Mark and I went to see The Other Boleyn Girl last night up in Savoy, something I considered a professional obligation. While I can write a decent book review, I won't even make the attempt to do a full-fledged writeup of a film… besides, I think the NY Times review speaks for itself. So, instead, I'll point out a few thoughts that occurred to me while watching, and since.
Here Be Spoilers, below. You've been warned.
While walking into the theater, I was surprised to note how crowded it was (this hardly ever happens with period pieces shown in area cinemas) and how most of the audience consisted of high-school and college-age girls. I was pleased to see so much interest in historical topics (and Gregory's novel in particular) from a younger crowd, although their reactions to certain scenes made it clear they didn't know much about the characters or period, and that most hadn't read the novel. For example, the audience gasped loudly when the suggestion of possible incest between Anne Boleyn and her brother, George, was raised - which anyone who'd read the book would have known.
Despite this supposedly shocking moment, the film does play it safe, more so than Gregory's novel did, and not just in that instance. Johansson's Mary Boleyn = meek, quiet, and biddable; Portman's Anne = outspoken, witty, daring, and ambitious. Making them polar opposites simplifies things, and rendered the movie superficial. Gregory's version of Mary was more well-rounded, and therefore more interesting; I found it hard to root for either sister, despite it being blatantly obvious that their father and uncle were using them to fulfill their own ambitions ("pimping them out" is the phrase the NYT review used, and rather aptly).
The pacing was very uneven; Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon flashes by within minutes. The film moves very quickly from Anne's pressuring him into breaking with the church, to Catherine's protests to the Pope, to Anne's being crowned, whereas Mary's life as (and adjustment to being) his mistress takes up the entire first half. Furthermore, what happens to William Carey, Mary's first husband? In one scene, King Henry, while in bed with Mary, asks her teasingly if she'd mind if he sent her husband away from court. Carey's never mentioned again, although one assumes (in the film) that he died, because William Stafford indicates his interest in her not long after. This is reminiscent of soap operas in which a child who's become superfluous to the storyline gets sent off to boarding school, whereupon *poof* he's erased from their universe entirely. Maybe in the director's cut on DVD, we'll find out about William's untold demise, as well as the mysterious third child running around in the English countryside in the final scene (which parallels the three Boleyn siblings, shown running around in the same field in the film's opening). One's Mary's son, presumably; the other's Princess Elizabeth (because Mary Boleyn flees the court with her!). Mary never gives birth to daughter Catherine in the movie, so who knows.
Kristin Scott Thomas (Elizabeth Boleyn) and Ana Torrent (Catherine of Aragon) play their roles with conviction, stealing every scene they're in. Natalie Portman, of the three leads, does the most believable job; Johansson portrays Mary rather limpidly. Bana is attractive enough, but the role doesn't suit him. Elements of foreshadowing (visceral scenes of cleavers chopping meat, just as King Henry first arrives at the Boleyn home for a royal visit) were cheap and silly. Pretty costumes; some stunning imagery of riders along the English coastline at twilight; lots of drama and intrigue, at the expense of character, but about what I expected.
Even considering its own slant on the events, the book was more enjoyable. Perhaps I should have seen The Other Boleyn Film instead, aka the TV miniseries; I understand it was better.