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The Other Boleyn Girl DVD Review

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) movie poster The Other Boleyn Girl

Theatrical Release: February 29, 2008 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Justin Chadwick / Writers: Peter Morgan (screenplay), Philippa Gregory (novel)

Cast: Natalie Portman (Anne Boleyn), Scarlett Johansson (Mary Boleyn), Eric Bana (Henry Tudor), Jim Sturgess (George Boleyn), Mark Rylance (Sir Thomas Boleyn), Kristin Scott Thomas (Lady Elizabeth Boleyn), David Morrissey (The Duke of Norfolk), Benedict Cumberbatch (William Carey), Oliver Coleman (Henry Percy), Ana Torrent (Katherine of Aragon), Eddie Redmayne (William Stafford), Juno Temple (Jane Parker), Iain Mitchell (Thomas Cromwell), Andrew Garfield (Francis Weston), Mark Lewis Jones (Brandon), Corinne Galloway (Jane Seymour)

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Well over four hundred years since his death, England's King Henry VIII remains a famous figure for a number of reasons, perhaps most of all the change he brought to his country's religious affiliations. To the typical person, though, Henry VIII is most fascinating for his romantic record, having had six wives over the years and at least a few mistresses on the side. This aspect is of the utmost interest to The Other Boleyn Girl, a recent historical drama which boils down the monarch's four-decade reign
to a few tumultuous years of romances spanning from Wife #1 to Wife #3.

The elements in place -- Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson starring in a film primarily about sex -- are enough to get the imaginations of men's magazine readers racing. But this PG-13-rated period piece is not eager to entertain salacious fantasies and undone bodices, instead delving into a thoughtful character study. The film is told primarily from the perspective of Anne and Mary Boleyn, two young adult siblings who separately wind up in the King's bed and accordingly have their lives dramatically altered.

Henry VIII (Eric Bana, star of Hulk and Munich) is growing weary of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), which has yet to produce a male heir. Apparently, this means it's only a matter of time before he starts looking elsewhere for pleasures of the flesh. The Boleyn sisters' father (Mark Rylance) and uncle (David Morrissey) decide their aristocratic family could enjoy an instant status upgrade if one of their pretty young women will agree to being the lucky concubine. Even if Mary (Johansson) weren't already married, the obvious choice would be Anne (Portman), who is somehow better suited to such a calling.

As the royal entourage arrives, we'll see if there really were never such devoted sisters as Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlet Johansson). King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) leans in and takes interest of Anne Boleyn, while The Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) looks on.

Things don't go exactly as planned but soon enough, King Henry is indeed bedding a Boleyn: Mary. When their mating efforts put Mary in bed rest, the other Boleyn girl, Anne, is summoned back from exile in France. Though she successfully woos the King with her wit, Anne isn't eager to accept the newly-reopened position of royal mistress. She wants a legitimate relationship, encouraging an annulment with drastic global repercussions.

It seems fair to call The Other Boleyn Girl a royal soap opera. Alas, the negative connotations of that label do not readily apply. The film adopts a narrow focus in exploring one simple but weighty thread in the life of this monarch: ensuring a male heir exists. International relations and even the concurrent English Reformation are all but left out in favor of a semi-factual study of sisters alternately rivals and allies.

As such, we get one of the more accessible period dramas ever made and it's filled with juicy human interest material. Those turned off by stifling period stiffness and political plot complexities may welcome the straightforward myopia found here. Liaisons born out of strategy and libido, not love, are the name of the game. The collision between our down-to-earth leading ladies and the propriety-based throne is enough to sustain the attentions even of those with a distinct aversion to the genre.

It's not all hugs and girl talk between Anne and Mary. Here, they exchange words in profile. Skeptical queen Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent) asks Mary to demonstrate the special talents that qualify her as a royal lady-in-waiting.

In taking such an approach, The Other Boleyn Girl strikes a middle-of-the-road mindset that confirms that the film's Leap Day opening wasn't the result of some studio miscalculation. Had it reached theaters two months earlier, one would assume the movie fit the mold of modern-day awards bait -- lavish archaic setting, critical hype and modest moviegoer interest.
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But though it might have looked the part, it doesn't play it. The production is simpler, the casting is star-driven, and the drama isn't sweeping. The candidness of the film is actually quite refreshing.

As a project that clearly lends itself to remarkable acting, The Other Boleyn Girl doesn't gain the most notice in this regard. In the biggest roles, Natalie Portman and Scarlet Johansson do well with the mild accents and considerable characterization. The accomplished Portman is more natural and convincing, but both do their part to keep the sibling drama afloat. Eric Bana, whose star takeoff has seemed imminent yet halted for years, makes for a moderately compelling Henry, though the king (whose wide coats feel like an unrealized punchline) comes off more plain and illogical than lusty and powerful.

Familiar faces abound in supporting roles, including Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) as the Boleyns' reserved mother, Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, 21) as the girls' vaguely epicene brother, Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement) as Mary's husband, and Eddie Redmayne (The Good Shepherd) as a friendly courtier. All of the aforementioned and others not singled out are able to keep the proceedings moving without lulls but they're not given enough material to qualify as standout.

The Other Boleyn Girl marks the feature directorial debut for Justin Chadwick, who has spent more than a decade in English television. Chadwick's TV background shows in the conservative choices he makes, which surprisingly often ask characters and objects to turn part of the frame into a black void. One gets the sense that screenwriter Peter Morgan is staying faithful to the source text, Philippa Gregory's best-selling and sequel-spawning 2002 novel. But the knack for human drama that's helped lift Morgan from TV to the big screen (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) shines through here, as does his apparent interest in political biopics of any age.

