The Other Boleyn Girl

Israel and Palestine. Cheese and axle grease. Russell Brand and comedy. Yes indeed, the category is "things that don't go well together" and, before The Other Boleyn Girl, you could have added "me and period dramas" to the list. After The Other Boleyn Girl ... well, if not a full convert — I'd still rather be in the pub on a Sunday evening than watching BBC1 — I'm a little more open to the genre, because Justin "Bleak House" Chadwick's energetic adaptation of Philippa Gregory's bodice-ripping novel is a sumptuous, moving and fascinating film.

The book is a bit of a potboiler apparently (yeah, right, like I'd have read it) but Chadwick and screenwriter Peter Morgan (of The Queen fame) have excised the lurid detail to focus on the human story therein. And it's quite a story. Hell, Gregory could have called it Pimp Your Daughter. She'd have sold more copies and it's probably a more accurate title. That is, essentially, what the Boelyn family do, offering their daughters — the ambitious Anne (Portman) and more reserved elder sister Mary (Johansson) — to the Royal household in the name of social advancement.

With the current queen, Catherine of Aragorn, unable to produce a male heir, the feeling behind palace doors is that King Henry (Bana) will look elsewhere for some extra-marital comfort. Spotting the opportunity, ambitious aide the Duke of Norfolk (Morrissey) urges brother-in-law Sir Thomas Boleyn (Rylance) to invite the King for a hunting weekend where Anne is under instruction to "bewitch" him. Unfortunately, their plans to make a royal mistress of the younger daughter backfire and it's Mary — the newly-married Mary, as it happens — that catches the royal eye. So that's the end of the matter? Far from it. Mary is simply Plan B. Her insipid husband (Cumberpatch) is esily bought with the promise of political advancement and Mary finds herself part of the household. Anne, however, doesn't take her demotion sitting down ...

By stripping down the book's (apparent) excesses, Morgan and Chadwick have honed a hugely watchable, highly enlightening and endlessly fascinating drama that incorporates revenge, betrayal, loyalty and love. Bana is terrific as the King (it makes a pleasant change to see Henry played as "flawed human being" instead of "angry fat ginger bloke") and the support work is also first rate. Morrissey and Rylance are on fine form, but both are overshadowed by Kristin Scott-Thomas as the girls' mother, the sole protesting voice to these extreme plans for advancement.

Unsurprisingly though, the film really belongs to the female leads. Portman is the best she's been since Leon. While that's not saying much, her portrayal of Anne feels like the start of her adult career: it's the sort of performance we've been hoping to see from her for for a long, long time. As good as she is however, it's Johannson who subtly dominates. Portman may get the flashier speeches and the moments of vitriol but it's Scarlett's thoughtful, quieter portrayal that lingers longest in the mind. Well made, well acted and extremely interesting. Blimey, at this rate, I'll be liking Jane Austen by April...

Official Site
The Other Boleyn Girl at IMDb

Neil Davey is a freelance writer who specialises in things you can do sitting down, such as travelling, eating, drinking, watching films, interviewing famous people and playing video games. (And catching the occasional salmon.) Neil is the author of two Bluffer's Guides (Chocolate, and Food, both of which make lovely presents, ahem), and, along with Stuart O'Connor, is a co-founder of Screenjabber. Neil also writes / has written for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Square Mile, Delicious Magazine, Sainsbury's Magazine, Foodism, Escapism, Hello! and Square Meal.

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