| Two strikingly attractive sisters, titular Mary (Scarlett Johansson) and Anne (Natalie Portman) Boleyn, vie for the love of the handsome King Henry VIII (Eric Bana).
They are dangled like bait in an ambitious plan hatched by their father and uncle to improve their family’s social standing. The girls’ mother, Lady Elizabeth (Kristin Scott Thomas), is opposed to the scheme, but doesn’t stand in the way as it unfolds. She views ambition as a sin rather than a virtue.
This golden opportunity is made possible because Henry’s first wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, has been unable to give her husband a male heir.
The bearded king comes for a visit to the Boleyn countryside estate. After being injured in a fall from his horse during a hunt, the king takes a fancy to Mary, who nurses him back to good health. Mary becomes the queen’s lady-in-waiting, which sets everything in motion. Both women eventually share the king’s bed and the rest is history.
This romantic costume drama is disappointing. Except for the instantaneous romantic attractions and the rushed lovemaking scenes, the movie proceeds at a snail’s pace. The alternating high and low points have an undulating momentum due to choppy editing. The movie is plagued by erratic transitions delineated by an unknown messenger on horseback evidently delivering the daily news.
Striving for the accuracy and authenticity of the 16th century, the filmmakers opted for natural light, eschewing the benefits of electricity. This poor decision has resulted in cinematography that suffers from very dim backgrounds. One character sums it up best with the remark, “They keep it so dark in here, that it looks like a dungeon.”
Lingering facial close-ups attempt to convey the emotions and intense feelings. You get a taste of the king’s lustful desires as he is attracted to these visions of loveliness like a bee to nectar.
This production has all the trappings of Masterpiece Theatre with stunning costumes, ornate set designs and a pompous musical score.
There is no chemistry developed between the women and the king. The main characters are one-dimensional, lacking the depth needed to grasp their inner thoughts and feelings.
The movie is heavily slanted toward the distaff side of the equation in terms of costumes and performances. The acting from the feminine side by Portman, Johansson, Thomas and Torrent is superb. Portman delivers the best lines, chews up the scenery and steals every scene that she appears in. Johansson earns the audience’s sympathy for her innocence and sweet demeanor. Bana comes across as a moody and virile physical presence. His attire looks like a combination of drapes and carpeting.
Something more than a glorified estrogen-heavy soap opera was expected from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen”) in the adaptation of the novel by Philippa Gregory. The movie was originally positioned for a December release, but the quality is just not there to compete for year-end awards. It ironically turns out to be a big-budget prequel because Anne’s red-haired daughter was named Elizabeth. She ruled England for 45 years as the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty.
Keith Cohen, The Movie Guy