It was an easy life, being a Tudor noble. With no battles or politics or angry peasants to concern you, there was nothing to do except stroll around court, showing off your fabulously ornate doublet and hose, and nothing to think about except who was in bed with the King. That's the impression you get from The Other Boleyn Girl, a Renaissance soap opera in which the frocks are heavy, colourful and gorgeously embroidered, but everything else is black and white and threadbare.
Adapted from Philippa Gregory's novel, the film stars Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn and Scarlett Johansson as her lesser known sister, Mary (pictured). Their parents, Mark Rylance and Kristin Scott Thomas, and their uncle, David Morrissey, hope that the coquettish Anne could be the new mistress of Henry VIII, Eric Bana, but it's the demure Mary who catches his eye.
Though she is supposedly in a loving marriage, it takes her parents 15 seconds to persuade her to trade up. But Anne won't be sidelined that easily. She's determined to be the Queen of England if it's the last thing she does.
Even though it edits out almost everything about Henry's reign that occurred outside his bedchamber, The Other Boleyn Girl still has too much to get through, so it gallops from short scene to short scene, as if it were a two-hour trailer for a much longer film, and the dialogue has no time to do anything except summarise the situation. My favourite example is when Anne gripes, "Why doesn't he just annul his marriage?" "No. That would mean breaking with the Church of Rome," comes the reply, presumably straight out of an O-level essay that screenwriter, Peter Morgan, found in a bottom drawer.
Neither he nor the actors get any rounded characterisation into the triangle, leaving viewers unsure of who they're supposed to care about: the nakedly venomous Anne, the nauseatingly passive Mary, or the dopey pushover Henry, who's willing to reject his religion and his only son for any wench who won't sleep with him on the first date.