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The Other Boleyn Girl: Ambitious and Flawed

Not unlike Anne Boleyn herself, the movie version of Philippa Gregory's bestselling novel The Other Boleyn Girl is both greatly ambitious and flawed. It's lovely to look at, yet unsatisfying as a film. In some ways, it seems like a video that will soon be used in history classes as one of the many ways we can view Anne Boleyn's life and death. It's not the grand cinematic experience I'd hoped for as I read the novel for this month's book club.

In this version of Gregory's work, Anne is forced by her family — against her will, at first — to seduce England's King Henry VIII. Henry's queen, Katherine of Aragon, has not been able to produce a male heir to the throne, so Anne's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk — played as the one true villain of the story by David Morrissey — decides Anne should have a boy by Henry, thus allowing the whole family to advance. Yet when Henry suffers a hunting accident and Anne is blamed for it, the Duke makes Anne's sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) become Henry's mistress. She's, you know, the other Boleyn girl. There's so much else to talk about with this film, so


When Mary becomes pregnant by Henry, Anne is once more pushed in front of Henry to keep him interested in the Boleyn family. Anne enchants the king who quickly forgets all about Mary and becomes desperate to have Anne — no matter what it takes. Having gained the king's worship, Anne withholds herself physically from the king until he promises to divorce Queen Katherine and make Anne his wife. Yet everything goes horribly wrong when Anne does become queen — and then cannot produce a male heir. King Henry grows increasingly impatient and Anne takes desperate measures to try and remain in his good graces. These measures ultimately lead to her demise.

Having recently finished the book, I was distracted by the ways in which the film deviates from Gregory's work. Many of the changes are understandable, seeing as Gregory's novel is quite long and encompasses so many events that couldn't possibly fit into a two-hour film. Yet despite the edits and the rearrangements, the movie still feels cluttered, overwrought and sometimes disjointed. Mary's first husband William Carey, for example, is in the first quarter of the movie but when Mary takes up with the king, he sends William Carey away and we never hear from or see him again. There's zero explanation for whatever happened to this person that Mary is married to, and then randomly William Stafford approaches her with the offer of a country farm. I assume this is a casualty of editing, but it's infuriating to be thought so little of as an audience, like maybe we wouldn't notice.

And then, after all the things left out of the movie, there's the baffling addition of Henry viciously raping Anne when she refuses to marry him until he divorces Katherine. This is not a part of Gregory's novel and the only reason I can think of to include it is for dramatic effect. In this way, it feels like a cheap — and disgusting — move. Personally, I resent being subjected to an awful rape scene because someone figured it would be a great way to keep our attention.

The lush costumes are the most delightful part of the film, as the story is so rushed it's hard to care about anyone or anything — including this "sisterly bond" they consistently try so hard to make seem like the tightest relationship ever. The two women are far closer in the film than they are in the book, probably because it's supposed to make the wedge driven between them that much more devastating. And yet . . . it's hard to care much about either sister. It's not a fault of the acting — I was pretty impressed by both Johansson and Portman, for different reasons — but perhaps of the story's hectic tempo.

Bottom line: Though it has a lovely look to it, I expected more from this movie and was disappointed.

