I really should have known better. Its a long while now since I attempted the Philippa Gregory book and threw it aside as the holiday trash it attempted not to be. The pages I read felt so unbelievably false and simply saturated with supposed historic detail, rather than any concentration on plot or character development. The film was no better.
The budget was clearly spent in two ways; one on the two lead actresses, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, with the rest on costumes. Although possibly the most accurate of the history depicted, I felt that it was all a little over the top. Everything possibly conceived as ‘Tudor Fashion’ was richly and ornately depicted to display the wealth of the Royal court, and although the dresses were beautiful, they seemed to take over everything else in the film. This is perhaps because the film was pretty dire.
The acting was painful, particularly from Portman. She sapped anything vivacious and tempting away from Anne and presented her as a highly dislikeable heroine. Yes, Boleyn has ‘qualities’ that could be despised, but even with creative licence, at no point do you feel anything for her. In fact, you feel precious little for any of the characters as they are weakly portrayed and given poor dialogue. The stand out performance by far was by Eric Banner as King Henry VIII and I sorely believe that there is no possible way he could have read the screen play before signing a contract. No one with his clear acting ability would knowingly lower himself to such a mire of nonsense, surely.
I do enjoy historical fiction when it is done well – which this was not. There were several pitfalls that the author did not even attempt to avoid; if you are going to use real life situations and known fact perhaps either keep fact as it is, or explain clearly that this is a work of fiction! Not only has Gregory twisted the stories of Anne and her sister Mary, but the film more or less ignored huge chunks of time and history which are fundamental in understanding how England came to have Henry’s Queen Anne. But more than this, book and screen play have the audacity to suggest that it was Anne Boleyn who pushed for a separation from the Catholic Church (among other rather important decisions), thus bringing about the Church of England and her succession to the throne. However, I think the most appalling slight on our wonderful history is the suggestion that Anne and sister were practically sold into court as moral-less concubines.
There were so many twists and slights that offended my understanding that I was outraged – along with Elena, another history graduate with an easily argued deeper knowledge of the era than I. We spent the duration of the film in utter disbelief as to what was being presented as fact to the viewer. A quick hours Google has come out of this, and some light dusting down of books which might help ease my resentment, which it did to some extent. There are more elements of suggested truth to the plot than I originally realised, however, in all historic recordings it clearly states that there is little evidence or proof of these. No matter for this flop of a film, it decided that the audience were going to be told a mostly fabricated tale and then given written facts at the end to suggest that had just watched a documentary!
Fiction and history can combine to make some truly remarkable tales – Robin Jarvis used Elizabethan England as a setting for his story Death Scent however, he changed enough detail for it to work perfectly – Elizabeth had been on the throne for 150 years and England was a series of isles floating in space, all connected to the isle of London by large chains. There are also a few aliens and some killer robots thrown in, but there was a beautiful balance between cultural fact and blood thirsty fantasy. Sally Gardner also produces excellent children’s fiction with a base in history but without destroying the accuracy of the French Revolution or weakening the action or plot. But this would appear to be too much to ask of The Other Boleyn Girl. Instead, it has been churned out into a poorly made ‘block buster’ to ill-inform the rest of the world. How very sad.
Watch it if you are interested in period dress, but I would seriously advise ignoring anything else if has to offer!