Bana banishes ‘Boleyn’ to boredom

Allan Lamb

Acting and directing make the two-hour period drama feel like it will drag forever

“Don’t make me angry. You won’t like me when I’m angry. My shirt is tailored so it won’t rip when I change…”

Courtesy Sony pictures

Credit: Ron Soltys

The Other Boleyn Girl

Starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana

Directed by Justin Chadwick

Distributed by Focus Features

Stater rating (out of five): ***

After viewing a trailer for The Other Boleyn Girl, one might see it as a potential Oscar movie. So why is it not being released in the fall with all of the other Oscar fodder?

It’s not worthy of one.

The film begins well enough with a view into the lives of the Boleyns, a family of aristocrats, in pre-Elizabethan England; the infamous Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman), Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson), their brother George Boleyn (Jim Sturgess), their parents and their uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey). All is fine and dandy until ambitious Uncle Norfolk suggests that Anne be courted by Henry (VIII) Tudor (Eric Bana), King of England.

From there, their lives, relationships and morals go straight to hell; and so does the movie. Anne decides to impress Henry by going on a hunting trip with him where he gets severely injured saving her from danger. Apparently, the producers forgot to work shooting that scene into the budget as the viewer only sees them ride off into the woods, and then riding back to the Boleyn residence with Henry on a stretcher, deprived of any excitement.

Henry instead falls in love with Mary, who is already married, as she nurses his wounds from the hunt. He takes Mary as his mistress anyway so that he might have a son with her, as his wife, Catherine of Aragon, has failed to produce an heir. Unconvincingly, they fall in love and Anne becomes very jealous of her sister for stealing her suitor. They then begin a game of “F-your-life-up” tag, manipulating their parents, brother, Henry and any other aristocrats who put themselves at their disposal.

Pre-dated feminist rhetoric is contrivedly woven into the dialogue between the sisters and their mother (Kristen Scott Thomas), who apparently was way ahead of her time as far as feminism is concerned. However, any point the film might make regarding the oppression and objectification of women is defeated by the way Anne is able to overpower Henry and make him do things he would not normally have done, such as breaking from the Catholic church. Lady Boleyn even reminds her daughters at one point that they, as women, must continue to let men think they’re in charge.

One of the worst aspects of the film is the acting. Eric Bana is by far the least convincing. He doesn’t seem to be able to nail down the two-faced Henry, who fluctuates between a righteous, headstrong king and an angry, horny brat. (One might initially think they should have chosen a fatter actor, but Henry Tudor didn’t grow to his infamous 54 inch waist until after the events of the film.) Natalie Portman isn’t so hot either (in the talent sense). She doesn’t fit herself into the role, and whenever she does, it feels forced and over-acted.

Mostly, the film’s pacing is what brings it down. Director, Justin Chadwick’s resume, consisting primarily of British television drama, is made apparent from beginning to end. The use of ambient lighting works well, but the use of large frame dividers and foreground objects steals from the potential power of the interactions between actors. Plus, the contrast of light and dark in these shots, which the movie is mostly comprised of, is uneasy on the eyes and serves little artistic purpose (such as contrasting good and evil).

Along with leaving out the hunting scene, Chadwick is also reserved with the execution scenes. And rather than giving just a little bit of a clue of how much of a horn-ball Henry was, as the book does, all we get from Anne is “Oh, the things he makes me do!” Why the studio aimed for a PG-13 rating is a mystery as well. There really is no reason to be reserved with such an unpretty series of events.

To say one good thing, the costumes were well done and are nice to look at. However, it takes more than costumes to put on anything more than a Renaissance fair, which when all is said and done, that is all this movie seems to be. It just isn’t nearly as exciting.

Contact all editor Allan Lamb at [email protected].