No-one is going to lose their head over this dodgy adaptation

PUBLISHED: 13:11 10 March 2008 | UPDATED: 14:51 07 September 2010

Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson

Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson

By Michael Joyce THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (12a) Director Justin Chadwick, Starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Eric Bana, David Morrissey, Kristen Scott Thomas. 115 mins Two star rating New from BBC Films, another dip into the tiny incestuous poo

By Michael Joyce

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (12a)

Director Justin Chadwick, Starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Eric Bana, David Morrissey, Kristen Scott Thomas. 115 mins

Two star rating

New from BBC Films, another dip into the tiny incestuous pool of British costume drama. Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens, the two World Wars, Queen Victoria and Henry VIII, that's the lot apparently.

Taken from a novel by Phillipa Gregory, this is the battle of the two Boleyn sisters, Anne and Mary, to ensnare the heart of the king and advance their family's position. Director Chadwick has been charged with creating an heir to the hit Elizabeth and if you really, really need yet another telling of the Henry VIII's story, this might do.

British superscribe Peter (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) Morgan provides the script but even he struggles to believably cram so much history into a two hour running time. The result is lots of awkward exposition dialogue, like Anne's pithy two line summary of the significance of the break from Rome and the formation of the Church of England just as Henry is about to take her from behind for the first time.

The British cast is uniformly solid, especially Rylance as the weak but ambitious Boleyn father pimping his girls for advancement. But the film is all about the three Hollywood imports. On a basic level, all three succeed in blending in and not looking or sounding anachronistic.

I'm mystified by Johanssen's career plan though. It is nominally the lead but Mary, the nice Boleyn sister, is a dishcloth of a role, designed to be overshadowed. Portman is tremendous as Anne Boleyn and if she were a young British star, the press would be trampling over Keira Knightley in their haste to fawn all over her. The style and costumes really suit her but leave Johanssen looking rather plain. She gives a good solid performance but nobody will notice.

The frustration is Bana. Every actor from Laughton to Rhys Meyers to Sid James has had their own interpretation of Henry VIII but they've all known to play him big. Bana, the man who sucked the ferocity out of the Hulk, pads gently through the role. Someone must have told him that what was required was brooding intensity not theatrics. He spends most of the film with his chin resting on his knuckles, like a chess grand master pondering his next move while the audience hum the traditional ditty, "He's Henry VIII? He ain't, he ain't.


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