Photos courtesy of Sony

Join The Conversation
minicgurl92 minicgurl92 9 years
I loved the book but the movie that i longed to see turned out somewhat of a letdown.The important facts of the Boleyn siblings life that were totally demolished were ..... George grew up serving the king, mary was the mistress of henry at the palace where she had always served queen katherine since she was a young child. George made a speech before he died on the scafffold. He was also a major part of the book and of the girls life whereas in this film he is shown in a few fasts scenes. there were important things that were left out to only be replaced by such as a rape scene. The actors and actresses were great but the story was cut and pasted randomly and unevenly . YOu feel as if you are trying to catch up with the movie because it skips but when you finally do the whole thing is over. I can understand why Mrs. Gregory said the movie was a vision all its own.
californiagirlx7 californiagirlx7 9 years
I just saw the movie two nights ago and it was nowhere near as good as the book (and I'm only halfway through). The rape scene was unnecessary and the movie focused too much on Anne rather than Mary. They also left out Mary and Henry's first child, Catherine, and there was no mention of Hever or the fate of Mary's first husband. Queen Katherine & Lady Boleyn (Anne & Mary's mother) were completely different in the movie, and William Stafford was not as handsome as I expected him to be. Other plot points were changed from the book like Mary & Anne are not in the court at the beginning of the movie but at their family's estate, Anne is offered to Henry before Mary, Mary is hardly shown with her kids, and Henry seems to discard Mary much easier in the movie than the novel. However, I was surprised that the acting & accents were actually pretty good in this movie, which I was not expecting since the 3 leads are not British. The costumes were lavish & beautiful, and I loved Jim Sturgess for the few scenes he was onscreen. George's death was more devastating to me than Anne's. And I have to say that Natalie Portman is not really believable as a "vixen" and I did not like the actress who played Queen Katherine.
yadiet yadiet 9 years
I saw this movie last night!! If my sister were ever to do the things that Anne did to Mary!! Oh lordie!! I would never forgive her!!!!! Great Film. Natalie Portman is such a great actress!!! Loved it
chicsugar chicsugar 9 years
I just saw this movie and I'm surprised no one brought up Jim Sturgess' character George. I think his beheading was the most disturbing and haunting part of the movie.
idawson idawson 9 years
as a non reader of the book i went to the movie with someone who read it. after the lights came up i asked her what she thought about it and she said the she was not disappointment. granted her expectations were not too high. that being said I thought the movie was fine; i love that period in history. i liked natalie portman's anne. she (anne) is generally not a likable character but i was really surprised how well she (natalie) pulled it off. one criticism i heard abotu the film is it did not decide what it wanted to be (and i paraphrase) a bodice-ripping drama or a heavy drama with commentary on sexuality and power, etc. i kinda see that point but still liked the movie :) can't believe eric bana used to be a stand up comic!
caramel-latte caramel-latte 9 years
I think it's fascinating that a rape scene can, apparently, be "not that bad." Or, if it's brief, it's totally fine. "Rape's OK as long as it's short." Interesting. I get that they wanted to show that Anne was powerless, but there are other ways of doing that. It was gratuitous. Just because other movies have more gratuitous or more violent scenes doesn't automatically make this scene A-OK. That's some bizarre logic.
snowysakurasky snowysakurasky 9 years
i liked this movie, admittedly i did not read the book and what made me want to see the movie was the historical element and the fact that it features two amazing actresses. The actresses playing the older female roles were great as well... the rape scene was not that horrible and probably not gratuitous, especially compared with many other disturbing scenes in the movie. I think the point of the scene was to show that Anne had become powerless. Since the king had divorced the queen he could do anything he wanted with her (eg divorce her as well or even kill her) without consequences, and that situation was something she didn't anticipate.
Underdog Underdog 9 years
I like Both Boleyn girls Wish I could marry one of them.
juju4 juju4 9 years
I really did not like the rape scene. I was angry that they added it. I also wish they would have shown Henry and Anne getting along in their marriage, because in the book they really had a passionate dynamic, AND it helped to show what an influence she had over his reign. Also, the film makers made a much bigger deal out of the "brother" issue. In the book, you are given the impression that Henry's desperation for having a male heir drives him to get rid of Anne the only way that he can. In the movie, they made it seem like he truly believed that she had been with her brother, and in that sense the film makers kind of justified his decision to behead her.
Entertainment Entertainment 9 years
sunlandseagirl — I see what you're saying, and I'm sure there are ways of justifying the rape scene, I just still don't think it was even remotely necessary. There are a variety of ways they could have made Henry humiliate Anne and assert his power over her. They decided to go with the most severe form of humiliation a man can impose on a woman and I honestly just don't think it was necessary to do that.
ktseyf ktseyf 9 years
I really enjoy the book, so I'm hoping the film measures up to it.. We shall see!
