Early in "The Other Boleyn Girl," Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), wife of Henry VIII, asks young Mary Boleyn ( Scarlett Johansson) why she has come to court. What does Mary bring, the queen inquires, besides her obvious youth and beauty?
It's a question Johansson no doubt has faced countless times at casting sessions.
What Mary Boleyn brings to court is a little sumpin' sumpin' that caught the king's fancy. What Johansson brings to the lavishly appointed yet tacky "The Other Boleyn Girl" is the ability to look sweeter and more innocent than Natalie Portman — a feat only an actress shy of 5-foot-5 and age 25 could pull off.
Things are fine between the Boleyn girls before the strapping monarch ( Eric Bana) enters the picture. He does so at the behest of Anne and Mary's father, Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance), and uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey).
The father and uncle first try to pimp out Anne to become Henry's mistress. Katherine hasn't produced a male heir, and there's a panic at the palace.
Portman plays Anne as if she's waited her whole life for this invitation to serve her country. After her super-creepy dad and uncle assure her that mistresses are accorded a high status at court, Portman assumes a look of determination. Watch out, world: Anne Boleyn is on her way, and she's bringing her womb!
As "The Other Boleyn Girl" wears on, Anne will become a wildly inconsistent character. But Portman's steeliness never wavers.
Most of us know where this story is headed (ba-da-bum), and in order for the moment in question to have impact (ba-da-thump), Anne should engender at least a modicum of sympathy. Hence the filmmakers' attempts to make the character sympathetic in parts of the film.
But Anne is too mean and manipulative for that. She's dreadful to Mary, whom the king at first "favors" over Anne, despite Mary having recently been married.
Adapted from Philippa Gregory's 2002 novel (by Peter Morgan, screenwriter of "The Queen," no less), "The Other Boleyn Girl" doesn't seem especially concerned with historical accuracy.
For instance, it's unlikely that a scene where one Boleyn gives birth while the king woos the other unfolded the way it does in the movie. Otherwise, there would have been unintentional laughter in the court, much as there will be in theaters. And Henry VIII wasn't known for his appreciation of mockery.
Of the two young women, Mary seems more genuinely besotted by the king. That's because he bonds with Mary over both being the neglected siblings in their families. But it's not as if they ever get truly intimate, and she gets to call him Hank.
Bana is the best-looking man in movies, but he can come across as flat if not directed well. His Henry VIII seems like a bore who just happens to have all the riches, beautiful women and animal-hide bed covers a man could ever wish for.
Director Justin Chadwick stops short of having Bana carry a turkey leg in his fist. Perhaps this (lone) attempt at subtlety was misguided. A fat, maniacal Henry VIII might be preferable to a ripped yet colorless one.
Kristin Scott Thomas shows up occasionally as mother Boleyn, who contends that her daughters shouldn't be treated like chattel. She has a point, but since she's a woman as well, she doesn't get far.
The divergent acting styles in "The Other Boleyn Girl" prove distracting. Whereas Torrent brings pathos as well as great pride to Katherine of Aragon, Morrissey's performance as the Duke of Norfolk is so strident it bleeds into camp.
Perhaps nobody told Morrissey the picture wouldn't end up being the bodice-ripper it first appeared to be. Though there's abundant talk of sex, this PG-13-rated film on the whole isn't very sexy — especially when one stops to consider the bathing habits of folks in the early 16th century.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times