It’s no doubt a producer’s wet dream to cast Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman as the two Boleyn girls. Johansson is the domestically-inclined Mary (‘What about our future in the country?’ she grumbles in Good Housekeeping fashion to her drippy husband) and Portman (more successfully) is the more forthright Anne, newly and unconvincingly emboldened by a spell at the French court (it’s a small mercy she doesn’t return with a copy of ‘The Second Sex’ under her arm).
The pair’s stellar presence at least fits the film’s Holbein-meets-Annie Leibovitz colour palette; let’s call it the Vanity Fayre look.Polite, well-made, adequately performed, moderately paced – television director Justin Chadwick’s take on Philippa Gregory’s racy, trashy novel is everything you don’t want it to be. Morgan’s script is workable if skeletal and possessed of some odd turns of speech (‘Would you accept the challenge?,’ Howard asks Anne, imitating a gameshow host as he pushes her towards Henry).
The film takes itself too seriously (see the literal dark clouds over the palace) and never ignites as it should in a storm of rivalries, fear, sex and religion. There’s a 15-minute period of paranoia as Anne’s relationship with Henry (a brooding Bana, sidelined) falls to pieces and you wish there was more of this. Where are the sparks? The dirt? The sex? And where’s Cardinal Wolsey while we’re at it? Most memorable are the costumes.