Review: The Other Boleyn Girl (2003)

The Other Boleyn Girl [2003]

This should probably be called The Other The Other Boleyn Girl, given there’s a multi-million dollar effort with Eric Bana, Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman out on DVD right now, too. Also based on Philippa Gregory’s book of the same, this is a study of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s elder sister and fellow mistress of Henry VIII. Made for the BBC in 2003 and starring Natasha McElhone, Jodhi May, Jared Harris and Steven Mackintosh, it’s cheaply made yet more powerful and more innovative that its highly turgid American cousin.

It’s quite a traumatic tale, with happy newlywed Mary finding that the king’s interested in her and that both her husband and her father want her to take up with the King to advance their standing in court. Reluctant at first, not least because she regards adultery as a terrible sin, Mary eventually falls in love with Henry and as history recounts, it all goes pear-shaped after that.

The adaption is relatively faithful to the book, although it does skip over big chunks of the narrative – unlike Hollywood, however, the BBC adaptation does at least make clear where there have been jumps of a year or so, something that made the big screen version less than coherent at times.

You couldn’t describe it as historically authentic, though, because despite its best efforts, Gregory’s book isn’t to be trusted on all its details – rather than being a pious so-and-so as Gregory suggests, most of the records hint that Mary was a bit of a goer – and McElhone is obviously too old to play the teenage Mary. I won’t go into the incest stuff either, although Gregory usually does, more or less in every book she writes. Hmmm.

The oddest part of this adaption is that it’s shot on grainy video almost as a reality TV show (complete with partially improvised script), with Mary and Anne both offering video diary-like pieces to camera at various parts of the narrative. This more radical approach does involve you, but it also distances, since its fast cuts and shaky-cam mean you spend more time being fascinated by Philippa Lowthorpe’s direction than having a chance to get involved with the characters.

McElhone’s as good as always; May seems far less devious than other Anne Boleyns you might have seen (on The Tudors for example); Jared Harris, who plays Henry, turns in pretty much the same performance he did in To The Ends of the Earth, which is good in its way but doesn’t seem particularly Henry-ish (again, age seems to be a factor); and Steven Mackintosh is okay in a difficult role: the gay, incestuous (as written by Gregory, anyway) brother George Boleyn.

If it’s a toss-up between the big-screen version and this one, get this one, if only because it’s better and considerably cheaper. But probably only worth getting if you’re a big history buff.

None whatsoever. Cheapskates.

Price: £4.99 (£3.98 from

Here’s the first few minutes to give you an idea of what’s it’s like:

Incidentally, Philip Glenister’s in it as William Stafford, Mary’s second husband. Someone’s stuck all his appearances in it together and uploaded the result to YouTube. Enjoy!


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British TV



The Island: Why it flopped

There’s an interesting article on Slate about why Scarlet and Ewan’s The Island flopped last summer. It has some interesting points to make, but there are a couple of things I take issue with.

Firstly, the author, Edward Jay Epstein, describes The Island as original. As good old Mark Kermode pointed out at length, it wasn’t; at the very least, it was very, very close to The Clonus Horror, but it certainly had echoes of Logan’s Run and several other movies in there as well.

Secondly, he also says “What really failed here was not the directing, acting, or story (which were all acceptable for a summer movie)”. While Ewan and Scarlet could certainly have phoned in worse performances and the directing was actually reasonably good at times, the second half of the story was astonishingly bad. The heroes fall off the side of a skyscraper, stuck to a giant logo, and all that happens is they get a couple of scratches!? How does that work?

While the first half was reasonably clever and interesting, the second half was just a neverending series of setpiece stunts. If that’s what’s now acceptable then it’s easy to see why 2005 lacked any must-see blockbusters. Blockbusters aren’t ever going to smash records with a Hamlet-like script, but audiences have to feel they’re not having their intelligences utterly insulted. If Hollywood wants to know where it’s going wrong, it should take a firm look at their writing processes to see how to get better quality into the scripts.