The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Rated R. Our ratings: V-2 ; L-1 ; S/N-5 . Running time: 1 hour 55 min.

The human mind may devise many plans,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be
established.
What is desirable in a person is loyalty,
and it is better to be poor than a liar.
Proverbs 19:21-22

The two Bolyn sisters.

2008 Columbia Pictures

Justin Chadwick, directing from writer Peter Morgan’s adaptation of the novel by Philippa Gregory, offers another boudoir history of the reign of King Henry VIII. More fiction than fact, the film leads us to be lieve that the ultimate disruption of the Catholic Church was caused by the manipulative wiles of two women, rather than the King’s desperate attempt to acquire a male heir and thus spare the country of a resumption of the bloody civil war that racked England just before his assumption of the throne. And for dramatic reasons, author Gregory’s tale reverses the character of the two sisters, as well as changing the nature of their parents who were anything but the schemers portrayed in novel and story. Best thing about the film is the portrayal of Henry’s wife Katharine of Aragon (Ana Torrent) as a dignified woman who felt deep mortification at being shunted aside because she could not produce a live male heir.

Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson) are depicted as at first close sisters and loyal to their uncle the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey)and parents, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance), who propose that Ann capture the heart of and become mistress to the King (Eric Bana) when he arrives with his party for a visit. Ann boldly insists on riding her own horse during a fox hunt, rather than sitting behind a male rider. She becomes the indirect cause of the King’s being hurt from a fall, and thus falls out of favor. Mary nurses the king during his recuperation, and he falls in love with her, soon taking her on as mistress. Her cover is that she is appointed as a lady in waiting to Queen Katherine, the latter knowingly putting her through a period of questioning upon her arrival at court. Mary is already married, but her spineless husband is content with a royal appointment that conveniently removes him from court. However, manipulative Ann weaves her web, eventually capturing the lustful king’s attention. She plays hard to get, refusing to enter his bed until he sets aside Katherine. As depicted here, Ann is the strong personality, with Henry being the hapless male easily manipulated by a cunning vixen.

There is very little history in this film, it being more suitable for Lifetime than the History Channel. If we were to see it through the eyes of Jane Austin, Mary becomes “Sense” and Ann “Sensibility,” the former giving her heart to the king throughout the story, and Ann using her brains and her sex to get the king to do her bidding. Unfortunately, there is in the script little of the elegance (other than in costume design) or wit of the 19th century author.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) What do you think of such rewriting of history as we see in this film?

For instance, historically it was Mary who was the more forward of the two sisters. She, not Ann, was the first of the two to travel to France, where she dallied with various men, becoming the mistress of the French king. Her parents were scandalized by her behavior and did not engage in the scheme depicted in the film.)

2) To what does the film appeal—our interest in history, or our prurient desires?

3) How does the film show Ann as victimized by her own methods? How does the film play to the traditional Catholic charge that the English Reformation was due mainly to sex, rather than to King Henry’s fear of a new civil war if he did not produce a male heir?

4) What role does religion seem to play at the court? Any hint of real faith in anyone? Did you see any reference to Sir Thomas More, he of A Man For All Season fame?