A right royal romp
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL Directed by Justin Chadwick. Starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jim Sturgess, Mark Rylance, David Morrissey, Ana Torrent 15A cert, gen release, 115 min
THE observation that policemen are getting younger all the time could be applied to the recent screen incarnations of King Henry VIII, whose marital machinations continue to fascinate screenwriters.
For generations, the monarch was played by actors of bulky or bulked-up appearance: Charles Laughton, Robert Shaw, Richard Burton, Ray Winstone, and even Sidney James in Carry On Henry. Nowadays the tendency is towards sexing up Henry through casting cuter, thinner actors – Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Tudors and now Eric Bana in The Other Boleyn Girl.
The challenge of having so many productions about the same few royals, as the recent Elizabeth: The Golden Age demonstrated, is to make such familiar material seem fresh or interesting. On The Other Boleyn Girl, that challenge defeats the generally perceptive and dramatically resourceful Peter Morgan, a screenwriter whose preoccupation with power brokers is evident from The Queen and The Last King of Scotland.
Unwisely, Morgan opts for a surprisingly soapy treatment of the relationship between Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman), who became his second wife, and her younger sister, Mary (Scarlett Johansson).
Based on a Philippa Gregory novel, Morgan’s screenplay depicts Mary as noble, loving and saintly, and Anne as sly, smirking and vindictive. In seeking royal favour and advancement at a palace where the dreaded words for any pregnant consort are “It’s a girl”, Anne appears to be as determined and calculating as her father (Mark Rylance) and uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey).
The king’s establishment of the Church of England to facilitate his divorce from Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent). as well as his excommunication by Rome, are paid scant attention in a scenario obsessed with bed-hopping, even though this is handled more coyly than in The Tudors. The movie pays its closest attention to recreating the period in the exemplary work of costume designer Sandy Powell and Irish art director John-Paul Kelly.
Johansson suffers admirably as Mary, but Portman and Bana are seriously miscast in a movie that merely goes through the motions as it rehashes and plays with history. Its familiarity does not breed contempt, but it certainly prompts tedium.
Tudor tedium: Eric Bana and Scarlett Johansson