The Other Boleyn Girl
Directed by Justin Chadwick

Written by Peter Morgan

Starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Dana


The Other Boleyn Girl

"We all know the story of Anne Boleyn, Henry cut off her head by her chinny-chin-chin." No, wait; that's not the way it goes - well, yes it is, but there's a bleak story behind it, according to "The Other Boleyn Girl," an oddly moving re-creation of what might have in fact happened before she lost her head. Anne, here played by Natalie Portman, and her sister Mary, played by Scarlett Johansson, are both pimped out to the king by their father Thomas (Mark Rylance), under the influence of his brother-in-law the Duke of Norfolk (a slimy David Morrissey) in order to advance the family fortunes.

Henry, played by a sultry Eric Bana, whose sexual appetites cannot be satisfied except by the provision of fresh meat, as we say, is still married to Catherine of Aragon (a stunning and heartbreaking performance by the Spanish actress Ana Torrent), is at first attracted to Anne, the more vivacious of the sisters, but then insists on Mary, who is already married to the man she loves. But no one dares refuse the king, and Uncle Norfolk is thrilled. "Just give him a boy as his heir and our fortunes will be made," he says to Mary.

Soon he tires of her as his mistress and sends her to the French court; this time he replaces her with Anne, whom he makes his queen. Naturally this pits one sister against the other, and the film is at its best in dealing with the utterly impossible situation they both find themselves in, both having been pimped to the king by their own father and uncle.

Portman and Johansson, who would seem unalike as sisters, do very well here in "The Other Boleyn Girl;" one feels the love underneath the jealousy, and the way in which women were powerless against men unless they could hold them in sexual thrall. Anne does that with the king, but cannot hold out forever. And when she delivers a girl (who would become Elizabeth, of course) her doom is sealed.

"The Other Boleyn Girl" was written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote the brilliant "The Queen," about the week in which Princess Diana died; his script has captured the brutal nature of life at the court, but director Justin Chadwick has chosen to edit the film so as to give us just quick scenes, rather than letting some just play out in real time. He also has the directorial quirk of ending each one with a kind of fade to black and then introducing the next scene with a sliding camera move to the left. Always to the left, though I don't know why. In any case, life at the king's castle is, as someone said in another context, nasty, brutish and short. It certainly is.