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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Other Boleyn Girl
The Other Boleyn Girl
Sony Pictures // PG-13 // June 10, 2008
List Price: $28.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Cameron McGaughy | posted July 9, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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"Hi your majesty! I'm Eunice Boleyn, the other other Boleyn girl...you must forgive my ruddy color. I was just in the field, having sex with a horse!"
- Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live

The Movie
Sex! Scandal!! Sibling rivalry!!! Welcome to The Other Boleyn Girl, a 16th Century Smackdown that paints history in a fancy gloss and infuses it with a tawdry tale worthy of the best melodrama's ever made. It's like PBS crossed with The CW--think of it as Masterpiece Theatre of Gossip Girls. Lush and extravagant, it's a highly entertaining experience from the first colorful frame to the final postscript.

Set during England's Tudor period, the film starts by introducing us to the Boleyn family. Sir Thomas (Mark Rylance) has lofty goals for daughter Anne (Natalie Portman), a fiery, independent, ambitious woman in love with attention. But his expectations for the kinder, fairer Mary (Scarlett Johansson) are more modest. At a young age, Mary is promised as the future wife of a merchant's son, and the story jumps to her wedding day. But when Thomas' brother, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), brings news that King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) is in desperate need of a son--an heir that wife Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent) can't provide--daddy Boleyn sees an opportunity.

More concerned with wealth and class standing, he suggests Anne as a mistress--a notion that shakes his reputation-concerned daughter. But the King's visit has an unexpected outcome: Mary is the one to catch his eye. "You've been here the whole time. How could I have overlooked you?" asks the King. "Next to Anne," replies Mary, "it's easy to do." Despite her protests, Mary and the rest of the family soon head to Court, where her husband--also more concerned with status than love--becomes a gentleman of Privy Council (the King's inner sanctum), disappearing from Mary's side. She is now a Lady in Waiting, earning her the scorn of both Katherine and the jealous Anne. The older sister tries to distract herself with another man, while Mary and the King hit the sheets.

Meanwhile, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas) is one of the few voices of reason, trying to raise her children as best she can--and encourage her daughters to stand strong in a male-dominated era: "See how they achieve what they want from their men, not by stamping their little feet, but by allowing the men to believe that they are indeed in charge," she councils a France-bound Anne. "That is the art of being a woman."

Elizabeth objects to every dictum from her ambitious husband and brother-in-law, each decision serving to further fracture the family. That includes Thomas offering gregarious son George (Jim Sturgess) as the husband to a woman of high standing--a plan (and woman) George objects to. But the problems have just begun, and as the film unfolds the tension and scandals mount, pitting sister against sister, mother against father, King against country...setting in motion a chain of events that could not only destroy the family, but the King's hold on England. As the Duke notes, it's one thing to catch a king, quite another to keep him.

Justin Chadwick makes a stunning debut as a feature film director, working off a Peter Morgan screenplay that "reprocessed" Philippa Gregory's bestselling novel. I'm not a historian, and I'm sure the plot is filled with liberties that may infuriate sticklers for accuracy, but damn this is an entertaining trip back in time. (Any of you worried about confusing plots fear not--my history-challenged brain had no problem following along). Chadwick--along with cinematographer Kieran McGuigan, production designer John Paul Kelly and an art direction team led by David Allday--has constructed a visually striking film bursting with color and lush landscapes. Throw in the costume design from multi-Oscar winner Sandy Powell and the set decoration from Sara Wan, and this film is worth the watch just for the visual feast--so many shots look like paintings come to life.

But the cast is equally energetic. Portman and Johansson are perfectly suited to their roles and the material--both are convincing and passionate as the polar-opposite sisters. Thomas makes you believe every ache of a mother who gave up so much for love--only to see her family torn apart (Chadwick notes she is the film's "moral compass"). Sturgess is an underused lively presence, one of the few beams of innocence in the film; while the cold, stone-faced Rylance and Morrissey will make you quake on your couch.

Bana is the intimidating hunk he needs to be. His scenes with Johansson--which provide the film's most tender moments--show a softer side to the scoundrel. It's easy to see how this man could have his way with just about anybody. And even though the King's fickleness may be the film's hardest conceit to buy--his abrupt switch in allegiance and subsequent evil actions are due to time constraints, not carelessness from the writers--Bana pulls it off. He is the central power source throughout the movie, the man who will determine everyone's destiny.

The script is more concerned with plot over character development, but with the passionate performances from the entire cast, you won't care. It moves fast and furious, working its way toward a powerful and artistic conclusion--and ultimately serving as the perfect prequel to Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth.

Just who is the other Boelyn girl? Chadwick and company have a clever way of shifting the answer as the film progresses, and the final answer is probably up for debate as different interpretations provide two distinct solutions to the mystery. It's a crafty decision, one that suits the film perfectly. Need any more convincing that seeing this movie is a good idea? It inspired a hilarious spoof on Saturday Night Live, featuring one of Kristen Wiig's funniest characters ever. Perhaps it will be the inspiration for a sequel. How about it, Mr. Chadwick: The Other Other Boleyn Girl? I'll dare to dream...

