Friday, December 17, 2010

The Other Boleyn Girl

Originally Written and Posted on 3/2/08 w/ Additional Edits.

In the 16th Century, Henry VIII ruled England while he was known more for having six wives during his reign. The most famous wife of them all was his second Anne Boleyn who would later be beheaded in an accusation of adultery in 1536 three years after she became queen. During those years, she gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I who would be raised by Anne's sister Mary. The story of Anne Boleyn was then told from another perspective by novelist Phillippa Gregory from her sister Mary in the book entitled The Other Boleyn Girl. The book was a success as it's now become a film adaptation in the same name.

The Other Boleyn Girl tells the story of Anne and Mary Boleyn's relationship as sisters until they're met by Henry VIII. When Mary is chosen over Anne, she becomes the king’s mistress until Anne gets his attention and a rivalry ensues between the two sisters. Directed by Justin Chadwick with a screenplay by Peter Morgan of The Queen fame, the film is a dramatic re-telling on one of the greatest affairs in English history. Playing the title role of Mary Boleyn is Scarlett Johansson and as Anne Boleyn, Natalie Portman. With Eric Bana in the role of Henry VIII, the film also stars Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jim Sturgess, Juno Temple, and Ana Torrent. The Other Boleyn Girl is a superb though by-the-books period drama from Justin Chadwick and screenwriter Peter Morgan.

It's Mary Boleyn's wedding day as she is set to wed William Carey (Benedict Cumberbatch) with her older sister Anne and younger brother George (Jim Sturgess) watching. With their parents Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) and Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas) watching as well, arriving to the wedding is Elizabeth's brother The Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) who tells Thomas news of the king's dissatisfaction with his wife Queen Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), who could no longer bear children, let alone a son. With King Henry VIII losing interest in the queen, he seeks a mistress as Anne is suggested to be in the running. Though Elizabeth isn’t happy by the news, Anne reluctantly decides to take the chance in being the king's new mistress as well as a lady-in-waiting for the queen.

Henry arrives to meet the Boleyns as he catches the eye of Anne where she tries to impress with horseback riding. Unfortunately, Anne managed to get the king injured as he meets Mary who nurses him. Mary suddenly is set to become the new mistress as well as lady-in-waiting with William Carey given a position to work with the king and Duke of Norfolk. Mary reluctantly takes part as she has an encounter with the queen as she finds herself satisfying the king in many ways. Anne meanwhile, elopes with Henry Percy (Oliver Coleman) that gets her and the family in trouble as she is sent to France in exile. With George also set to be married to one of the king's lady-in-waiting in Jane Parker (Juno Temple), things look good for the Boleyns when Mary finds herself pregnant. With Mary now forced to lie in bed, Anne returns from exile as she charms the king while rejecting his gifts in order to maintain his attention towards Mary.

Mary eventually, gives birth to a boy but Anne's ambitions to have Henry's heart and such manages to have Henry ignore the newborn boy as well as Mary. Anne's charms wins over Henry with Mary now set to live in the country with her son while no longer married to William Carey. When troubles arises for Henry's desire to divorce Katherine and have Anne as his new queen, Mary returns to help Anne in her bid. When Henry makes the decision to break from the Catholic Church and form his own, he gets his divorce and Anne Boleyn becomes the new Queen of England. Yet, her plan to give birth to a son falters when she ends up giving birth to a girl named Elizabeth. When Anne makes attempts to give Henry a son, he starts to have his attention towards Jane Seymour (Corrine Galloway). Anne seeks help from Mary and George about getting a son as Mary decides she wants out. Joining her is William Stafford (Eddie Redmayne) who had long desired her as the two move to the country.

When Anne is suddenly accused of treason with George also indicted on the crime, Mary returns to London to help out her siblings. Mary makes a final plea for the king to spare her sister as the Boleyn family falls apart with the girls' mother distraught over what her husband and brother had done.

While the film doesn't have a serious approach to historical contents while not telling the audience when exactly the events in the film occurs. It does faithfully tell about Henry VIII's affairs with Anne Boleyn while taking on the perspective of Mary Boleyn. Credit goes to screenwriter Peter Morgan for delving into the film's historical approach as well as the love triangle between Henry VIII and the Boleyn sisters. While Anne Boleyn is portrayed as an ambitious, bitchy character, Mary is her opposite as a simple, shy character where the two seems to have something to offer to Henry VIII. The perspective of characters as well as the rest of the Boleyn family is wonderfully portrayed, particularly of Lady Elizabeth Boleyn who is forced to watch her daughters be treated like objects.

Director Justin Chadwick does a solid job in capturing the drama and atmosphere of the period. While nothing about the filmmaking is groundbreaking, Chadwick does deserve credit for creating a grand film that is true to the period-drama genre while delving into some amazing scenes for its drama and the tone of the times. Not everything Chadwick does is great, notably the love scenes as he emphasizes on styles that includes blurry shots that doesn't work. Chadwick falters in that while the suspense of something very dramatic that is to come lacks momentum. Still, despite its flaws, the film is a good period-drama.

