Monday, March 17, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

This is a thoroughly modern film about a timeless subject – England in the time of Henry VIII. No doubt countless books have been written about the subject, and none satisfies all historians. To compress this tumultuous period in two short hours is no easy task.

I enjoyed the film from the moment the hazy titles of Focus Featurs graced the screen. The two lead actresses are icons of our times—the graceful and ever at ease Scarlet Johansson and the striking and intense Natalie Portman. Together with the gothic typeface, they set the mood for a modern interpretation of this timeless saga.

Watching this film, I remarked to myself: how unhappy these people are. The father weak in spirit and frail in nerves, hopelessly goes about the dangerous task of assigning his daughters to the king. His wife, devoid of emotion and rendered pale and colorless, senses all the dangers but fails to act. The wretched uncle enjoys not a moment of his screentime, his whole life is devoured to the politics of the court. And the two daughters, first seen basking in warm sunshine, is reduced to heartbreak, torment and death. Even Henry, first presented with such poise and presence is eventually shrivelled in isolation.

I had my doubts about Natalie Portman’s casting. Looking at the poster, I did not feel that she could adequately fill her role. She was clearly being depicted sexually, which, despite her striking beauty, is not her strength. In the film she behaved as I imagined—capably executing Anne’s mood swings, but never transcending role-play.

Scarlet was much more comfortable in her role. She was never strained, and her unassuming looks melded with her character. So gentle and satisfying was the scene when she woke in the arm of Henry that for a moment I believed this would last.

It is curious how Henry could like two women of such contrast. If he truly fell for Mary’s simplicity and warmness, how could he be attracted to the dark and manipulative nature of Anne?

This film will go down as another Focus Features classic. This is truly one of my favourite studios, turning out a distinct style of films that are stylish, intelligent and approachable.

Historians will find plenty of reasons to scoff at this film. I enjoyed it.



Nancy said...

I avoided the film, even though I love the Tudor period, because I simply could not imagine those two healthy, big-faced American girls as Boleyns, and also because the Cate Blanchett "Elizabeth" (the first one) was so idiotic and vulgar. But now that you've recommended it I'll try it. I look forward to seeing if Hollywood got anything about the history right, because to me that's the delight of a period piece: not that it must be all scholarly and accurate, but that it acknowledges a different time produced different people. Were there any scenes in The Other Boleyn Girl, for example, that showed the characters doing anything religious?

I look forward to it ....

Giacomo said...

Hmm, I'm not sure you'll like it then. I walked in the theater knowing nothing about the film. I only made the connection with Elizabeth toward the end of the film.

I actually really enjoyed the first Elizabeth so my recommendation here should be taken with extreme caution! ;)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age, now that was pretty idiotic.