The king is coming! Let there be a furious filleting of fish, a rapid tightening of corsets. The Other Boleyn Girl is one of those faux-fancy historical dramas pitched at soap-opera sensibilities; the adapting screenwriter is The Queen’s nimble Peter Morgan but the source material comes from Philippa Gregory, who writes Harlequin-like pap for an upscale readership. She does know how to set a stage, give her that. Even before the Boleyn manor flies into a state of royal panic at the visit of Henry VIII (Bana), we see its sibling protagonists in an earlier year, dappled in sunlight, running in bliss. These kids, we are to believe, grow up to become the sultry Anne (Portman, way too modern for this) and Mary, who, though ostensibly plainer, could be played in Hollywood logic only by Scarlett Johansson. Who will snare the married king’s affections and net the family some privileged ho status?
Overscored and lacking even the faintest realism of period, the movie still bears undeniable trash charms, if nothing near the deep satisfactions of such medieval nonsense as Beckett. The real Boleyn story is fairly close to a female nightmare: daughters being traded for sex, a whiff of incest, a finish involving multiple beheadings. But BBC director Justin Chadwick paces these unseemly plot points briskly, with the butts of antsy viewers in mind. Pregnancies and miscarriages fly by in minutes. At the center of the heir-making storm is Johansson, who strains mightily (perhaps unwisely) to lend this undignified project some gravity. Those who remember Girl with a Pearl Earring know she can bloom in quiet suffering. Unfortunately, this is a project that requires volume.
Cast and crew
Kristin Scott Thomas