sunlandseagirl sunlandseagirl 9 years
Well I watched this movie recently and loved it. I personally beleive that the rape scene was added to signify the change in Anne and Henry's relationship. Her witholding sex from him gave her a power over him that led Henry to act in ways he normally would not. In the film he repeatedly told Anne he did not want to.... 1) divorce his wife Katharine because she was a good woman 2) Part with the catholic church/pope But yet he did these things anyway because of Anne's hold over him. The rape scene to me signifies Henry's descension in character because of Anne. The rape was Henry's way of saying I am thoroughly ashamed of what i have done. The rape also provides a reason for the sudden distance between them after the marraige and then her beheading.....
jenna21 jenna21 9 years
I actually liked this movie a lot...but I haven't read the book yet. I definitely plan to read it after seeing the movie, but I have always found if I read a book and watch a movie based on the book afterwards, I am always disappointed. Its puzzling why the rape scene would be added, as you say "for dramatic effect". Maybe it was supposed to be symbolic of something more...I don't know.
desertbanshee desertbanshee 9 years
I read the novel with Buzz's book club, and loved it. I was counting the days until the movie, but I did want to check the reviews before I rushed to the theater. Sure enough they were disappointing, and thanks to this review, now I know why. What a shame someone couldn't make a good movie out of this novel!
yiddidea yiddidea 9 years
I have to agree with Buzz's review. The film was disjointed and rushed, leaving gaping holes in the story. Natalie Portman and Eric Bana did well with their performances but Scarlet seemed out of her depths here. Every time she was supposed to be distressed, upset or horrified she had the exact same expression on her face. It was like she hit the switch to her "shocked" expression. The costumes were beautiful though, which made the film more interesting to watch. If you go into this not needing any semblance of history and watch it simply as a work of fiction you will probably enjoy most of it. For anyone who read the book, like my sister, or who knows the history you will be very annoyed with the inconsistencies.
SugarCat SugarCat 9 years
Saw it yesterday and while I liked the acting, costumes and yes Anne's death scene was haunting, but overall it did feel rushed and like something I would have seen in my 10th grade history class.
saritabonita saritabonita 9 years
one more thing.. the rape scene to me felt more like ...they wanted to give us a visual image before she asks her sister how Henry was with her... sometimes directors underestimate the audience's intelligence and i felt that they were trying to make it clear that he was "softer" with Mary again. i liked the movie.
saritabonita saritabonita 9 years
I really enjoyed this movie! I never read the book before though, and i usually hate movies that began as books because the always seem to be missing so much. Except harry potter- but thats another story. I'm not a big queen/king/ history buff. Anything related to these topics bores me to death.. but I went with my sis to watch and i didn't have to resort to eating the whole snack bar to stay awake. plus i LOVE natalie portman. anyway, i guess if you don't expect anything from the film its not as bad...
Nouveau-Jackie-O Nouveau-Jackie-O 9 years
I read the book when it first came out and fell in love with Phillipa Gregory's writing. She does her research and really brings the period and people to life. Needless to say I couldn't wait for the film. Well, it's been two hours since I left the theater and I'm still fuming! I've also apologized to my husband incessantly for making him sit through it. The film deviated so often from the book that it was almost an entirely different story! The book's focus was, as indicated by the title, Mary Boleyn. Those of us who love the book and are Tudor afficionados know Anne's story. Why the director chose to make her the focus of the film, and not Mary is beyond me. I'm not going to list all of the film's flaws, there are too many. The only saving grace were the costumes. Gorgeous. But, that's not enough to redeem a film. I hope that Phillipa Gregory thinks twice about letting Hollywood touch her work for any reason. To those who haven't scene it, but loved the book, please save your money!
erratic-assassin erratic-assassin 9 years
ouch! what a harsh review. I've read AND seen the movie...the *rape* sceen is like 15 seconds and all in all, IT'S JUST A MOVIE!!'S HOLLYWOOD! of course it's going to leave out like 90% of the book....don't they all? if anyone wants to watch a friggin documentary then check out the history channel. or stick to books. I LIKED THE MOVIE, BY THE WAY! I liked everything about it.
pebby01 pebby01 9 years
i wish i had read the book before i saw the movie. i left feeling like the imagery was great, most of the acting was great, but the story and editing lacked something.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
I'll still check this out. I know I'm the minority but I can't stand the Tudors, something about the girl playing Anne, just Grates on my nerves. I'll go into this movie with no expectations, that usually helps me to not be dissapointed!
raieven raieven 9 years
Oh no! I can't stand (or stomach) rape scenes, like at ALL, they give me nightmares. I really wanted to see this as well-thank you so much for the advance warning.
bailaoragaditana bailaoragaditana 9 years
I shall be sticking to the books; the film version just seems like it would be a let-down... (aside from the amazing costumes, but I doubt they'll show the film on mute :-p )
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