The Other Boleyn Girl
THE ENTERTAINMENT CRITIC BOOK REVIEW, BY JAMES MYERS
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL
By Philippa Gregory
Published by Touchstone Books, from Simon and Schuster (Reprint)
Publication Date: September 2007
Four Star Rating ****
The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) (Film)
Director: Justin Chadwick
Writers: Peter Morgan (screenplay)
Philippa Gregory (novel)
Studio: Columbia Pictures/Focus Features
Producer: Alison Owen
Executive Producer: Scott Rudin & David Thompson
Three Star Rating ***
Release Date: 29 February 2008 (USA) more view trailer
Genre: Drama / History / Romance more
Tagline: The only thing that could come between these sisters... is a kingdom.
Plot Outline: Two sisters contend for the affection of King Henry VIII
Cast (Cast overview, first billed only)
Natalie Portman ... Anne Boleyn
Scarlett Johansson ... Mary Boleyn
Eric Bana ... Henry Tudor
Jim Sturgess ... George Boleyn
Mark Rylance ... Sir Thomas Boleyn
Kristin Scott Thomas ... Lady Elizabeth Boleyn
David Morrissey ... Thomas Howard - Duke of Norfolk
Benedict Cumberbatch ... William Carey
Oliver Coleman ... Henry Percy
Ana Torrent ... Katherine of Aragon
Eddie Redmayne ... William Stafford
Tom Cox ... Rider
Michael Smiley ... Physician
Montserrat Roig de Puig ... Lady in Waiting
Juno Temple ... Jane Parker
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content and some violent images.
Parents Guide: View content advisory for parents
Runtime: 115 min
Country: UK / USA
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1 more
Sound Mix: SDDS / DTS / Dolby Digital
Certification:Switzerland:12 (canton of Geneva) / Switzerland:12 (canton of Vaud) / Germany:12 / Singapore:M18 / USA:PG-13 (certificate #43291) / Australia:M / Canada: G (Québec) / Ireland:15A / South Korea:15 / Netherlands:12 / Canada:14A (Alberta/British Columbia/Manitoba/Ontario) / New Zealand:M
Filming Locations: Bath, Somerset, England, UK more
Company: BBC Films more
PHILIPPA GREGORY HAS BEEN PENNING COMPELLING WORKS OF DRAMATIC HISTORICAL FICTION SINCE THE MID-1980S, BREAKING OUT WITH THE BESTSELLING WIDEACRE TRILOGY AND CREATING A BUZZ WITH THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL. AS FELLOW AUTHOR PETER ACKROYD ONCE SAID OF HER, "SHE WRITES FROM INSTINCT, NOT OUT OF CALCULATION, AND IT SHOWS."
MORE THAN 1 MILLION COPIES IN PRINT OF THIS BOOK
“George took my hand. ‘If you conceive a child the king has to know that it is his and none others’.
‘I can’t be his mistress,’ I whispered back.
‘No choice.’ He shook his head.
‘I can’t do it’ I said out loud. I gripped tightly on my brother’s comforting clasp and looked down the long dark wood table to my uncle, as sharp as a falcon with black eyes that missed nothing. ‘Sir, I am sorry but I love the queen. She’s a great lady and I can’t betray her. I promised before God to cleave only to my husband, and surely I shouldn’t betray him? I know the king is the king; but you can’t want me to? Surely? Sir, I can’t do it.’
He did not answer me. Such was his power that he did not even consider replying. ‘What am I supposed to do with this delicate conscience?’ he asked the air above the table.
‘Leave it to me,’ Anne said simply. ‘I can explain things to Mary.’”
