She’s a beautiful girl, young and somewhat talented. Pushed by her parents into fame, fortune and notoriety, only to suffer a tragic, public downfall. Thinking of Britney Spears? Try again. It’s a seemingly modern story with names you haven’t heard since ninth grade European studies. Perhaps it’s true what they say: It’s all just history repeating.
The life paralleling Spears’s is, in this case, Anne Boleyn’s (Natalie Portman, “V for Vendetta”). The movie opens with Papa Boleyn (British actor Mark Rylance) already putting pressure on his eldest daughter, declaring her destined for greater things than a pre-adolescent betrothal to a merchant. That honor is instead passed down to the younger and “fairer” Boleyn, Mary (Scarlett Johansson, “The Nanny Diaries”). Apparently Anne is too good for middle class but well-enough suited for prostitution. Her future role entails becoming a mistress to King Henry VIII (Eric Bana, “Munich”) who has grown tired of his wife’s inability to provide a male heir. (Now a quick modern science lesson would place the genetic blame on Henry’s little swimmers, but that is neither here nor there). When the King is dissatisfied, heads roll. Luckily, Anne and Mary’s skeevey uncle (David Morrissey, “The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep”) is in the wings ready and willing to pimp out his nieces – whoever catches Henry’s wandering eye – for a little bit of upward social mobility.
The rest is, well, history. While Anne and Mary are merely pawns in their uncle and father’s plan, they weren’t blameless. First Mary and then Anne take pride in becoming mistresses to the king. Confusingly, Anne’s motives behind her usurpation of Mary as Henry’s favorite young thing are never completely revealed. Revenge on her sister, wanton ambition or actual love for Henry – it’s really anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, Portman can’t be blamed for holes in the story. At least she tries to do something with what she’s given, switching Anne’s personality from pure and coy to vicious and calculating with relative ease. While she’s unable to truly humanize Anne, Portman still emerges the stronger actress of the two. In comparison, Johansson stands stagnant, with a Kewpie doll expression on her face, while the action moves around her. It wouldn’t have hurt to bring a little personality to Mary, the milder sister, but Johansson’s difficulties are also a reflection of poor casting decisions. The girl is known for certain things, and her relatively poor English accent isn’t one of them. Johansson is a sexpot trapped in a demure role.
We all know the end of this (somewhat fictionalized) history lesson. It’s hardly surprising, or even really that sad, to discover that there’s no happy conclusion to this story. Tragic finales are less moving when a character has been a total pill, or really boring for most of the film. “Boleyn Girl,” at best, is somewhat entertaining, but it does serve some worthwhile purpose. After all, the movie isn’t about love, politics or even really about history. It’s an exploration of how a seemingly good family could fall into disgrace. Dynamics of a fucked-up family are always interesting. Nothing quite says “family issues” like shades of adultery, treason and (almost) incest. The next time you want to complain about your nagging mom or annoying brother, just remember: It could be worse.
The Other Boleyn Girl
Rating:2 out of 5 stars