Movie Reviews
10:59 am
Fri February 22, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

As a feminist tract . . .

Losing your head to ambition is pretty much what we know of Anne Boleyn, wife of the mercurial Henry VIII, who clipped a few necks to get a legitimate Tudor heir. The Other Boleyn Girl details the inner workings of the Boleyn family's intrigues to get their daughters in the bed of the king to secure their fortunes. The relentlessly disappointing births form the boring center of a period drama that shows how the superior talents of Natalie Portman (Anne) and Scarlett Johansson (Mary) can be squandered.

The accessories, like those in Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, are visually stunning: costumes, castles, boudoirs are appointed sumptuously and, I presume, accurately. What's lacking here is in the depiction of Henry by Eric Bana, as physically, intellectually, and emotionally far from Charles Laughton's defining portrayal as could be possible. Even if Laughton's part were trumped up, the king who married six times and may have composed Greensleeves (Anne did reject his advances after all ( "cast me off discourteously") was more than a disappointed baby maker, as neophyte director Justin Chadwick has Bana play it.

That Anne was beheaded for adultery is known; when the film proposes incest as a mitigating circumstance, I'm lost to the extent that I'll have to verify this salacious footnote at a future date. The film does acknowledge that Henry assumed a dangerous power after he realized that an alliance with Rome was unnecessary. But then this is essentially a study of sixteenth-century women lost to the power of men, not a history of bad boy Henry.

As a feminist tract, The Other Boleyn Girl works. These ladies define their lives by achieving social station in whatever way possible, being reminded of their infamy by their mother, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn, played with an ominous resignation by Kristin Scott-Thomas. The ascendency of the surpassing Elizabeth to the throne, presiding over the arguably most productive era in Western history, is a satisfactory coda to this film and a supreme irony for a king who thought only a male heir could assure transcendent hegemony.

Hillary Clinton's achievements can be illuminated and enhanced by looking at the centuries-old queen who supported William Shakespeare. Perhaps Hillary will join Elizabeth in making converts of obtuse men and enabling women in the 21st century.