If you go to this film expecting a historical period piece you will be disappointed. While there are plenty of period costumes the film centers more on heaving bosoms and corsets rather than shedding light on what actually happened during this part of Tudor England. It is more soap opera than historic accuracy. Somehow though, director Justin Chadwick (first film) manages to make a film that will please those looking for a romance novel-like film.
Anne (Natalie Portman – Closer, V For Vendetta) and Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson – The Nanny Diaries, Match Point) were as close as two sisters could be. This closeness is tested when they are older by…what else…a man.
Henry VIII (Eric Bana – Munich, Hulk) is frustrated in his marriage with Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent – Iris) in that she cannot produce him a male heir. The politically ambitious Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey – The Water Horse: The Legend of the Deep, Captain Corelli's Mandolin), uncle to the two Boleyn sisters, finds out about the unhappiness in the royal marriage and approaches Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance – Angels & Insects) with the plan of offering Anne up to the King. Despite his wife's (Kristen Scott Thomas – The English Patient, Gosford Park) protests, Sir Thomas agrees and King Henry VIII is invited to the Boleyn house.
Initially Henry VIII is taken with Anne's youth and beauty, but is thrown (literally) by her wild ways and ends up being more interested in her quieter younger (and married) sister, Mary. After Henry VIII leaves with his tail between his legs, to avoid the scandal of her having taken up with a man (Oliver Coleman – first film) who has been promised to someone else Anne is sent to France to amend her ways and Mary is made part of Henry's court to work as one of Catherine's ladies. Despite the fact that she is married, Henry VIII proceeds to bed Mary. She becomes pregnant soon after, but it is a precarious pregnancy and Mary is ordered to spend it in bed. This leaves Henry VIII once again with no female diversion. The Duke of Norfolk convinces the Boleyns to send for Anne from France so they can maintain their influence over Henry VIII.
Anne returns and is seemingly a different person all together. She once again captures the eye of Henry VIII. Anne is not about to become another woman that Henry VIII beds and then abandons…or so she thinks. So she hatches an elaborate plan in order to force him to reject her sister and the baby and then divorce Catherine so Anne can become Queen of England. A trouble brews between the sisters as Mary is truly in love with Henry VIII. Unfortunately for the Boleyns things do not turn out as Anne had hoped they would.
The only thing that truly saves this from being a soap opera is the acting skills of Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. Interestingly enough they are both cast against type in this film with Johansson playing the quieter, plainer sister and Portman being the self-assured, wicked one. They both pull it off and it is a credit to their acting talents that they do so. I could even look beyond the fact that Eric Bana looks nothing like the portly and ill person that Henry VIII is purported to have been. Hey, we have accepted Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry on the wonderful television series "The Tudors" without any problems so why not Bana. The acting is not the problem in this film; it is the material they are given to work with.
The sets and costumes are both visually stunning, but the story is lacking. Besides being lacking it has thrown in such things as a backstabbing sister, simplification of historical events and incest that I'm sure are just for dramatic effect. I understand the having to alter certain things to become feasible on screen, but it becomes altogether too much at certain points. For instance, the reason that Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church becomes solely so he can get into the pants of Anne Boleyn. Now that is not the entire truth now is it!? I have to say that I could not accept that what should have been more BBC ended up being glossed over by a heavy layer of Hollywood. Though I am sure that those parts of the audience that are not there to learn something rather just be entertained by talented, beautiful people will be happy with this version of the Boleyn sisters' story.
– Behind The Scenes – Camera Tests with Narration by Justin Chadwick – Director
-TRANSLATING HISTORY TO THE SCREEN
-Biographies – Members of the Court Biographies
– Deleted & Extended Scenes
– "Inside the Court" – A Picture-in-Graphics track with in-depth facts and trivia
– "To Be a Lady": Featurette on the life of a lady and court etiquette in the 16th Century England