In the '60's, the group, Herman's Hermits, recorded a fun pop song called, "I'm Henry the Eighth I Am." While this ditty was not necessarily about the 16th century English monarch, one thing is for certain: Henry VIII wasn't much fun. During his relentless quest for a male heir, many heads rolled.
One of those literally out her head for Henry was a young hottie named Anne Boleyn. But she had a sweeter, more sensible sister, Mary, who kept her cool along with her head. And, she did provide Henry with a son. The problem was that he wasn't married to Mary. None of this stopped the ambitious Anne, who usurped Henry's affections. She forced him to separate from the Vatican, annul his marriage, wed her and crown her Queen. When Anne failed to produce a son, she faced a date with the executioner.
All this historic soap opera is nicely served up in "The Other Boleyn Girl," which is almost as much fun as the Herman's Hermits' hit, though far darker.
Adapted by Peter Morgan ("The Queen") from the Philippa Gregory novel, the film reveals a slightly more sympathetic picture of Henry than seen in past screen portrayals by Robert Shaw ("A Man for All Seasons"), Richard Burton ("Anne of the Thousand Days") and Charles Laughton ("The Private Life of Henry the Eighth"). However, "Boleyn's" Eric Bana does try to keep pace in the lust department with sexy Jonathan Rhys Meyers of TV's "The Tudors." What Bana contributes is a mild element of pathos for the plight of the mixed-up monarch.
In his feature film debut, director Justin Chadwick (TV's "Bleak House") presents a rich production of a bawdy time when damsels were playthings for parents to pimp for positions in the royal palace. The weak Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) is convinced by his scheming brother-in-law, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), to maneuver the Boleyn daughter, Anne (Natalie Portman), to position herself into Henry's bed. This is because Queen Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent) has only given the king a daughter and is beyond her childbearing years. After being humiliated on horseback by Anne, Henry finds himself falling in love with her younger married sister, Mary (Scarlett Johansson). The result is a bastard son. Too bad for the big guy.
When Anne makes her move on Henry, she muddies the royal waters by holding out for the top prize: the crown. This involves an annulment, excommunication for Henry and a new church for England. Never has anyone fought harder for sex. "The Other Boleyn Girl" reduces history to tabloid gossip, with fierce performances and grand spectacle. Still, it's never boring, though nothing to lose your head over.