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‘Boleyn’ fascinating topic, but story is all over place

‘Boleyn’ fascinating topic, but story is all over place

The film "The Other Boleyn Girl" informs and reminds us of a perilous time in British history, prodd
‘Boleyn’ fascinating topic, but story is all over place
Natalie Portman portrays Anne Boleyn, left, and Scarlett Johansson portrays her sister, Mary, in &quot;The Other Boleyn Girl.&quot;

In a nutshell, “The Other Boleyn Girl” is the story of a couple of guys eager and willing to pimp out their daughters and nieces to achieve and maintain a power base.

It’s the story of how it somehow all led to a sex-crazed monarch’s decision to break with the Catholic Church and thus change the course of history and religion.

It’s the story of two young sisters — Anne and Mary Boleyn — who more or less acquiesce to the wishes of men. One of the “girls” sleeps with the king, bears his bastard child, but somehow retains her head; the other, imperious, vengeful and bitchy, gets her way, but loses her head in the process.

It’s a story worthy of a Shakespearean drama, but instead is based on a 2002 novel of the same name by Philippa Gregory. As a drama, it informs and reminds us of a perilous time in British history, prodding us into a reflection on many issues from religion to politics to the nature of women in man’s quest for power, and of the truth of statements like, “Love is of no value without power and position.”

Jumbled narrative

For one who stood on the very spot where Anne Boleyn lost her head, it conjures up a kind of gossipy interest in court intrigue, a nagging wish to have been a casual observer in the court of Henry Tudor, better known as Henry VIII, the “I-Am, I-Am” monarch who wanted a son and apparently a lot of extra-curricular sex, and in the run for lascivious pleasure, fathered a daughter who would go down as one of England’s greatest — a girl named Elizabeth, whose mother lost her head because, ostensibly, she could not bear a male heir.

“The Other Boleyn Girl” offers material rich enough to be great drama and sordid enough to qualify as a prime-time soap opera. As realized here, its value as dramatic entertainment is compromised by a rather jagged and jumbled narrative assembled by creators who seem to have trouble harnessing the abundance of juicy stories within one movie. So many angles, so difficult to lock in on one with a consistent point of view.

‘The Other Boleyn Girl’

DIRECTED BY Justin Chadwick

SCREENPLAY BY Peter Morgan, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory

STARRING Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, David Morrissey, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Rylance, Jim Sturgess and Ana Torrent

RATED R

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

See the trailer for this feature

Justin Chadwick’s movie survives just because it is dealing with a terrifically interesting story. As a drama, however, it is all over the place, rushing furiously in and out of intrigue, unable to concentrate on one issue or character long enough to amass passion and intensity. Instead of giving us a full meal, it serves up morsels, some of them tantalizing and delicious. But when we leave the feast assembled for us, we do not feel quite as nourished as we might have wished.

We may conclude that a meal based on one or two of those tidbits would have been quite enough, thank you. We may also conclude that only a chef named Shakespeare could have managed to serve up a feast with so many delectable entrees.

Ultimately unsatisfying

As it is, we have Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, a bit uncomfortable with her accent, but nasty enough to be credible. We do not learn enough about her past or alleged dalliances in France or her part in the revolt against the Catholic Church. Scarlett Johansson is more convincing as Mary, that other Boleyn girl, who at 18, delivered a boy, courtesy of Henry, who was married to Catherine of Aragon, played by Ana Torrent, who, minute for minute, turns in the movie’s finest performance.

Eric Bana does not give us that robust Henry we see in paintings, but he is reduced to running back and forth between court and boudoirs. Then there is George, the Boleyn brother, accused of incest. You could make a movie just about George or about Anne or Mary. Or Henry. So little time to get to everyone, including the girls’ mother (Kirsten Scott Thomas), who cannot be happy with her husband’s decisions. Then again, who knows how this woman really regarded the chance to catapult her daughters onto the precipice of what was then world power.

So many strands are left tangled in this tantalizing but curiously unsatisfying narrative. So many questions — enough of them to send us scurrying to books and other documents to get the real scoop on these two sisters and the guys they hung out with. One story at a time, which is what we do not get from a screening of “The other Boleyn Girl.”

‘The Other Boleyn Girl’

DIRECTED BY Justin Chadwick

SCREENPLAY BY Peter Morgan, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory

STARRING Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, David Morrissey, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Rylance, Jim Sturgess and Ana Torrent

RATED R

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

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