Sunday, March 9, 2008
Wedded and Bedded in The Other Boleyn Girl
The Other Boleyn Girl (2008, Justin Chadwick)
“When did people stop thinking of ambition as a sin and start thinking of it as a virtue?” - Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristen Scott Thomas)
This is the film everyone accused Elizabeth: The Golden Age of being - catty, melodramatic, and it entertains the idea of a love triangle between royalty. Difference being, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a sensitive portrayal of an aging woman in power and The Other Boleyn Girl is Peyton Place with patriarchy. Mary (Scarlett Johansson) and Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) are two sisters who love and adore each other until one of them is chosen above the other to be King Henry VIII’s mistress because the Queen, Catherine of Aragon, can no longer produce children. The film is chockfull of sexual escapades, miscarriages, and backstabbing. I literally counted sixteen scenes in which a woman is lying in bed - either being bedded or birthing a baby.
But what’s the point? There is none, really. The film is so bombarded with bad melodrama and over-directed scenes that the pseudo-feminist ideals it possesses are lost in the process. It’s only pseudo-feminist because it clearly defines the submissive/aggressive characteristics of the two sisters - Anne is aggressive and Mary is submissive and Anne is the one who attains what she wants. But Anne, at least in the movie, isn’t aggressing for the right reasons.
All of the men figures are more than happy to see their daughters/nieces/wives “traded like cattle for the advancement of men”, which is obvious and not surprising, but the sisters take it in their stride with no question because they see being the King’s mistress (and albeit, eventually, Queen), as empowering just because they get to “one-up” the other sister. The only character to raise any question to all of this wedding-and-bedding is the Boleyn sisters’ mother, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristen Scott Thomas), who frequently spouts dialogue like “…by allowing the men to think that they’re in charge is the true art of being a woman.”, but she is looked upon as more of a whiny burden than the solid voice of reason she should be.
By all of the accounts I’ve read, Anne Boleyn seemed like one hell of a lady and it seems very fitting that she would be the woman to give birth to one of the strongest women of all-time, Queen Elizabeth I. Unfortunately, with Natalie Portman’s portrayal and the badly written version of Boleyn she’s forced to play, she turns her into a simpering, power-hungry fuck-machine with no soul and a very bad accent. Scarlett Johansson’s Mary Boleyn is no better, in fact, she’s worse because she is so stoic and submissive that the film might as well just be called The Boleyn Girl for Anne’s sake.