Cinematographer Kieran McGuigan does an excellent job with the film's colorful tone in its exterior settings with the sunlight to convey the moods of the film. Some of the nighttime, darker scenes with elements of blue lights and shading is lovely to watch though it's not really much to get excited about. Editors Paul Knight and the legendary Carol Littleton does some wonderful work in the film's leisurely pacing while utilizing jump-cuts for some of the film’s dramatic exchanges between characters. Production designer John Paul Kelly, set decorator Sara Wan, and art director David Allday do an excellent job with the film's look of the interior homes with the look of chairs, tablecloths, and beds.

Sandy Powell's costume designs are wonderfully exquisite to the design of the dresses for the Boleyn sisters, Henry VIII's clothing, and the look of the period itself. Powell's work is truly superb as it is authentic to the look and feel of the 16th Century. Sound editor Julian Slater and mixers Ed Coyler and John Casali do excellent work in creating an atmosphere of the times including some of the film’s dramatic scenes that included a layering of an argument between Henry and Anne while the scene is showing Mary taking care of baby Elizabeth. The music of Ed Shearmur is wonderfully subtle with bass-heavy orchestration to convey the film's sense of drama without any epic arrangements and such.

The cast assembled by Karen Lindsay-Stewart is superb with appearances from Daisy Doidge-Hill, Kizzy Fassett, and Finton Reilly as the young Anne, Mary, and George Boleyn, respectively along with Alfie Allen as the king's messenger and Corrine Galloway as Henry's soon-to-be third wife Jane Seymour. From the Joe Wright adaptation of Atonement, supporting actors Benedict Cumberbatch as William Carey and Juno Temple as Jane Parker are excellent in their roles while Temple has a bigger role as George Boleyn's wife whom George doesn't seem to like very much. Oliver Coleman and Eddie Redmayne as the respective lovers of Anne and Mary are excellent with Redmayne in a bigger role as a man who desired Mary while sympathizing with her role in court.

Spanish actress Ana Torrent is excellent as Katherine of Aragon who intimidates Mary while having a presence that is very regal as she has a wonderful, subtle confrontation with Natalie Portman. David Morrissey is also great as the ambitious, conniving Duke of Norfolk whose connection to the king only causes trouble with his family as he is a character that cares more about prestige than family. Mark Rylance is brilliant as the ambitious Thomas Boleyn who decides to have his daughters become the king's mistresses hoping to ensure a prestigious position for him. Kristin Scott Thomas is superb as Lady Boleyn who is more concerned about her daughters' happiness instead of wealth as she is forced to see her family disintegrate. Thomas' scene where her anger at her husband and brother is just powerful.

Jim Sturgess is wonderful as George Boleyn, the loyal brother of Anne and Mary who hopes to protect them until he's forced to do something for Anne as he becomes confused and hurt. Eric Bana is okay but not great as Henry the VIII. The restraint and lack of heavy emotions makes the character of Henry the VIII very dull. Even when he has to be compared to Jonathan Rhys-Meyers of The Tudors mini-series.  Henry the VIII is supposed to be a man that is big and full of himself as Bana doesn't really do anything but sit around and just give orders.  It's a really uninspiring performance though there's moments where he can be romantic but doesn't exude the sexuality of the young Henry the VIII.

The film's best performances goes to the double-power combo of Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, where if they were one, they'd be called Scartalie Porthansson. Portman's witty, sly, charming performance as Anne Boleyn as she exudes sexiness while using her smiles and giggles to win everyone. While her British accent isn't perfect, Portman makes up for it with her winning performance as her dramatic work is superb. After a series of lackluster films and performances, Scarlett Johansson delivers her strongest performance since 2004's A Love Song for Bobby Long. Using her minimalist approach to performance, Johansson brings subtlety and grace to her performance as Mary Boleyn. While Johansson has often been known for her beauty, that becomes second as her portrayal of the shy, innocent Mary is amazing as Johansson delves into the pain and confusion of her sister's ambitions as well as her role.

While both actresses manage to hold their own against Eric Bana, it's the scenes when they're together that's just dynamite. The two actresses seem to be in ease with other while displaying a masterful sense of drama as the two fight and comfort each other in powerful some powerful scenes. Both are great at crying but the two of them cry together, overwhelming.

While it's not a perfect film, The Other Boleyn Girl is still an enjoyable period film that's entertaining and engaging. Thanks to the double-powerhouse combo of Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson with wonderful support from Jim Sturgess, and Kristin Scott Thomas. It's a film that history buffs might seem to enjoy once they don't take some of the historical context to seriously. Fans of both Portman and Johansson will no doubt consider their performances to be essential among their respective filmography. More importantly, the film is a showcase for the two as they show some of Hollywood's more well-known, lesser-talented young actresses how it's done. So in the end, The Other Boleyn Girl is a very good though flawed period film that is watchable thanks to the acting talents of Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson.

(C) thevoid99 2010

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