Buy The Other Boleyn Girl on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras Subtitled in English
Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 10, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $14.94 (Reduced from $28.96)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Other Boleyn Girl comes to DVD exclusively in its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, of course enhanced for 16x9 displays. I found nothing wrong with the picture quality, which is clean, sharp and colorful. Those who go in expecting flashy, stunning costumes and set dressing may be disappointed, for the film comes up a little short on flair and visual drama. Without having seen the BBC's 2003 filming that was made for TV on a budget of $100,000, I can only guess that this 2008 adaptation is much more polished. Although with a crew seasoned more in TV than movies, it may not be that far removed from higher-end small screen productions.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack prompts remote control reaches with its mix of quietly-spoken dialogue and the occasional burst of horse trotting. After a while, it seems to settle on a happy medium between the two and though fairly low-key, the track capably delivers words and music.

Mama Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas) offers words of comfort to Mary as they watch a staged scene in the courtyard. Jim Sturgess talks about George Boleyn, the character he plays in his second of three recent high-profile Columbia Pictures films.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

First and longest among bonus features is an audio commentary by director Justin Chadwick. The fact that he's not given any company is cancelled out by the eagerness with which this first-time director is willing to share his new experiences. Chadwick's comments run a gamut, giving us a mix of production anecdotes, dramatic intent talk,
his guiding principles, and technical observations. It's not lively enough for those opposed to commentaries or apathetic towards filmmaking to go against their guts. But those who really enjoy the movie or want to hear about moving from TV to period film will come away informed with few dry spells.

Twelve deleted and extended scenes run just under 23 minutes with the "Play All" option. The serving isn't quite as robust as that runtime suggests, as a number of the sequences play as in the film with slight extensions or minor alterations. Inevitably, there are also items of substance: 2 enlightening scenes between Mary and her husband William, another with a report from her friend William Carey, a couple more of Mary and Anne, Anne's full "fortune reading" of the King, and an alternate ending with different text. Presented in 16x9 and Dolby 5.1, the scenes look just like the finished product.

Next up is "Members of the Court: Character Biographies" (16:00), which grants six featured characters a 2-3 minute profile in which they're discussed by screenwriter Peter Morgan, novelist Philippa Gregory, cast members, and historian-professors. Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn, King Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, George Boleyn, and The Duke of Norfolk comprise the studied half-dozen.

Philippa Gregory, author of "The Other Boleyn Girl", discusses her inspirations as well as her reactions to the film adaptation in the featurette "Translating History to Screen." Eric Bana peeks out behind ornate gold swirls in the animated main menu.

Three additional inclusions turn up on a "Featurettes" page. "To Be a Lady" (10:30) discusses the role and customs of women in 16th century England and the inequalities they faced. The more general "Translating History to Screen" (10:05) covers the penning of Gregory's book and Morgan's script as well as the film's themes.
Finally, the short but disposable "Camera Tests" (2:15) preserves pre-production footage from July 2006 that merely demonstrate how random subjects respond to the HD cameras. Director Justin Chadwick, seen here with young daughter, narrates to that effect.

Upon insertion of the disc, a promo for Sony films on Blu-ray is followed by trailers for Hancock and Persepolis. These are also found among the three pages of Previews, where they're joined by looks at The House Bunny, 21, Vantage Point, Married Life, The Band's Visit, Across the Universe, The Jane Austen Book Club, Made of Honor, and Prom Night.

The menus serve up an expected blend of royal colors, swirls, and dramatic montage. Actually, that last element is limited to the score-equipped main menu; all submenus are silent and static, though consistent in design.

The only in-case insert is a double-sided sheet on the Other Boleyn Girl Royal Rendezvous Sweepstakes, which promises one winner a short stay at a Thornbury Castle bedchamber and five others a diamond ring.

Henry VII woos Anne Boleyn with some seductive song: "I'm Henry the Eighth, I am! Henry the Eighth, I am, I am!..." Natalie and Scarlett's sister time gets interrupted by a second attempt at a royal gift delivery.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Heading into The Other Boleyn Girl, I didn't have much interest or many expectations. I left mildly satisfied and eager to read up on the real personalities dramatized here. This won't be mistaken for comparably-set films that garner attention for striking wardrobes, meticulous designs, and relevant social commentary. But for a character-driven period drama, I found it engaging enough to overlook the few problems (like shallow breadth and inevitable historical inaccuracies) and enjoy it for what it is.

Sony's DVD release is a pretty solid one. In addition to expectedly good picture and sound, the disc provides a pleasantly deep menu of bonus features which strike a healthy balance between historical and filmmaking interest. While I won't go as far to recommend the film for those utterly turned off by the subject matter, I will encourage those on the fence to give it a try. It's a surprisingly accessible and moderately enjoyable drama that's well-presented on DVD.

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Related Reviews:
England's Monarchy: The Tudors: The Complete First Season Elizabeth: The Golden Age Braveheart: Special Collector's Edition
From Screenwriter Peter Morgan: The Queen | From BBC Films: Becoming Jane Eastern Promises



The Cast of The Other Boleyn Girl:
Scarlett Johansson: The Prestige He's Just Not That Into You | Natalie Portman: The Darjeeling Limited New York, I Love You
Jim Sturgess: 21 Across the Universe | Eric Bana: Funny People Finding Nemo | David Morrissey: The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep

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Reviewed June 11, 2008.



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