THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL - DVD REVIEW (2003 and 2008 adaptations)

Last Sunday was dedicated to Elizabeth I, this Sunday to her  parents – Ann Boleyn and King Henry VIII - and to her aunt Mary Boleyn, THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL. Well, actually this is what Henry VIII calls Ann, seeing her at court when he was already expecting a child from Mary, in a BBC production dating back to 2003. It stars so many familiar faces that I spent the first minutes recalling where I had already seen them and had to re-start the DVD ‘cause I had missed part of the dialogues. This TV movie was an adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s novel of the same name (which I have not read yet ). So I just enjoyed the story for the first time though, all through it , I had the impression I had already seen many of the scenes but … where and when? Then, little by little, I realized that I had seen them in series 1 of The Tudors  starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers (above on the right). Many of the scenes were identical. Was that series based on Philippa Gregory’s novel too ? I don’t know but maybe it was.

So what about this story? Palpitating familiar saga,  doomed to tragedy. Involving and realistic,  especially thanks to the brilliant performances of the experienced and talented British actors in it. Jodhi May attempted to make Ann more humane and gives a touching convincing portrait of the unfortunate Queen both in her successful moments and – especially – in the tragic epilogue. I also appreciated Natascha McElhone as Mary Boleyn, Steven Mackintosh as George Boleyn, Jared Harris as Henry VIII , Philip Glenister as William Stafford and Anthony Howell as William Carey.

(Natasha McElhone and Jodhi May as Mary and Ann Boleyn)

The most disturbing element is the use and manipulation of the two beautiful young Boleyn sisters carried on by their family. They were considered exchange goods to get to power.
It seems - and this story is based on the conviction that - Henry VIII favoured Ann’s sister Mary first. She was more beautiful docile and sensitive then the other Boleyn girl but already married to William Carey. She was forced to accept the king’s will by her parents and uncle Thomas. Her husband, though unwillingly , couldn’t refuse. She came to love the king little by little but he tranferred his favour to Ann Boleyn while Mary was bearing his child. She had to endure the king’s refusal of her and her child and even being separated from the baby and sent back to her husband.

(Steven MacIntosh as George Boleyn, Ann and Mary's brother)
We follow then Ann’s ascent to the throne, playing the game of keeping the king’s interest in her alive by refusing to give herself completely to him. Mary is summoned at court to help her sister in her plot. But when Ann, now Queen, after Carey’s death, wants to use her to find new connections with powerful families she accepts Stafford’s marriage proposal and leaves the court. She prefers to marry a nobody for love than following her family’s and sister’s ambitious plans for power. The third Boleyn sibling, George, is always devoted to his sisters, especially , and in this version he fatally accepts to save Ann’s life sleeping with her. Rather unbelievably , they are encouraged by Mary in their final desperate incestuous act . The tragic epilogue is known to all.

(Ann plots to seduce the king - Henry VIII is Jared Harris)
This was a low production budget of £750,000. It was highly acclaimed by critics for the superb performances and the innovative way of approaching costume drama. The drama was shot using modern camera techniques and the cast spent four weeks in workshops improvising the script together with the director. It came out on DVD in 2008, following the release of the world famous theatrical version.

I also saw this latest adaptation of THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL as soon as I finished the older one . It was released in theatres in 2008 and it starred Natalie Portman & Scarlett Johansson as the two Boleyn sisters and Eric Bana as King Henry VIII. The plot here quite differs from the BBC version in many aspects and events . Ann is more treacherous, smarter, more ambitious and more bitter to her sister. George is a less constant presence in his sisters’ lives, the Boleyn girls are used to get to the king more by their wicked uncle Thomas ( David Morissey ) than by their parents. The first meeting between the King , Ann and Mary is differently narrated. The king is never really in love, in this latest adaptation, with Ann and even rape her before their marriage. He is never tender and is often furious to her. The final trial against Ann and her lovers is here reduced to an accusation for her incestuous relationship with her brother. They were  witnessed by George’s wife, Jane, but in this script it never actually took place because George finally refused his sister. (In the BBC 2003 version  the incestuous affair took place and – just like in THE TUDORS – Ann was accused of betraying the king with several men among whom her brother).
The historical locations in both productions blend seamlessly with production designer studio sets to create a convincing Tudor England.

(Eric Bana & Natalie Portman as Henry and Ann in 2008 film)

( The two Boleyn sisters in the 2008 version - Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson)

(David Morissey as Sir Thomas Boleyn)

Impossible to remain indifferent to the 2008  luxurious production. However, I honestly loved the  "modest"  British TV version more than the rich  American theatrical version.   The actors in the 2003 THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL were stunning, amazing. The low budget made their efforts even more praiseworthy. 
Jodhi May, an unforgettable Ann.
Have you read Philippa  Gregory's novel  or seen one of these adaptations of her book? Are there many differences? I'd love to read the book!



M. Gray said...

I read the book about two years ago and absolutely loved it, though I could never tell my mother about this. It's far too sexual for her to ever condone. ;)

I really enjoyed the Hollywood version of the book while some aspects were different it was still good. And I was surprised that the book was much racier than the movie.

I'll have to watch the British version cuz the story is riveting regardless. Thanks for the review, Maria!

Ruth said...

Thanks for this fascinating comparison and review. I haven't seen either film, but I'm familiar with the history of course - I can't imagine being in Mary or Ann's position!

Avalon said...

I have read several novels on this part of history and I am not sure which is my favorite. I prefer "the truth" but I guess that is in the eye of the beholder and we will never know since we was not there.
I like Jodi, she is a very talented actress. I liked her best in The Last of the Mohicans but her role as Anne was stunning too.
I have seen both adaptations but prefer Portman and Johansson's version. I think Johansson was perfect for the role.
I think the Tudors have an astonishing wardrobe but the embellishment and fabrication of the history is ridiculous. It was very prettily shot but some of the scenes were too much and unnecessary.
Great review as always.
In real life I think Henry was a tyrant that used and abused women for his sadist satisfaction. I felt sorry for all the women in his life.

phylly3 said...

I have "The Other Boleyn Girl" by my bed, but I can't get by the first chapters because it upsets me when authors monkey around with real characters to change obvious facts for their own ends. What Philippa Gregory did that bothered me most was to make Mary the younger sister and Ann the elder. This made Ann seem even more the scheming minx than I could believe.
I still prefer the BBC's "The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth" produced back in the '70's.
I saw the movie version of the book with Natalie Portman and it was well done but as I did not agree with the historical "facts" that marred it for me. I haven't seen the other version.
Ann Boleyn in "The Tudors" miniseries was well portrayed and acted but I couldn't stand the actor playing Henry (because he definitely didn't look the part) and it was too highly sexualized (in order to appeal to a younger audience that doesn't know or care about historical facts.)

Luciana said...

I haven't read the book and neither watched the BBC version, but I quite liked the theatrical version. The costumes are amazing! And I really prefer Eric Bana as Henry VIII than Jonathan Rhys Meyers. I just think that Scarlett Johanson was too naive in the movie while Natalie Portman was too mean!