Meh. That was my feeling upon seeing The Other Boleyn Girl last night. Didn’t hate it, but certainly didn’t love it, either. I felt justified in my opinion after reading Sarah Johnson’s review at Reading the Past. I purposely didn’t read her review until after seeing the film and found myself nodding my head as I read. I’m not going to repeat what you can read there; what follows here are some additional reactions of my own.
It was little things about the film that bugged me, more than any of the liberties taken with the history. The convention of viewing characters through open doors and windows, for example. I understood that the art director was trying to capture the look of contemporary paintings—and in one instance I remember catching my breath because the scene reminded me so strongly of a Dutch painting or a portrait by Clouet—but by the end of the film, the constant framing of distant characters annoyed me to no end.
Then there were the frequent exterior shots of the castles—the Boleyn home, Hampton Court, the Tower of London. I don’t know when the Boleyn estate was built, but it bothered me that it looked so OLD in the film; Hampton Court, also. (I’m assuming it was Hampton Court, although I remember HC being built of red brick and the castle in the movie was gray. I don’t think it was Windsor—anyone know which castle they used?) Much rebuilding and renovating took place on older residences during the sixteenth century. I’d expect these places to look brand-spanking new, not old and crumbly. And what was it with the clouds moving at rapid speed during these shots? Such a clichéd way of showing the passage of time or the headlong course to disaster.
The music left me cold. Instead of using period music, the movie featured a score that must have been written especially for it. Again, it was overly dramatic, filled with a sense of impending doom. There was one scene of a dance at court that featured period music, but I don’t remember any others. I think proper music would have added greatly to the atmosphere and lessened the “we-know-what’s-gonna-happen-and-you-the-characters-don’t” feel to the score.
I disagree that Anne would view being sent to the French court as punishment. Ignoring the fact that she and Mary spent time at the French court long before they ever met Henry, I hardly doubt Anne would have equated being there as “exile.” The French court was noted for its elegance and sophistication; English noblewomen went there to acquire a certain refinement and were often loath to return home to the uncouth English counterpart when their stint was up. And of course, I’ll have to chalk Anne’s unflattering comments about François I as being exaggerations intended to flatter Henry by comparison.
Ah, Henry. I’m sorry, but as much as I love Eric Bana, I don’t think he fit the part. Henry had red-golden (or at least sandy) hair and was often compared to a lion. I just couldn’t accept dark and brooding Bana as the King. I also found it amusing how often he ran about the palace unattended, and seriously doubt his mistress would spend the entire night in his rooms, given that the ceremony of the King’s lever would occur at first light. And speaking of ridiculous scenes, there’s no way on earth Mary would ride off in the middle of the night, ALONE on horseback, to escape her brother and sister.
Okay, so was there anything I liked? The costumes, of course, were gorgeous, the acting solid. Nothing outrageously anachronistic destroyed the unfolding of the story; the motivations, if somewhat exaggerated, were believable. The film did a good job portraying women’s roles and the importance of begetting male heirs. And I was glad the sex scenes faded to black and didn’t become the focus of the movie. All in all, it was an enjoyable experience, but just reinforced for me the risks involved in fictionalizing historical personages. Someone in the comment trail on Sarah’s blog linked to an article by Philippa Gregory herself on the film. Well worth a read.