its failings. For the most part, the young cast of Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, Scarlett Johansson as her sister Mary, and Eric Bana as the object of their rivalry, King Henry VIII are treated like everything else in the movie: gorgeous scenery put through its paces by director Justin Chadwick. None were particularly interesting as characters, but all were nice to look at.
Beyond being the latest example of staid period piece about royalty, The Other Boleyn Girl is a great example of how longer books make for bad movie adaptations (paperback editions of the book reach over 700 pages). Such lengths don’t fit well into the 2 to 2.5 hours generally allotted to film (the movie isn’t particularly long at 115 minutes), so the books are usually stripped down to mere plot developments for the script, rushing along from plot point to plot point with the extras either left out or presented as mere exposition. The problem is that unless a story is particularly plot driven, the film comes off as flavourless and disaffecting. In the case of The Other Boleyn Girl, we aren’t allowed to care about the fates of the two sisters, because we don’t spend anytime getting to know them. Each time a character is introduced, we are TOLD what they are like, because the movie doesn’t have time to SHOW us. At least, that’s how it is with feature characters. Supporting characters don’t even get that much, as they are only brought in when they can’t be removed from the driving action of the movie, then they disappear with little explanation once they can be removed.
The result is a story that felt like it should be character driven, without any character development. We are left to try to invest in the plot, but unfortunately, the plot is completely dependant on how invested we are in the characters in order to care about a story that’s already been told many times before. I can’t imagine there are many people watching this movie without knowing what becomes of Anne Boleyn, so instead we should care why it happens to THIS Anne Boleyn, and what it means for THIS Mary Boleyn. Instead, we’re left to appreciate some top notch textiles and awards calibre art direction, which is about as scintillating as it sounds.