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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Other Boleyn Girl"

Moral implications and consequences make film a royal mystery.

2 Stars — Disturbing

Few people have caused as many historical debates as has Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman). Considered by some to be one of the most significant queens in British history, Anne’s motives and the accusations against her of adultery, incest and treason have long been topics of debate. Some believe she was deeply religious and a Protestant reformer whose influence on Henry the VIII (Eric Bana) caused him to break with Rome and establish the Church of England. Other historians present her as an ambitious and manipulative woman who used her charm to beguile the king but did not allow him to have her until he annulled his marriage to Queen Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), making her his queen. Since the pope would not annul the marriage, Anne convinced Henry to break with Rome and make himself head of the Church of England.

But this film, The Other Boleyn Girl, is about Anne’s sister, Mary (Scarlett Johansson). Although her tale cannot be told without weaving into it the life of her sister, British novelist Philippa Gregory set out in 2002 to tell the story from Mary’s perspective. Virtually leaving out the religious aspects of the two sisters’ lives, the novel and the film take a decidedly unsympathetic view of both Anne and Mary, as well as the family that encouraged their behaviors.

Historians agree that Mary was a mistress of the king. Although she had been married as a teenager, Mary agrees to the king’s advances with her weak husband’s acquiescence. It is also agreed by historians that Anne took Henry from Mary’s arms. Additionally, historians agree that Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth, born during Anne’s brief time as queen, became one of the longest ruling queens in England’s history. Directed by Justin Chadwick, this film presents a possible explanation of the intricacies of Mary and Anne’s relationship and the cause for Elizabeth’s coming to the throne.

Historically, Mary’s father, Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance), was an honored aristocrat of the court of both Henry the VII and Henry the VIII. In this film, he is presented as a conniving opportunistic father who uses his daughters to gain property and power by offering Anne as a mistress, and even when the king falls for Mary he encourages her to be an adulteress with the monarch. When Mary’s pregnancy confines her to bed rest, Sir Thomas asks Anne to distract the king from other women. Working in partnership with his wife’s brother, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), their plan for Mary’s place in the king’s heart is hijacked by Anne, whose competitive ambition seeks to remove Mary and make herself not just the king’s mistress but his queen.

The moral implications and consequences within the film are many. Marriage without love, which instead seeks power and position is an empty, futile arrangement. Manipulation of lust creates a desire that, even when finally experienced, does not produce love but disgust and distrust. Competition, whether between sisters or families, creates massive injustice and cruelty. And the sins of adultery, greed and pride will take over an individual’s soul.

Discussion:

• Do you believe Mary was innocent or naive when she sat by the king’s side and nursed him from his injuries? Was Anne correct in seeing Mary as having stolen the king from her?

• When Anne was banished to France, she learned to use her feminine charms to beguile men and seek vengeance on her sister. Although the film presents her as being innocent of the sins and crimes of adultery, incest and treason, do you believe she was a guiltless person?

• When Sir Thomas decided to use his daughters for financial and positional gain, his wife, Lady Elizabeth (Kristin Scott Thomas), only lightly objected. What would you have done if you were her?

• Both the novel and the film present Anne and Mary as not religious. Why do you believe religion is omitted from this portrayal of their lives?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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