The movie version of “The Other Boleyn Girl” is an adaptation of the 2002 non-fiction work of Philippa Gregory. While it stays on track, the visual effects bring this story to life in a way that the written version cannot. Natalie Portman excels as Anne Boleyn and Scarlett Johansson deserves praise for her performance in the title role. Lesser-known actors fill out the cast, thus decreasing any distraction from the history being played before us.
A Little Historical Background
Mary Boleyn was the older sister of Anne Boleyn and the first Boleyn girl to be summoned to court as the Lady-in-Waiting to Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Little mention is made of Mary in the history books.
However, Henry did form a dalliance with Mary and fathered her illegitimate son. The weak character of Henry as we know it was supplanted in this instance by charming good looks which we don’t often attribute to Henry. His roving eye in the movie and reality soon turned to Mary’s sister, Anne, who would have nothing to do with Henry unless he married her. This obstinacy on Anne’s part made her all the more appealing to Henry, although a divorce from Katherine of Aragon would cause a rift with the Church of Rome.
Anne Boleyn’s Impact
The stubbornness of Anne Boleyn changed the course of the history of England as Henry VIII was compelled to separate the Church of England from the papal authority in order to legalize marriage between Anne Boleyn and himself.
A deep-seated rivalry existed between Anne and her sister Mary, particularly over the affections of Henry. At the same time, once Anne had achieved her goal of being Henry’s queen, their bond of sisterhood led Anne to bring Mary back to the court as her Lady-in-Waiting.
Although Henry’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn was the chief cause of his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, his desire for a male heir to succeed him was also a key factor since Katherine had only one living child, Mary, during their 24 years of marriage. Fate once again intervened when Anne Boleyn was unable to produce a male heir for Henry VIII. Again, Henry’s roving eye alit on one of the ladies-in-waiting to the queen, Jane Seymour.
The movie ends with the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536 when Henry succeeded in convincing the court that Anne was guilty of treason and incest, making way for yet another marriage, this time to Jane Seymour.
To put the events into context, an afterword might be fitting. Henry VIII ultimately had six wives, the third being Jane Seymour. Jane did succeed in producing a male heir for the king. Upon the death of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour’s son, at the age of nine years, became King Edward VI of England. He reigned for six years, dying of consumption (tuberculosis) at the age of fifteen.
King Edward VI named Lady Jane Gray as his successor; however, she ruled for only nine days after which she was executed. The throne then went to Mary, the rightful heir, the child of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. Queen Mary ruled for five years.
We come full circle when Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry, became Queen Elizabeth I, the longest-reigning monarch up to that time, retaining power for 45 years. The Elizabethan Age was an era at the height of the English renaissance when English poetry, music, and literature flourished.
Movies such as “The Other Boleyn Girl” serve to put in perspective the history of the English monarchy while at the same time providing us with a colorful picture of court life amid the impressive backdrop of the English landscape.