Saturday, 16 February 2008


It is time for costume drama under the Berlinale's sky. Out of Competition, with it's truck load of (young) stars this morning the Berlinale Palast got its crowd of eager international press watching The Other Boleyn Girl, debut feature by British TV director Justin Chadwick.
The Oscar's struck cast includes screenwriter Peter Morgan (nominated for The Queen), producer Alison Owen (nominated for Elizabeth), costume designer Sandy Powel (oscar winner for The Aviator and Shakespeare in Love) and of course Natalie Portman (nomination for Closer), Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana (remember him from Munich by Steven Spielberg?) respectively in the role of Anna Boleyn, her sister Mary ("the other boleyn girl" of the title) and King Henry VIII.

The film is an adaptation of the popular american book by the same title that Philippa Gregory published with much success in 2001. Gregory turned into a novel the events that brought the young Anne Boleyn first to the English throne in 1533, when she married Henry VIII, and ultimately to her execution in 1536. The novel, as the film, focuses on the Boleyn-Norfolk family plots to gain wealth and power through the "smart placement" of their young female relatives in the King's private chambers, so to say; and Anne's relation with her sister Mary, who was first "sacrified" to the King's sexual appetites. The young women, and especially Anne, grow to be ruthless in their mission to slip in the King's bed and even start taking some pleasure in scheming and plotting for more power. The story progresses as the relationship between the two Boleyn girls goes from sisterly romance to ferocious competition to treachery to forgiveness and finally closure.

Although the last in line, this family saga Рfully played on sets, costumes and, well, sisterly loath, love & revenge Рit is not the only film inspired by the controversial figure of Anne Boleyn, and probably the least accurate on the historical side one might add. Anne of a Thousand Days by Charles Jarrott (1969), for instance, starring Richard Burton as the King, Genevi̬ve Bujold as Anna and Irene Papas as Catherine of Aragon, took a diametrically opposite approach to the figure of "the most influential queen consort England has ever had" (Eric Ives). Where Chadwick's films portrays Anna Boleyn as a scruple-less little shrew, who would stop at nothing, not even incest, to please her greed; Jarrott keeps closer to historical consistency by investing Anne of intelligence, determination and dignity and, most of all, not reducing King Henry VIII to a soul-less puppet at the mercy of cunning young women and noblemen which only pastime is weaving ruthless family schemes.

The Other Boleyn Girl misses on an accurate and believable plot by failing the history test in favour of a sketchy and dramatised historical likelihood, that leaves too many gaps and unexplained turns (filled one time too many by furious horse-rides through the countryside). The same flaw applies to the characters, all too one-sided, to which only the excellent job of the A-list cast manges to give some depth and humane light. Portman and Johansson are both outstanding at bringing to life these two sisters, which reletionship dictates the pace of the whole movie; nevertheless it's hard to believe that these two characters, so perfectly complementary as if they were two halves of one and the same woman, could live outside the faltering lights of a work of fiction. All in all, the film is quite impressive in terms of costumes and sets, adding to it the excellent performances and the quite striking "grandeur" for a debut feature, which coupled to the dullness of plot and shallow characters (with all due implications) makes up for something not too far from an extra-expensive TV movie (BBC level, though).

Enjoy the trailer:

No comments: