Today I’m going to give you my opinion on the film of The Other Boleyn Girl starring Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn, and Eric Bana as Henry VIII. It also co-stars Benedict Cumberbatch as William Carey, Ana Torrent as Katherine of Aragon, Jim Sturgess as George Boleyn and Eddie Redmayne as William Stafford, among others.
I don’t think the film version lived up to the novel. The novel was a lot more detailed, and the characters seemed to be entirely different from novel to film. I wish the film had focused more on Mary Boleyn and her relationship with William Stafford, and how that affected her view of the court, and her children. The film seemed to tail off after Anne became involved with Henry VIII, but there was a lot more in the novel after that point, which wasn’t seen in the film. I think that this let it down as a lot of Mary’s lesser-known story (what happened when she left the court after her secret marriage to Stafford) was eft out, and this was the bit that most intrigued readers in the first place when the novel was published. I haven’t seen the earlier TV film of the novel, so I don’t know how that differs, but when I eventually get around to watching it, I will review it here.
However, I think the sets of the film were brilliantly constructed, particularly the Boleyn residence. It showed precisely how the Boleyns were relatively well-off but that they also lacked the funds to make their home ready for a royal visit. That was the reality of Tudor England. Any money that noble and well-off families had went to flaunting their children at court to get preferment, as a lot of families who were at court didn’t really spend much time at their country homes. The court sets were not quite as well done, but they still seemed to be very realistic, and the costumes were also great. The costumes worn by Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn seemed to match the reports of her appearance, and the appearance shown in portraits of her. However, I do think that a lot of the costumes in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ have been overlooked because of the sumptuousness of the costumes in shows like ‘The Tudors’, which were possibly a bit more OTT.
I think that the casting was done very well. I really really enjoyed Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Mary Boleyn – it’s exactly how I imagined her. She was nervous and shy but developed into a sensual woman, who managed to break out of the typical Tudor woman stereotype and marry a man of her choosing, and brought her children up the way she wanted to bring them up. However, I do think that Portman should have shown more of Anne’s temper and her anger at the delay in her marriage to Henry. I don’t think that was portrayed well enough, though perhaps that was the fault of the writers more than the actors. Bana could also have done with showing his more powerful side, as the King came across as someone you could just walk over, and the farce of the trial at the end didn’t represent what the sources describe. No witnesses were called for Anne’s trial by all accounts, and she certainly didn’t come face-to-face with Smeaton after the arrests. However, I also think that Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn was interesting because she showed a different side to Anne than any other portrayal I’ve seen before. She showed the sheer effort it would have taken to hold the interest of Henry VIII for nearly eight years, and the changing opinion Anne had of Henry. At first, Anne believed Henry was a great king, but she quickly realised he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted, and that included fabricating charges against her so that he could have her killed and marry Jane Seymour.
What really makes me think about this film is that some of the instances reported in history, but that historians dismissed, like the charge of incest, actually appear in the film. Yes, Anne and George do not actually have sex, but they do come close, and that is more than historians actually acknowledge. I think that films are actually a lot more accurate to the historical record than we give them credit for. The incest charge may not be accurate, but you can tell that the writers, director and producers have, at least at a basic level, conducted some of their own research outside of the novel, which I think is more than has been acknowledged by a lot of people, historians included. Film is often dismissed out of hand by historians as being fictional and not accurate, but film portrayals can give us a sense of how perceptions of these historical figures has changed over time, and that is incredibly valuable.