Making the Grades
With the success of two films chronicling the life of Elizabeth I (played by Cate Blanchett who received Oscar nominations for both), it isn't surprising that Elizabeth's father also gets his turn on screen. Yet in The Other Boleyn Girl, King Henry VIII's scandal-fraught reign leads viewers to believe much of England's history, politically and religiously, was shaped by sex and ambition during his time on the throne.
Anxious to sire a son, Henry (Eric Bana) becomes disenchanted when his wife, Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), produces only one surviving child--a daughter. However, he seems to have more than an heir on his mind when he meets Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) at her father's estate during a hunting expedition.
Eager to secure titles and wealth, Anne's father (Mark Rylance) and her uncle (David Morrissey) sense the attraction and see an opportunity to ensure their family's position with the Tudor Empire. Sending Anne and her sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) to the Queen's court, they hope to have Anne chosen as the King's new mistress. Surprisingly, it's Mary who catches the king's eye instead. Despite being married to William Carey (Benedict Cumberbatch), she is readied and sent into the King's bed. Eventually, she gives birth to his son. But by that time, the rift is wide between the two sisters who find themselves vying for the attention of the sovereign who's interested in finding new conquests to spoil.
With a hunger for power that rivals her uncle's, Anne taunts the king by keeping him from the very thing he wantsÉ her body. Demanding to be his wife rather than his mistress, she drives the lust-driven ruler to break ties with the Pope and begin his own religion in order to secure a divorce. Unfortunately, her ambition extols a heavy tax on the Boleyn family.
Unable to change history, audiences already know the fate of Queen Anne. Yet the journey to her demise proves to be sexually graphic and, at times, disturbing, particularly when unlucky court members are beheaded. Deeming morality to be a virtue for others only, the king avails himself of any maiden he desires. The illicit affairs result in scenes of sexual activity between unmarried adults, rape and the suggestion of incest. Sexually oriented dialogue including a repeated term for an illegitimate child, brief vulgarities and terms of Deity are also found in the script.
Portman and Johansson put in strong performances as sisters at odds in a time when women had little influence beyond their sexual favors. While compassion and forgiveness become powerful forces in this family drama, the film is a bleak commentary on a man ruled by raging hormones rather than good sense.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Other Boleyn Girl.
How does the desire for titles and position drive the Boleyn family? What impact does it eventually have on them? How are the qualities of kindness and compassion viewed?
What gender differences are portrayed in this film? What are the double standards? How does Anne defy the balance of power? What impact does she have on the kingdom?
Marriages were often arranged for political reasons. How does this affect the couples in this movie? Is love possible in an arranged marriage?