4/11/09

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Natalie Portman (Anne), Scarlett Johansson (Mary), Eric Bana (Henry VIII)

Directed by Justin Chadwick ("Bleak House")

Plot: For the differing reasons, two highborn sisters vie for the attention of England's king.

This was on the library new release shelf on Thursday, so I grabbed it.

Here's something to keep in mind if you're female and you find yourself caught up in an historical costume drama. If the king makes love to you amidst golden candlelight and intimate soft focus camera shots, you're virtuous, good and likely to survive. If the king rapes you, fully clothed in broad daylight, then you're scheming, determined, clever, and likely to have your head hacked off. Sorry.

Gender politics aside--which seemed to have been amplified for this film even beyond a) history, and b) Philippa Gregory's source material--this film was just plain dull. Had I know the director did nine episodes of my beloved "Bleak House," I would've approached watching it with more enthusiasm, and my disappointment would've been more profound. Now I'm just confused.

Oh, wait. Tedious. That's another word for this film.

Natalie Portman has been able to bring me to tears since she was 11. Léon, aka The Professional, remains one of my all-time favorite films. Her turn in Cold Mountain...tears. Heat...tears. Beautiful Girls...I just wanted to be her. I'm not sure whether it's her or the director or my general malaise by the time the big head-rolling finale arrived, but I was entirely unmoved. Amazing. Eric Bana remains vastly unattractive, and Scarlett, well, I wasn't expecting much.

What I enjoyed about Gregory's book is the tension of the last third. A literal page-turner! I really felt for Mary and wanted her out of that claustrophobic hellhole of court. The character of William Stafford, which is barely even given a line in the film, is much more significant, as is his growing attachment to Mary. He's her lifeline out of a nightmare world where her children are continuously threatened. I read and read and read, just wanting them safe and happy. None of that excitement could be found in the film, Mary's safety a a complete given. It became all about the macabre spectacle of the execution with no expectation that Mary could've been one of them--which was certainly a possibility.

The only performance I mostly enjoyed was "The Next Doctor"'s David Morrissey as Mary and Anne's plotting uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. He just seemed the perfect blend of brains and ambition bordering on over-ambition. The epilogue mentioned that he died in disgrace and his son, grandson, and great-grandson were all executed for treason. So of course I had to look it up. Henry VIII accused the son of conspiring to usurp the throne, the grandson (pictured here as portrayed by Christopher Eccleston in Elizabeth) was convicted of conspiring to marry Mary Queen of Scots and usurp the throne from Elizabeth, and the grandson just kinda pissed Elizabeth off by refusing to convert. A bad century for the stubborn, grasping dukes of Norfolk.

But my historical research was more fun than the film. Epic fail.

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