The Other Boleyn Girl
, 04 May 2008
Justin Chadwicks adaptation of Philippa Gregorys bestselling novel about Anne (Portman) and Mary (Johansson) Boleyn and their competition for the affections of King Henry VIII (Bana) features more ACTING than all the other films Ive seen this week put together.
It becomes a two hour parade of performances so jaw droppingly substandard that it really is a challenge to say who is worst. Chadwick seems particularly unable to control his American stars (indeed these performances suggest that he was intimidated by the job). Portman is truly awful, struggling with her accent and delivering a performance of such boundless, overplayed, malevolence, such overstated subtext that its just laughable. Johansson, wisely, doesnt try to come up to Portmans level of campy overacting, but it really would have been nice if shed done something, anything really. Her performance is barely alive enough to rate the description one note and one suspects that if Mary had instead been played by a plank wearing a Scarlett Johansson mask the film would have been more or less the same.
Eric Bana doesnt have much to do as Henry, but he makes sure we know hes there by doing it all LOUDLY. Hes got two gears, shouty and brooding. Not for an instant do you believe him as a monarch, or indeed as anyone but Eric Bana in tights. As bad as the three individual performances are their combination is deadly. Everyones doing their own little thing and theres no connection, no chemistry, between any of them. The sex scenes generate all the heat of a freezer in the arctic and theres absolutely no sense of the sexual longing for Anne, which makes Henry tear England apart so he can have her. Without that the film falls apart, ending up devoid of feeling or indeed any reason to care about anything or anyone on screen.
The supporting cast are little help. Mark Rylance, a fine actor, is irritating as the fey Thomas Boleyn, but its probably David Morissey who wins the wooden spoon for the worst performance among this selection box of ineptitude. As the Duke of Norfolk Morrisey chews up and spits out all the scenery not already devoured by Natalie Portman in a performance so pantomimic in its evil that you half expect him to end every sentence with muahahaha and to grow a moustache specifically so he can twirl it.
Its just so, so bad.
Director Justin Chadwick comes from TV, having made the BBCs acclaimed Bleak House series a few years back. It shows in his visuals which, for all the opulence of the costumes, the beauty of the settings and the well realised period detail, look for the most part like a TV show on a big screen. Once in a while though hell drop in a shot that screams its a MOVIE, most of them featuring glaringly poor CGI, before then reverting to the stodgy look of the bulk of the film.
The film also happens to have some atrocious editing. On many occasions well see a short scene, sometimes as little as a couple of sentences, and then cut bafflingly quickly to the next thing, leaving the preceding scene seeming unfinished. This happens a lot, and while Im not very interested in seeing more of this awful film it might have helped to lengthen it, this might plug up some plot holes and show us things that are only referred to in this version.
So, why a 2 star grade rather than a 1? Well, theres the kernel of a good film here. The central drama is actually interesting and there are things being said about forced marriage and about politics that still feel relevant, sadly they drown in a film, which seems simply to have lacked a director able to control it.
Theres also much to be admired on the production and costume design side of things, which at least makes the film diverting to look at. The main reason, though, is Kristin Scott Thomas. She may be woefully under utilised as Anne and Marys mother but the steely performance she gives lights up every scene shes in, bringing the film stuttering to life for a few brief moments. Its not enough though; some nice frocks and one strong performance cant disguise this train wreck for longer than a few seconds.
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