Starring: Eric Bana, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Justin Chadwick (“Sleeping with the Fishes”)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“The Queen”)
Based on the novel by Phillipa Gregory, “The Other Boleyn Girl” gets all glamed up with nowhere to go for the same reasons as 2005’s “Memoirs of a Geisha.” All the literary pieces seem to be there in some fashion, but cinematically they evolve into a film less historically savvy and more melodramatic and unreal.
It is the early 16th century and King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) is growing weary of having to wait for his queen, Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), to give birth to his heir to the throne. When her last pregnancy ends with a stillborn, the king ventures out to find a mistress to provide to him with a son.
He meets Anne Boleyn (Portman), a pretty daughter of the Boleyn family who is loosely connected to the royal court. Knowing this, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), who is brother of Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas), sees an opportunity for the family to take advantage of the power that would be bestowed upon them if King Henry were to choose Anne as his lover. “Would you accept the challenge?” the king asks Anne, as if she was about to enter some sort of sexual gauntlet.
Henry’s attention, however, is diverted to Mary (Johansson), the other Boleyn girl, who quickly strikes his fancy without doing much. But could a man actually come between Mary and Anne as it does in this instance? In the opening sequence, screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen”) attempts to set up the idea that these two sisters are very close to one another. This thought is forgotten once both women flex their claws and do everything they can to seduce the king, who spends all of his time worrying about who he’s going to bed and no time actually doing anything a king would do.
Who believes Bana as the king anyway? He is a sore thumb and terribly miscast and Johansson, this generation’s most overrated actress, swoons enough for author Gregory’s next five novels. When she doesn’t, she situates herself behind simple dialogue and brilliant set design to blend into her surroundings. Only Portman, at least in the final act, is able to escape some of the formulaic scenes to prove there is actually blood pumping through one of the character in habiting the castle.
Still, there is direction missing in “Boleyn Girl,” which might not be so apparent if Morgan hadn’t written the script right after going on a Danielle Steele book-reading marathon. Where there should be passion there’s tacky love affairs. Where there should be strength from the crown, there’s a schoolboy crushing. Make no mistake about it, “The Other Boleyn Girl” will be an easy period piece to forget once the credits (and heads) roll.