Here's the problem with The Other Boleyn Girl: It is a British film, exploring a certain period of British history, namely the sibling rivalry between Anne and Mary Boleyn, King Henry VIII's continuing struggle to balance the monarchy, Papal interference and his own need for a legitimate heir, and the eventual birth of Elizabeth, the heir he didn't believe was to be. It is a British film, exploring British history, as I said, and it stars an Australian and two Americans in the lead.
It's not that the accents are bad or that it is distracting, but unlike Jonathan Rhys Myers' masterful approach to the Tudor history in The Tudors, this one seems hollow precisely because these are major stars enacting roles that needed dramatic thespians. Well, what is also needed was a better script, as history is waylaid frequently and without thought in the service of a more soap operatic story, often mixing fact and speculation to an alarming degree.
This may have been an after effect of helmer Justin Chadwick's television roots, but even Peter Morgan's (Last King of Scotland, The Queen) script is a weak little thing, every so often succumbing to the temptation of exploring soap opera style scandal, real or imagined. Not that the Tudor court was not risque at the time - history has taught us enough to the contrary - but the film insists on heavily ignoring facts for the sake of cheap shots.
It begins when Katherine of Aragon (the strong Ana Torrent) cannot provide a male heir to the English throne, which leads the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) and brother in law, Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) to scheme to install the elder Boleyn daughter Anne (Natalie Portman, wisely using her strong lines to maximum effect) in the court of Henry VIII as the king's mistress and potential mother of his son. This disgusts mother Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas, by far owning the film).
The plan backfires when the King (Eric Bana, completely outclassed by the women)gets injured in hunting accident, and is nursed by Anne's recently married sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson, once again mesmerizing with her range) and he falls for her. Henry pushes Mary and her husband William Carey (Benedict Cumberbatch) to accept positions at the court, to get Mary whilst sending William on assignments. When Mary too, begins to fall for the King, Anne's jealousy and her sister's reluctance to renounce either filial or amoral affections leads to a conflict that ends in the well known tragedy.
It's crackerjack stuff, this. History has always been more interesting in it's machinations than any fiction we have been able to conjure up, but Chadwick ends up making this story boring by frantically jogging along with no segues or interest in the human emotion of his players. He is so impatient with moving to the next plot point that he scarcely gives us time to understand and appreciate the toll events take on people.
With so much going on, it is a huge surprise that the film seems static, never actually getting any where. The film overall looks gorgeous, having been shot in high definition, but technical finesse starts with a well written script and ends at judicious editing, both of which are sorely lacking.
The film is a lesson in how not to get swayed by the scope of a book (it is based on Philippa Gregory's historical book), or the many events in history that give your story texture, and stay steadfast on the path of the story that must be told. If there's nothing interesting that you can do this weekend, go by all means. The film is not bad in its execution as much as it is a disappointment in storytelling.