Bearing only a passing resemblance to the historical novel by Philippa Gregory on which it is based, The Other Boleyn Girl introduces moviegoers to Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson). Before the ambitious, sophisticated Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) captivates Henry VIII (Eric Bana), it is her wholesome, obedient younger sister Mary who catches the king’s fancy-placing the sisters in competition with each other from their teenage years until the day Anne is beheaded. Unfortunately, the film fails, for the most part, to evoke either the closeness of the sisters or the bitterness of their rivalry, making it hard to care much about either Mary or Anne.
Characters and plot lines are barely developed, making motivation hard to discern and adding an air of melodrama to the entire proceedings. As the film opens, Mary wants a quiet country life with her loving new husband, and she is initially reluctant to accept the king’s advances. Ordered by her avaricious father and uncle to submit to the king in order to further her family’s fortunes, however, she obeys and promptly falls in love with Henry (a glimpse of a shirtless Bana may make this one of the film’s most believable emotions). Later on, Henry roars at Anne, “I have torn this country apart-for you!” but the film only hints at the enormous social and civic implications of the schism with the Catholic Church caused by the king’s annulment of his union with Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne. Similarly, although life at court was like swimming in a school of well-dressed sharks-every courtier looking to turn any sign of another’s weakness to his own advantage-the movie shows only laughter and games. Thus, when an increasingly desperate Anne confides to Mary that she’s beginning to crack under the pressure, her tearful confession seems to come from nowhere.
The filmmakers have omitted some of the novel’s edgier elements: brother George Boleyn’s homosexuality, suggestions that Anne dabbled in the occult. No doubt it helped them earn the PG-13 rating, but more daring choices might have made for a more compelling film.