Magazine article The Spectator

To Catch a King

Magazine article The Spectator

To Catch a King

Article excerpt

The Other Boleyn Girl

12A, Nationwide

The Other Boleyn Girl, based on the bestselling historical romance by Philippa Gregory, stars Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn and Scarlett Johansson as the other girl, her 'plainer' sister Mary, which, considering Scarlett Johansson has just been voted the most beautiful woman in the world, must be a lesson in Hollywood logic in and of itself. Still, do not despair, at least not until you are ten minutes in, at which point, if you are still awake, you will be despairing like crazy while wishing you'd stayed in.

Here's the deal: we have Anne, the pretty one, and Mary, the plainer one whom we are not meant to clock isn't plain at all, and they have an ambitious father (Mark Rylance) and an ambitious uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey). Both wish to advance their own power and status by having one of the girls snare the King. Handily, the Duke of Norfolk is also the Duke of Exposition, because heaven forbid anyone should come to this film actually knowing something, or heaven forbid the information should be worked into the drama.

You only have to say 'hello' to the Duke or 'pass the salt' and he's off: 'Now, the King is not happy with his Queen, Catherine, because she has yet to give him a male heir, and the last baby was stillborn, and he barely even speaks to her anymore, let alone lies with her, so he's probably up for seeking solace in a mistress, and if the mistress were Anne or Mary. . . . ' Or words to that effect.

The film opens with the two girls as children, gambolling gigglingly in a golden field -- ah, such carefree innocence -- then cuts to the Boleyn manor when they are young women and the King is due to visit so, quick, THE KING IS COMING! Tighten corsets! Blow trumpets! Roast pigs! Kick the lyre player into shape! Now, where have I seen these kinds of scenes before? In practically every historical drama of this type? That must be it. There are also horses thundering through forests, the exteriors of gothic castles in rainstorms, and although Henry VIII never throws a chicken bone over his shoulder, Eric Bana plays him as if he's just about to. Eric Bana is also bizarre casting because, as anyone who knows their history knows, Henry VIII is Keith Michell, and that is that: a fact.

Anyway, although the Duke first pushes Anne at the King, Henry claims Mary instead, bribing her husband to pretend nothing is amiss. Feeling overlooked, Anne fumes, rebels, is exiled to France and then returns as a total, full-on megabitch and prick-tease. …

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