Sunday, October 19, 2008

[TIFF 2008 Review] The Other Boleyn Girl

[This review is pulled forward from the archive to coincide with the film’s screening at this year’s TIFF.]

Your Choice?

The art of being a woman is to let the man believe they are in charge, as advised to Anne Boleyn in the movie by her mother Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas)

Chilling words, aren't they, for all the men out there when watching this movie of a power struggle of sorts between the Boleyn sisters for the love, power and position from the King of England of the time, Henry Tudor (Eric Bana). I've been intrigued with the British monarchy of old ever since getting quick history lessons by the Beefeaters at the Tower of London back in 2004, and setting foot into the very premises where the events of the time took place, and visiting Anne Boleyn's final resting place at the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, makes one wonder about its rich history. After all, I've stood where many have stood hundreds of years ago when they witnessed Anne Boleyn's execution, and one could only imagine what the atmosphere was like back then.

With the relative success of English period dramas like Elizabeth, thanks to the powerful performance of Cate Blanchett, The Other Boleyn Girl takes a step backwards in the timeline and dealt with the events immediately before Elizabeth's reign, tracing her ancestry of sorts, since Anne Boleyn is her mother. And nothing beats having the web of intrigue weave its tangled mess as almost everyone plays for self advancement.

The Boleyns good fortune likes with having beautiful daughters - Anne (Natalie POrtman) and Mary (Scarlett Johannson), hence the opportunity for marriage, used as a tool for consolidation of wealth and position should they marry into priviledged families. And of course, there's none other when Dad Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) and Uncle the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) scheme to plant the seeds of lust in the reigning King of England, and in doing so, causes the sisters to battle it out under heaps of misunderstanding, and growing hatred one has for the other, given a lust for power.

The political intrigue is nothing mind boggling, but goes to show how lust corrupts. In the case of Anne, her desire to be Queen outstrips her compassion for everyone, and as a one woman operator, out-schemes everyone in order to further her goals. For Mary, what seemed to be at first a non-noble thing to do in having to commit "sanctioned" adultery for the good of her family's standing, becomes a love for the man who's every so fickle. Eric Bana's Henry broods too much, and often thinks with his other head, so obvious in his explicit want to covert Anne even though he has his wife Queen Katherine (Ana Torrent), cast aside for not producing a male heir, and having child with Mary.

You might be anticipating some form of contrast of love that Henry had for Anne and Mary, but this is reduced to the comparison of love scenes, one tender, the other taking the rough and tumble route. While Johansson's Mary doesn't get a lot to do, nor opportunities for her to shine, the star of the show is undoubtedly Natalie Portman, as she plots and plans and allows for a series of emotions to come through as she struggles hard to be accepted, and then crumble into a heap toward the end under pressure to reproduce. It's not very often you get to see this negative side that get played out by Portman, so fans of hers, you're in for a real treat.

I thought the production values was excellent too, with rich costumes designed as well as attention to details paid, though certain important events and their impact were quickly glossed over, like how Henry VIII broke ties with the Catholic Church. Sure it is a Hollywood dramatization which allowed for some artistic license to be taken, but I thought, if memory served me right, that the finale was quite accurate, even though the sequences of events had to be super compressed. Things like her final appearance, and even the weapon of choice changed from an axe to a sword, are testament to those values, though some may argue that the ugly details were spared, which I felt could be left out, otherwise it might be a little morbid anyway.

So with period dramas recounting key events from relatively famous historical figures from the past - the Boleyn girls, Elizabeth and even Marie Antoinette, one wonders which other female blue blood will get the opportunity to be brought to the big screen.

You can read more about Anne Boleyn here.

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