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Natalie Portman
Scarlett Johansson
Eric Bana
Kristin Scott Thomas
Mark Rylance
David Morrissey.
Justin Chadwick.
Peter Morgan.
Running Time
112 minutes

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The Other Boleyn Girl
Like history class, but with much more shagging

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Recruited by their socially ambitious father and uncle, the two Boleyn sisters, Anne (Portman) and Mary (Johansson), are encouraged to woo King Henry VIII (Bana). Thrust into life at court, a terrible rivalry unfolds as the two battle for the king’s affection.

The Other Boleyn Girl

It is often said that the past is another country, and nowhere is this more true than when journeying through the realms of historical fiction. It’s a fact that author Philippa Gregory certainly noted when penning The Other Boleyn Girl - a bestseller full of doomed romance, courtly stratagems and the lopping of heads - which exploits the huge gaps in our knowledge of the real Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman), the second of Henry VIII’s six wives and the first to suffer the executioner’s terminal blow.

Anne was the catalyst for one of the key moments in English history - the break from the Catholic church - but much of her life remains lost. Gregory harnesses this diaphanous uncertainty, seizing upon the gaps in Anne’s history to scribble her own tale of intrigue, revolving around her even lesser-known sister, Mary (Scarlett Johansson).

In bringing the book to the screen, debut feature director Justin Chadwick was faced with a difficult choice: how much of Gregory’s speculative narrative to incorporate. And with a running time of just under two hours, he may have kept too much. The script, by The Queen and Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan, makes several alterations to the original tale, dispensing with the characterisation of minor participants who, in the author’s version, serve as more than moderately interesting players required to advance the plot (Kristin Scott-Thomas, as the girls’ mother, is an honourable exception). However, the film still dashes along between earth-shattering events, without pausing to let the audience, or the characters, catch their breath.

What’s more, Anne and Mary are thrust into court-life and spun into a web of complexity that does little to enhance their comic-book-thin characters. One wonders if by erring on the side of simplicity, Chadwick could have proffered more fulsome answers to important questions. Why is Anne so wicked, and Mary so wretched? Unfortunately, the scant narration from their father provides little insight.

In playing the quarrelsome siblings, Portman and Johansson conjure admirable performances, working as best they can with the dialogue and situations they’re afforded. The former is in delightfully coquettish mode, especially when seducing the king, and shows clear desperation when events begin to slip from her control, while the latter carries her humility with as good a grace as possible for a character who’s as wet as an otter’s pocket. Eric Bana’s Henry remains slight, in spite of the actor’s best efforts, although his volatile temper, impulsive nature and fondness for approval are all sketched out in his relatively short screen time. As one would expect, the stages upon which they play are all sumptuously framed and shot.

Gregory’s novel is hardly a masterpiece - it’s more Catherine Cookson than Robert Graves - but it carries its tale through a full and varied world that is missing from the film. A novelist can bury his or her shortcomings amid pearls of mellifluous prose; a filmmaker, however, cannot.

A rather titillating take on a racy historical novel, this is perhaps too ambitious in intent. More time, or more pruning (perhaps they should just have focused on The Boleyn girl), would have produced a richer and more enjoyable film.

Reviewed by Will Lawrence

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Average user rating for The Other Boleyn Girl
Empire Star Rating

The Other Boleyn Girl: Surprisingly Enjoyable.

Not a film that I would have ever considered watching but as a media student you have to be opened minded. I thought the film overall was quite good. Not brilliant acting or sets but good. Although we cannot be perfectly accurate this is as close as it gets. For a BBC Film it was well made and well cast. Bit boring having Keira Knightly as the main role though. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by LUCASLITTLEWOOD at 13:01, 26 May 2010 | Report This Post

Powerhouse acting makes this film worth watching

The Other Boleyn Girl does have its mishaps, but the captivating performances by Portman, Johansson and Bana manage to surpass them and make this film worth your while. Peter Morgan definitely could have done a better job with the writing, as The Other Boleyn Girl does at times feel like it's going through the motions. Moreover, such writing called for a more experienced director than Chadwick, who was unfortunate enough to be given a script so difficult to work with for his very first film. Bu... More

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Posted by djphilips at 22:22, 07 April 2010 | Report This Post

Avoid at all costs

A film devoid of tone, direction, or originality, The Other Boleyn Girl should be avoided; avoided like the plague. ... More

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Posted by Romarth at 21:00, 17 February 2009 | Report This Post

Natalie Portman is a star

Yes, the script was questionable and there wasn't much historical accuracy but the performances were good enough fo rme to feel sad at the end when they died. Natalie Portman shows the desperation of a truly vicious character and a certain vulnerability that we would not expect. I cried at the end but maybe that was because it was 1am! Poor George, he was innocent. ... More

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Posted by MariannaBelle at 17:34, 02 February 2009 | Report This Post

Where's the history?

