A story about this — 5 years ago
I suppose the reign of Henry VIII was such a rich vein for dramatic story telling, the surprise isn’t the constant new versions but what elements each will choose to highlight, and which to skim over. This movie, based on the novel of the same name, takes the slightly different tack of focusing not on the King himself, but the relationship between two sisters who both ended up catching his eye. At least, that’s how it begins.
The start of the film is definitely the stronger half. We are introduced to devoted sisters, Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlett Johansen) Boleyn, their parents, and their uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. The latter is one nasty piece of work, who uses the family as pure pawns for his own ambition.
See, the gossip is that the King and his Queen are not close any more, following yet another stillborn child. Norfolk decides a young, female distraction is just what Harry needs…
The machinations are fascinatingly… well, just wrong! However, the rest of the film just doesn’t do the whole tale justice. The acting is all fine, the costumes, scenery and music (what I noted, at least) are all nice – but everything else is a bit of a mess.
The biggest flaw is probably the pace. Setting the whole tangled situation up is fine, but then it’s a gallop through betrayals, treachery, heresy, annulments, marriages, births, deaths…! Giddyness! The problem generated is that, while we find out what happens, the whys are all completely baffling, at least from the context here. Henry gets very little screen time, and therefore we see almost no reasoning behind his actions – which quite frankly look insane. Yes, I went into the movie with a good gist of the background (he was obsessed with having a son and heir for the throne), but it just doesn’t come across here. Instead we flit between scenes of female plotting, and male my-brains-are-in-my-groin, in a rather insulting portrayal of both genders.
The story rather hangs on Anne, and while Natalie Portman plays the role well, I don’t think she’s been given strong material to work with. Devoted sister feels betrayed and goes on the vengeance trail almost works, but she’s then too fiesty and intelligent to be believably used as she is, and not quite bitchy enough for the ruinous games she plays.
Overall, this film just could have been so much better. It doesn’t manage to hold the feel of a period piece, and it is too bound by the history (although strays quite a bit!) to live up to the story it seems to want to tell.