The DVD

Video:
Shot on HD, this anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is simply gorgeous. Chadwick wanted a natural, realistic feel, forcing the cast and crew to pay attention to every detail. He brings each frame to vivid life, bathing scenes in various color schemes reflecting the mood and tone of the story, from cold blues and grays to warm browns and oranges to vibrant yellows and greens. So many scenes are a visual feast, and the colors are at once vibrant and muted, helping to tell the story.

Audio:
The 5.1 surround track is also strong, with the dialogue, score and sound effects perfectly balanced. The gallop of horses, the sounds of a crowded gathering, an ominous wind or thunderstorm...everything is just right. You can also choose French and Spanish audio tracks, as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles (Chadwick's audio commentary also has a subtitle option).

Extras:
A great set of extras really enhance your viewing experience, giving you an appreciation of the story and the film. Up first is an audio commentary with director Justin Chadwick (with optional subtitles), whose enthusiasm is obvious from the first frame--he gets excited seeing the Columbia Pictures logo before the film even starts. This is a man in love with the art form and his baby, and it shows. He provides a well-paced and informative track that covers his attraction to the piece: "(The novel) has this great page-turning quality that the screenplay had as well, and that was something I really wanted to capture--the energy--and plunge the audience into this world."

He also notes that he tried to bring a modern sensibility to the historical story: "It wasn't a usual period film. This was a film about relationships, an emotional rollercoaster and a story behind palace walls and how a family treats each other." Chadwick was conscious of making the film feel real, which is why he chose to shoot in high definition ("I thought it would give an immediacy, a vibrancy to the performances"). It was about capturing performances, not pageantry--so he was conscious of making sure the cast and crew weren't seduced the grandeur of the locations.

Chadwick rightfully gushes about all of them--everyone had to pay extra attention to every tiny detail caught on camera--and comments on his camera techniques and stories from specific scenes. One of his favorite moments was also one of mine, the fireside scene between Mary and King Henry. He says that Johansson and Bana were both "in the moment" and really fed off each other: "That is the magic of storytelling, and making films for me. This moment just felt so real."

You also get 12 deleted/extended scenes (totaling 22:47). Five of them are extended scenes, which include extremely minor additions that you'll barely notice (the alternate ending changes a few postscripts). Seven of the scenes are new, and I enjoyed most of them: three of them delve further into Mary's relationship with her husband William, providing a nice bridge between some scenes that did make the cut; and "Anne Takes Little Henry" is a powerful scene that utilizes much of the cast.

Up next is Members of the Court: Character Biographies (15:58). This fantastic feature looks at six characters (Anne, Mary and George Boelyn; King Henry and Katherine; and the Duke of Norfolk) in a historical context, exploring what is and is not known about each of them and the story. It features interviews with each actor, as well as writer Peter Morgan, novelist Philippa Gregory and producer Alison Owen. Johansson notes that Mary is "a character hidden from history," and Gregory shares how she investigated the film's pivotal character. But the most fascinating information comes from three professors from various universities, who put the film's facts (and some of its artistic liberties) into context. Ever second of this is intriguing, and it will whet your appetite for more history lessons. I wish it was longer--it really enhances your appreciation of the film.

Three featurettes follow. First is To Be a Lady (10:01), which features interviews with many of the same cast and historians from the character bio piece (and Kristen Scott Thomas, who makes her first appearance here). Equally intriguing, this examines what is was like to be a second-class citizen during the film's depicted era: "It's probably one of the worst periods to be a woman," Gregory says. Everyone here has keen insights, including Portman: "The fact that marriage is about love is a very modern invention. It was about uniting families." The exploitation of women is explored, as well as their possible upbringings, opportunities and daily life.

Another great feature is Translating History to Screen (9:55), which interviews the usual suspects (and Chadwick, his first appearance in the features) as they talk about the differences between history, Gregory's novel and Morgan's screenplay. All acknowledge that the film's time limit forced them to leave out crucial and equally dramatic historical facts, but all are happy with how it came together. "In the end, people will thank me for not having taken her book and adapted it, because it would have been cinematically unintelligible," notes Morgan. "Where I hope I have done her proud is by taking the spirit of the book and the energy and the verve and the imagination she brought to it...I've borrowed heavily from all that." Gregory acknowledges that she loves her baby the most, but it's clear she genuinely fell in love with the film. She describes a visit to the set that had her spellbound: "Of course I love the book, but when I see what the film can do as its own art form, I think it's exquisite," she says, her stamp of approval a testament to the cast and crew's devotion. "It was as if someone had painted it."

The final feature is Camera Tests (2:08), a brief look at Chadwick (who narrates) testing out the new high definition filming process he used to see how it would relate skin tones and the sets' textures, an effort to try out various looks and feels to see how they would come across on screen. He wanted a natural look for his cast, which meant no makeup--a challenge under the harsh HD lens, which also forced a high level of detail in the costumes and sets. Also included are 12 trailers for other releases.

Final Thoughts:
Bold and bawdy, this feature debut from director Justin Chadwick boasts beautiful visuals, a tremendously talented cast and a story full of intrigue, betrayal and scandal. It all comes together in a colorful creation--an abridged history lesson dressed up in a highly entertaining dramatic package. Coupled with some modest yet meaty extras that will enhance your appreciation of the film and whet your appetite for more history, this release comes Highly Recommended.

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