I cannot possibly rate this film...

The Other Boleyn Girl (PG-13)
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Caution: spoilers if you don't know much about English history.

...And the reason I cannot rate it is that I found the film very powerful and well-made, but also... I can't really say I liked it. It was just terribly disturbing to watch. There were times that I felt sympathy for the main characters, Mary and Anne Boleyn (played by Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman, respectively), though I can't really say I very much respected either of them. In fact, I think the only character whom I could say I respected was Queen Catherine. Anyway... the movie's based on a book, which I haven't read. I can't say I know much about this period in history (the 16th century); I'd heard of Anne Boleyn, and I suppose I knew she'd been married to Henry VIII, but that's all I could've told you. And I'm not sure how much I can tell you after having watched the movie, because surely it's full of historical inaccuracies. Nevertheless, I'm sure that the disgust with which I'm left is not wholly unwarranted, by the reality on which all this is based. Because it's not like the larger historical events depicted didn't actually happen, in one form or another.

So anyway... there's this guy named Thomas Boleyn, who had, as far as I can tell, three children: two daughters, Anne and Mary, and a son named George. The film begins when the three children are just that: young children. And yet, already their father is talking to his wife about marrying off their daughters to advance his own political status. The story quickly flashes forward to when the children are young adults, and Mary weds someone named William Carey. However, we won't see too much of him in the movie. An important plot point is that King Henry's wife, Catherine, had at some point borne him a daughter (I think, though we never see her, so maybe I misunderstood), but never a son; they've all been stillborn. And the failure to produce a male heir to the throne of England is seen as completely unacceptable. (I personally can't stand such sexism, but there's an ironic twist at the end of the movie that makes up for it in spades.) Anyway, Thomas's brother-in-law, the Duke of Norfolk, sees an opportunity to get the king interested in taking Anne as a mistress. If she could produce a male heir, that would be greatly beneficial to the whole family.

At first the plan seems to be going well, when the king visits the family; but after an initial interest in Anne, Henry becomes more interested in Mary. At first of course she is reluctant to assume the role her father and uncle had chosen for her sister, but she has no choice. (Her own husband is apparently too weak-willed to object, especially when he's given a position in the court.) But Mary soon comes to love Henry, and does in fact bear him a son. But because that son is technically a bastard, since Henry and Mary aren't married... and largely because of the machinations of Anne... Henry sends Mary and the baby away. (You'd think someone would have thought of this problem beforehand, but whatever.) Anyway, Henry is now besotted with Anne, who refuses his advances, which only makes him want her more. But she insists that even if she bore him a son, the same problem would exist as did with her sister, if they weren't married. Which basically forces him to end his marriage to Catherine so he could marry her. And it also necessitates him breaking ties with the Roman Catholic Church, and start the Church of England. While this would of course have great historical impact, it seems a ridiculously huge and dangerous move, just to get a girl in bed. And while I have some vague appreciation of Anne's intellect and ambition, I still couldn't help but disrespect her.

Still... Henry's a dick, and of course isn't happy when Anne ends up bearing him a daughter instead of a son, and later their second child is stillborn. And of course, Henry takes up with Jane Seymour (though we don't see much of that; and btw, no, I'm not talking about Dr. Quinn). And... gah, I've left out tons of detail (including various minor characters and how they related to the major characters), so it's hard to explain how complicated everything is. But Anne and her brother George briefly consider doing something terrible (which I'm not even going to specify, it's so icky), but decide they can't do it; and yet they get accused of it anyway, and executed for it. Oh yeah, there's also a guy named William Stafford, who I guess I kind of liked, though he was a fairly minor character... who would become very important to Mary, in the end, if not so much to the story being told by the film. And um... anyway, apparently after Anne was killed, Mary and Stafford would raise Anne's daughter, Elizabeth. (I'm guessing you've heard of Elizabeth; hence the ironic twist I mentioned earlier.)

Well. Aside from my disgust at the whole situation from beginning to end, it's quite a roller-coaster, particularly in terms of how I felt about Anne, going from contempt to pity for her. And while I think she's worthy of less respect than Mary (who I didn't totally respect, either), at least they're both more respectable than Henry, or their father and uncle. (Their mother was more likable, I guess, but she didn't do anything to try to stop all this crap, in spite of frequently complaining about it. And while it's occasionally mentioned that she herself had given up power to marry for love, it's hard to see why she ever loved Thomas in the first place. Also... I think it was she who said something at one point about letting men think they're the ones in power, which is ridiculous, because if women had any power at all, none of this should have ever happened.) And, I dunno what else to say, except of course that Johansson and Portman are obviously both gorgeous as well as great actors. I mean seriously, just getting a chance to look at them is reason enough to watch the movie. But as I said at the outset, it's still a really hard movie to watch.


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