Sexy sisters can’t create sizzle

“The Other Boleyn Girl” fails to live up to its trashy-novel predecessor.

by Kara Nesvig

King Henry VIII: precursor to Hugh Hefner? Perhaps, if you’re to believe “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Everyone’s heard the stories about ye olde Tudor king and his penchant for harems of ladies, and his tendency to lop off their heads at the slightest provocation. And though you might not be seeing a beheading of Holly, Bridget or Kendra on reruns of “The Girls Next Door,” it certainly seems that Hef’s taken a few cues from the legendary Henry VIII. The story of the king and his eventual chain of six wives and countless mistresses is a juicy, Harlequin -romance-worthy page of world history, but how did it come to be? Replace Holly and Bridget with Mary and Anne Boleyn, and you’ve got yourself a sexy little historical romance.

“The Other Boleyn Girl”

Directed by: Justin Chadwick
Starring: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana
Rated: PG-13
Playing at: Area theaters

Adapted from the Philippa Gregory novel of the same name, “The Other Boleyn Girl” is a film that should have remained a book on your shelf. Sure, it’s full of sumptuous Renaissance costuming (one could drown in the velvet) and its leading ladies – milk-and-honey Scarlett Johansson and her sharp, elegant counterpart Natalie Portman – are unquestionably gorgeous, but “The Other Boleyn Girl” fared far better as a summer poolside guilty pleasure.

Why? With such a premise, two beautiful sisters competing for the heart of a powerful and sexy King Henry VIII, how could a film version have failed? The answer is simple: too much is left out, glossed over and forgotten from page to screen.

The performances of its lead actors, Portman, Johansson and Eric Bana as the king, are decently pleasing, though Portman’s constantly furrowing eyebrows try to upstage the actress’s more expressive eyes. This is also true of Johansson’s quivering chin and full, oft-open mouth. There’s simply not enough tension bubbling under the surface of either sister to make their competition intriguing until the last 20 minutes of the film.

Given the circumstances and “The Other Boleyn Girl’s” fictional predecessor, the amount of sex in the film is a buildup that never really delivers. For such a legendary Lothario as King Henry VIII, shouldn’t the love scenes have been soundtracked more creatively than with a string-and-harp accompaniment? The passion between Henry and both Boleyn sisters is another simmering undercurrent that never boils over, leaving its audience as unsatisfied as a denied monarch. Hollywood loves using sex to sell a product, but with “The Other Boleyn Girl” they’ve shied away in favor of “seriousness.” Yet that’s what made the novel so fun; it wasn’t ashamed to resort to a little 16th century smut to engage its reader.

The film’s tendency to manipulate history is one of its more infuriating aspects. Everyone knows the legends of Henry VIII (even though he is best remembered as a corpulent lush with a decaying wound in his thigh and a string of six wives in his wake). Then again, Henry VIII was also the father of England’s most influential monarch, Elizabeth I, and himself a hugely important figure in the development of his country.

What “The Other Boleyn Girl” fails to recognize, much to the chagrin of a Tudor fan such as your reviewer, is that Henry VIII was never a Hollywood-handsome brunette like Bana. As is the custom with highly-stylized versions of real-life happenings played out on the silver screen, plenty of little details have been shifted to better suit the purpose of the film. It doesn’t deter one’s enjoyment, but it sure does irritate a history buff.

If you’re not familiar with the drama that swirled about the court of Henry VIII in the 1500s, it’s easy to get lost in “The Other Boleyn Girl’s” frantic pace of plot. A lot occurred back in that revolutionary period, including the creation of the Church of England and the beginning of Henry VIII’s serial matrimonies, and cramming that into two hours, instead of 672 pages, creates historical chaos.

Off with its head? Not quite. Though “The Other Boleyn Girl” fails to live up to the bodice-ripper that preceded it, it’s still a fairly captivating piece of cinema.