Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

I got to satiate my appetite for historical drama today and I must say--I'm still hungry! Not for more of the Hollywood movie version of The Other Boleyn Girl, but for a decent costume drama in general. My friend Stevie is sending me copy of season one of The Tudors. Perhaps that will do it, because ScarJo and NatPo sure didn't.

Not that it was their fault. They looked lovely. And the costume part of the tale of Anne Boleyn's sister was gorgeous as expected. I knew the screenplay would take liberties with Philippa Gregory's best selling novel and I had no problem with that, but the story as told on screen was not anything like the source material on which it was based. Gregory's novel told the story of Anne Boleyn through the eyes of her sister Mary--who preceded Anne in the affections of King Henry. Gregory was fascinated by this little known historical character and based on the fact that Mary survived the ensuing downfall of the Boleyns unscathed and defied her family's expectations, married a commoner and "lived happily ever after," she fashioned Mary as a proto-feminist character.

The film decides not to tell the story from Mary's perspective at all. In fact, there's no perspective or point-of-view whatsoever. While details of the whens, hows and wheres, condensing of events, elimination or amalgamation of characters is to be expected in adapting a novel to the screen, completely disregarding the basic premise or HOOK of the story--the OTHER Boleyn girl--is inexplicable. Why base the film on Gregory's novel at all? Why not tell yet another version of Anne of a Thousand Days? Scarlett's Mary may have been a peripheral character in history, but she was the main event in the book. Even the sibling rivalry aspect was given short shrift in this telling.

Other odd choices: Eric Bana portraying the strawberry blonde King Henry. Seriously, there were no fair haired actors to play the part? At times Bana's hair took on a reddish hue, but let's face--he's much too dark to play the part. And speaking of odd casting choices, why have the oddly homely Eddie Redmayne playing Mary's strapping commoner future husband William Stafford? Had they switched the actor playing her first husband William Carey with Redmayne, I would have found it more credible and palatable to have Mary fall for the lowly farmer. Not that the movie gave any time or attention to the love story that was a crucial part of the book. And speaking of Mary's husbands--at some point in the story, William Carey dies. But no mention is made of it in the movie. He just disappears. Making it very odd and unsettling when William Stafford proposes to her. Did that end up on the editing floor?

Part of the discord between Mary and Anne was that Mary allegedly "loved" Henry while Anne usurped his affection purely out of ambition. Yet we are never shown the development of any feelings between Mary and Henry. Not even so much as a series of shots set against a spinet playing chamber music? With a runtime of under two hours, surely several minutes could have been spared to illuminate the development of each of the sisters relationship with the King. The charming brother George is never shown to be charming. In fact, all the charms of the characters--Anne's clever manipulations of Henry (Although her reign as Queen was short, she did manage to string him along for 7-8 years while waiting for a way to end his marriage to Queen Catherine), Henry's passion and vigor, even Mary's ultimate strength and independence are lost in this story that is sadly lacking in focus.

At times I even found myself dozing off as I struggled to stay interested and invested in the movie. The film ends with the ironic footnote that although Anne's fate was sealed by her inability to provide Henry with a male heir, she was responsible for the birth of one of the most powerful monarchs England has ever known: Elizabeth. Of course, that's an entirely different movie. And a much better one at that...

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