Monday, April 14, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

"Lord help the Mister who comes between and my Sister/
and Lord help the Sister who comes between me and my Man"

"Gettin' tickets for the 'girlie-show?'" the ticket-taker said to me.

*Sigh* If only...

Sadly, there's not much life in "The Other Boleyn Girl"--either of them. Peter Morgan's script (from the Phillipa Gregory novel and the BBC production) is a bit cut-and-dried---er, poor choice of words---and it doesn't create anything other than a proper colonist's righteous indignation over the way women in prominent positions were treated back then. Now, the sexism isn't so much like horse-trading (as it is in this film), as in just making sure that standards for men are inequitable with those for women, as we do in these oh-so-much-more-enlightened times. I came away thinking Morgan--who's probably set up a script-writing mill by this time--might want to take a script or two off, and sharpen the quill a bit. But it's not all Morgan's fault--he does get some choice words in once in awhile. The direction by Justin Chadwick is flat and staid--even by Masterpiece Theater standards--without even the benefit of some Merchant-Ivory snootiness to breathe life into the thing.

Then you've got the actors. As "the two Boleyn whores," Scarlett Johansson, as younger sister Mary*, uses 1.5 expressions throughout the entire movie and both involve mouth-breathing--no, sorry, that's unfair--2.5, she has a child-birth scene, and Natalie Portman looks like she's going to run away with the thing, having a fine old time as the smarter, more manipulative Anne but her hysterics towards the end have an air of high-school production--when the chords of her neck stand out you begin to worry that the court is going to catch fire like Sissy Spacek did in "Carrie."

As for Eric Bana, it's not good to be the King. Henry VIII is one of those characters that most actors relish playing whether its Charles Laughton, Robert Shaw or Keith Michell. Bana, though is a sometime thing--he can be "on" ("Munich," "Black Hawk Down," "Troy"), or he can be totally "off" ("Hulk"), giving nothing up for the camera (or audiences) to grab onto. Here he plays a weak King by giving a weak performance--as if that'll do the job convincingly enough. But it would be better to have this lusty, conscience-less King do his selfish terrible deeds and have a good time once in a while. I mean, why completely sever the ties between England and the Catholic Church if you're not having any fun while doing it? The same point is made, it's just not so spot-on...or so deadly dull.

One looks for any good performance in the thing, seeing how its not an action-piece at all, and Kristin Scott Thomas continually looks like there's a bad smell on-set and is allowed one moment of high dudgeon, and Jim Sturgess, the chirpy "Paul-ish" lead of "Across the Universe" seems to threaten to belt out another Beatles tune any minute. There is one ray of sunshine in the whole thing and that is Ana Torrent as Catherine of Aragon, speaker of the earlier "Boleyn whore" line. Every moment she's on the screen there is a power and command that every other member of the cast is lacking. She looks and acts like a Queen who belongs there, rather than one merely playing dress-up.

"The Other Boleyn Girl" is a Netflix rental--don't go out of your way for it.

* Is the story true, I hear you cry. Well, Gregory defends any historical inaccuracies in the book--or agreed-upon inaccuracies--by saying that it's from the character's point of view, in this case Mary's. But nothing is made of the fact that Mary is rumored to have had an affair with another King--of France, leading to her expulsion from the French court--earlier than her time with Henry, and even the most unreliable of narrators might get the fact that Mary was the older of the two sisters correct.

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