This is the story of Mary and Anne, the two Boleyn sisters who are presented to King Henry to become his mistresses (one after the other). Obviously, they start fighting over the king. Anne finally succeeds in seducing him to marry her. In order to do this he first needs to break with the Pope, set up the Church of England and then divorce his wife. This is a fascinating story (although I’ve read that it is very inaccurate) with two beautiful lead actresses (Natalie Portman and Scarlett... More

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Posted by TheMovieNess at 20:28, 31 October 2008 | Report This Post

Boleyn boring

Okay but not great. Good acting, but very historically inaccurate--more a soap opera than a real study of the effects of power, love, and jealousy on family relationships which it could have been. ... More

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Posted by lynnshep at 00:18, 03 July 2008 | Report This Post

handsome costumes

A degenerate court, the spirit of the times which compels young women to behave in nasty ways, ghastly family feuds, bastards, burning ambition, and lots more besides: a whole range of interesting subjects lay to hand, but disappointingly little has been done with them. The historical material is thin. The storyline, much too like a crude soap, is too schematic to keep you glued to the screen. The sex scenes reveal the weakness of this costume drama: it could have done with more spice. Thankfull... More

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Posted by Malpertuis at 10:15, 15 April 2008 | Report This Post


The Other Boleyn Girl Speaking as a History graduate, the perversion of historical events by Hollywood has never bothered me. I’ve always understood that film is about entertainment: if you want facts, read a book. However, Justin Chadwick’s version of Philippa Gregory’s novel fails to convince even as a fantasy. The all too familiar story of King Henry VIII’s love affair with the doomed Anne Boleyn starts promisingly but quickly descends into silly (even ridiculous) m... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Agamemnon1 at 10:31, 02 April 2008 | Report This Post

the other bolyen girl

A very dissapointing adaptation of a book to screen tale. It skipped the narrative aspect form Mary's point of view and focussed purley on Anne. It also painted a softer side of some of the stronger characters in the book such as george Bolyen and William carey. Could say a lot more but can't be bothered to give the film the time of day. I'm afraid the book id far superior to anything on the screen ... More

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Posted by nicci at 18:20, 29 March 2008 | Report This Post

Not Too Bad.

The Other Boleyn Girl has a lot of shocks that has shaken many people, three of the top stars were either American and Austraillian. But the film isn't so bad, apart from one person: Scarlett Johansson was annoying and those lips were crusty and too big for her face shape. The only people who were good in it was Natalie Portman who played bitchy Anne really well and Eric Bana as the charsmtic but nasty Henry the eighth. Beautiful costmues, backstabbing and wonderful landscapes, I give this film ... More

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Posted by joanna likes films at 17:40, 13 March 2008 | Report This Post

one to aviod...

I had to resist the urge to leave the cinema after about half and hour and it was a real struggle to make it to the end. This will disappoint people looking for a faithful adaptation of the book, people looking for an accurate historical drama and it will also disappoint those just looking for an enjoyable film. The film was ridiculously swift (glossing over major events and key historical figures) and at some parts it didn’t even make sense. Are we really supposed to believe that the En... More

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Posted by jennifer1981 at 14:49, 12 March 2008 | Report This Post

by the way....

surely we should be reviewing the film instead of the review??? ... More

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Posted by jemba at 09:41, 12 March 2008 | Report This Post


i haven't read the book yet so i can't really compare but i have to say this film is only just wacthable. characters weren't developed enough, the break from the church which i thought was a pretty big deal happened in about 3minutes, and every now and then portman's accent kept coming back. from the opening credits you can tell that the director primarily directs for television. so overall- it's alright, nothing special, don't run out and see it ... More

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Posted by jemba at 09:40, 12 March 2008 | Report This Post

I agree that it moves at a ridiculously fast pace, and that certain depth of issues aren't given adequate focus, but it is a brilliantly made film with towering performances by every single actor involved - especially Natalie Portman, who managed to make an overly ambitious and devious character likeable and vulnerable. Empire's reviews have been really off lately. ... More

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Posted by Taggart at 15:44, 11 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: The Other Boleyn Girl

I was expecting a bodice ripping historical yarn and as someone who studied this period throughout university....I wasn't expecting historical accuracy. And I didn't get it. I did expect an engaging tale though but the whole thing just felt rushed and dumbed down. The whole break with Rome, Catholic/Protestant clashes were completely passed over which wouldn't be a big problem except that Anne's action directly contributed to this. And the Boleyn family were avid Protestants. I though... More

Posted by Timon at 10:16, 11 March 2008 | Report This Post


last week, and whilst I liked bits of it, and thought that technically it was quite good, Portman and Johansson's performances just made me want to laugh. ... More

Posted by Empitomezzo at 09:13, 11 March 2008 | Report This Post

I enjoyed parts of it and other parts not so much. I agree that Eric Bana looked out of place, however is that simply because we stereotype Henry VIII to be...more evil? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mk269 at 18:02, 08 March 2008 | Report This Post

Historical Inaccurate

Scarlet Johansson and Natalie Portman were excellent as the Boleyn sisters while Eric Bana (could have dyed his hair red) was just plain poor and didn't seem very comfortable with the role but maybe that is just the way he is as he was the same in Hulk. Its very entertaining but inaccurate in historical detail. 6/10 ... More

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Posted by Starscream at 17:41, 08 March 2008 | Report This Post

A Bag of Arse

Only beaten by 'The Tudors'. A high-calibre cast absolutely wasted by anodyne dialogue and an audience beaten over the head with the 'Idiot's Guide to Tudor Social Structure'. That's 2 hours I'll never see again....sigh! ... More

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Posted by ruritanian at 17:44, 07 March 2008 | Report This Post

It is kind of great ... More

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Posted by nc_jj at 04:30, 05 March 2008 | Report This Post

It is kind of great ... More

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Posted by nc_jj at 04:30, 05 March 2008 | Report This Post

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