Soap operas usually have siblings that are conniving and screw each other over multiple times out of spite, jealousy and good, old-fashioned greed. Coming from the pages of British history and through the novel of author Philippa Gregory, the long remembered tale of Henry VIII and his second and infamous wife Anne Boleyn gets that treatment in this film, and the competition is, you guessed it, Anne?s sister.
As far as sisters go, the Boleyn girls were close, but had obvious differences in personality. Anne (Natalie Portman) was the strong-willed, outspoken elder sister. Mary (Scarlett Johansson) was more quiet and subdued, and perfectly happy to marry, have children, and live in a beautiful country home. However, as their family was of nobility, it was expected of them to make themselves available to anyone that would allow the clan to rise in political and social station. A well-matched marriage guaranteed security and a rise in power for the social climbers. You can bet that there was plenty of pressure from the family to marry well.
After the King (Eric Bana) arrives at the Boleyn country estate, is it revealed that the whole scheme should fall on Anne?s shoulders. She is expected to entertain him (Mary is married, after all), gain his favor and possibly bring her relatives into the fold of the court. There?s a little more to it, though. The Queen, Catherine of Aragon, did not provide the son, as His Majesty desired and required, so he wanted to get his rocks off somewhere else. The extended Boleyn family, including their uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, made it clear: Anne needs to become the King?s mistress.
That?s when it gets a little gamey. I won?t give away too much, but both sisters end up having affairs with the lustful King, and the family is torn apart due to the whole thing. The sisters played upon their sibling rivalry, naturally, but they weren?t risking something petty. It was for the throne of England and the chance to be Queen! Emotional involvement and attachment to anyone or anything is tossed aside, or so we think.
The casting could not have been better! Johansson and Portman used every emotional resource available in battling it out for the kingdom and repairing the resulting damage of the family relationships. Bana was superb as the king who went through wives like most of us go through tissues, based on the material we got. Don?t forget: the focus wasn?t on Henry?s contribution to his country and his royal patronages, but his desire for physical satisfaction and providing a male heir to perpetuate his legacy.
Obviously, this took some creative license, and I did some in-depth research afterward, although the film?s closing provided some insight into the aftermath, for those who are unaware. A particularly interesting tidbit I read: Mary Boleyn indeed had children and later remarried. However, despite all speculation, from what I understand, there has been no legal substantiation that any of them were fathered by King Henry VIII.
While I haven?t read the book, I did like the film?s overall execution of the story, regardless of how much of it was fact and how much was fiction. If you want to take a step back in time, and get a new spin on this legend, go and see this movie!
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