Philippa Gregory has written a best-selling novel of “love, sex, ambition and intrigue”. The story opens in 1521 when Mary's distant cousin, the Duke of Buckingham, is executed on the king's orders. His crime was his daring to suggest that Henry could not produce a healthy son. A year later, Mary's sister, Anne, returns from the French Court where she has lived as a lady-in-waiting for the last few years. Gregory chose to portray Anne as Mary's older sister even though Anne was usually believed by historians to be the younger of the two. Both the Boleyn girls are remarkable beauties, and Mary (despite being only fourteen years old) is already married to the wealthy courtier Sir William Carey. Mary's life is turned upside down, however, when the 31-year-old King Henry VIII takes an interest in her. Despite being a favorite lady-in-waiting to his wife, Queen Catherine, Mary becomes the king's mistress. She is assisted in this process by her two siblings - the quick-witted George and the scheming Anne. To her father's delight, Mary becomes pregnant with the king's child. She gives birth to two children - Catherine and Henry. However, while she is pregnant, Anne sets out to seduce the king and steal him away from her sister. She is successful, and the King flirts with Anne by day and sleeps with Mary by night. In the process he breaks the heart of Mary, who has by now fallen in love with him.
By 1527, Henry has made up his mind to divorce his wife and marry Anne. Mary is pushed into the background and becomes the other Boleyn girl. She is reduced to being Anne's lady-in-waiting. As an act of malice, Anne secretly adopts Mary's son, stealing all legal rights as the child's mother. She becomes consumed by her ambition to be queen, not even bothering to sympathize when Mary's husband dies of the sweating sickness in 1528. Mary comes to suspect that Anne is planning to poison Queen Catherine, and has already attempted to poison a bishop who is opposed to the Boleyns' ambitions.
In 1532 Mary falls in love with the handsome William Stafford, they keep their love a secret until Anne becomes Queen and then Mary runs away with William to his farm in Essex, where they marry. William then persuades Mary to go back to court in order to get her children. Mary and William try to keep their marriage a secret until Mary finds out that she is pregnant she then goes to Anne to try and persuade her to let her have children back. When Anne discovers Mary has married a commoner and is pregnant with his child, she immediately banishes her from court. Meanwhile, Mary's brother George is trapped in a miserable marriage to Jane Parker and is seeking solace in a secret homosexual affair with Sir Francis Weston. After Anne gives birth to a daughter, Elizabeth in 1533, she suffers two miscarriages - being forced to abort one with a witches' potion. When Mary returns to court in 1535, she begins to suspect that the King is impotent and that Anne and George have committed an incestuous affair in order to help her conceive again. Her fears are seemingly confirmed when Anne has another miscarriage in 1536, and the fetus is monstrously deformed.
Anne is arrested in May, and so is George. He and his homosexual lover are executed as Anne's supposed lovers, and Mary is uncertain what to think - knowing that people are telling lies about her sister, but also fearing that they are telling the truth. In an echo of the novel's beginning chapter, The Other Boleyn Girl ends with an execution - Anne's. Mary lives out the rest of her life in peace, with her common-born husband, William Stafford.
The film is consistent with the book. The film received negative to mixed reviews from critics. As of February 29, 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 40% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 90 reviews — with the consensus being that the film was "more like a soap opera than a historical drama." Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 51 out of 100, based on 32 reviews.
In addition to the criticism the novel received for its presentation of Anne Boleyn, there was further criticism from some sections of the British press for the decision to cast two Americans (Johansson and Portman) and an Australian (Bana) in the main roles, all historical British figures. Critics included veteran academic and broadcaster David Starkey, author of several best-selling factual accounts of the Tudor royals. Johansson dismissed these criticisms, stating her only reservations about the filming were about its melodramatic storyline.
Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl, was employed as a historical consultant for the movie. She was especially impressed by Johanson's commitment to the historical accuracy of her role. "When I got on set it was like a reading group. The whole cast and set were reading not just The Other Boleyn Girl but the rest of my Tudor novels, too. Scarlett's copy of the book is broken-backed and it's marked on every page. She's continually going to the writer and director and saying, 'Let's look at this, let's do it this way.'"
What I think saved the film from becoming just another gossip-type vehicle is the performance of Natalie Portman as Anne. She plays Anne as a calculating, self-serving, win at all costs femme fatale. Her enlistment of her brother (Jim Sturgess) for stud service to fool the king, may be historically inaccurate, but makes a dull picture somewhat interesting. Read the book, see the movie with interest, but in the long run, remember the book.