The Other Boleyn Girl
Fret not, Natalie. I’ll be right over to console whatever ails you.

Theatrical Release Date: 02/29/2008
Director: Justin Chadwick
Cast: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess

I had been asking myself recently, where has Eric Bana gone? One of my favorite actors, he seems to either be quite choosy in his roles (which can be good) or the general American public isn’t recognizing a good thing when they see it (which is unsurprising).

In “The Other Boleyn Girl”, he plays the King of England, Henry VIII to be exact. Through a messy conflagration of politics, ambition, desire and pride, the two Boleyn sisters become objects of his affection and end up changing the very structure of England itself. (Yes, Mel Brooks, it’s definitely good to be the King.)

History buffs know what will happen as the story unfolds but for those of you who didn’t pay attention that week in high school world history, I won’t spoil it by spelling out the particulars.

As I must have skipped that chapter myself, I only know the broad strokes and can not verify the accuracy of the Boleyn girls’ portrayals. Natalie Portman plays the elder sister, Anne, who is obsessed with gaining power and privilege. In every heterosexual male’s wildest (but common) fantasy, Scarlett Johansson plays her sister, Mary – the virtuous, less ambitious of the two.

It is their betrayal and devotion to each other that drive the story. And for the most part, they do a good job even though Portman seemed to be channeling her “V for Vendetta” character a bit much and Johansson matched that with a version of her role in “The Girl with a Pearl Earring”. However, I don’t really blame them, or any of the actors for that matter.

The first wrong turn this film takes is the direction. The camera seemed unsure of how to frame the scenes, either being placed behind objects, in a corner of the room or not centering on the characters much at all. While there can be reasons for doing this, it didn’t seem to make sense given the context of the story. Also, about two-thirds through the film, I was getting anxious wondering where the film was headed; to see exactly how much of their lives were still to be told. I had found a comfy groove in my seat but even I have limits.

Another oddity in a high profile period piece such as this was the almost garish costume design. If this is accurate to the time period, then all I can say is that it sucked to be them. Much of the adornment bedazzled on their dresses or headpieces seemed like cheap knockoffs rather than the precious and semi-precious stones one would expect in the high court of England. Portman and Johansson looked good for the most part (minus their head wear), that’s unsurprising considering they’d be able to wear burlap sacks and still be sexy.

Perhaps worst of all, there are a number of characters that drop into the world of the Boleyn girls, only to disappear just as suddenly. Let’s just say that if it’s not one of the big name actors, don’t expect too much closure on many of the subplots.

Apart from those aspects, the production design was decent and, like I mentioned, the acting was pretty good overall. The Boleyn parents and Uncle were played well by Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas and David Morrissey. It is their scheming that that entangle Portman and Johansson in the royal court and their role is no less important.

Also, a special note of acknowledgment goes to Ana Torrent, playing Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s wife. Even with her limited dialogue, she’s still able to convey so much to the audience and she gives the film some much needed royal bearing.

And of course, none to my surprise, Bana was able to convey such unbridled desire that it made my skin crawl a little. The lengths to which he goes to bed Anne Boleyn is so unbelievable and yet, his performance made it seem plausible … especially considering my own affection for Ms. Portman.

In the end, your ability to enjoy the film relies on your appreciation for period films. While I was somewhat distracted by the British accents being bandied about by the largely un-British cast, I was able to become somewhat invested in the characters. I would very much have liked the film to be tightened up from a directorial standpoint but I suppose that all goes to explain how a film with such a high profile cast and setting would end up being released in late February.

I’m bestowing a 3 out of 5 to “The Other Boleyn Girl”, having a nearly equal desire for either Boleyn girl. (Oh, who am I kidding. Natalie, give me a call … or don’t … I’m not good with surprises.) If you’re in need of a historical film / period piece, feel free to check the film out. You’re probably better off waiting for DVD but I can’t speak to how much of a life you may or may not have.

On a much sweeter note, if you live in San Diego, you must check out Heaven Sent Desserts. They offered up some samples at the screening I attended and their name is deserved. I’m glad I ate a big dinner before hand because I didn’t want to find out that I’m diabetic in the middle of a crowded theater. The morsel I tasted was almost illegally good. I’m super glad their shop isn’t on the way home from work. (And no, I’m not being paid to say this.)