The Other Boleyn Girl – The Ancient Soap Opera

Hello! I bet some of my new followers didn’t know I started this site with movie reviews. I wanted to get back to my writing roots, and this wildly popular book/movie combo is a good place to start!

The Novel

Philippa Gregory published The Other Boleyn Girl in 2001, and calling it “well-received” is an understatement. The novel charts the reign of King Henry VIII as he leaves his first wife, Catherine, marries Anne Boleyn, and eventually tires of her. The story is told through Mary Boleyn’s eyes, which is an interesting take. She knows she and her sister are pawns, but she seduces the king as she’s told and then steps aside for Anne.


The main players are Mary, Anne, and George, the Boleyn siblings, who will do anything for power. As members of “the court,” their job is primarily to hang out with the King and keep things fun. Scarlett Johanssen (Mary) and Natalie Portman (Anne) are magnetic and polarizing in their respective roles. Portman’s transformation from bravado to desperation is reminiscent of DiCaprio in many of his best roles. Throughout the movie, Mary is positioned as the naive and idealistic younger sister, while Anne is a seductive mastermind who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. This is even evident in their different makeup palettes; Scarlett always seems nearly barefaced and youthful, while Natalie’s smoky eyes and dramatic looks highlight the sensuality she wields as a weapon.

Although he’s ostensibly the leading man, Eric Bana’s portrayal of King Henry wasn’t riveting. Calling him a “good actor” might be a stretch, but he’s certainly passionate. Other supporting men were more intriguing, namely Benedict Cumberbatch as Mary’s first husband, Eddie Redmayne as her second, and David Morrissey as the scheming Boleyn uncle Thomas Howard. Morrissey gets a particularly delicious moment as he is the final judge to deliver the guilty verdict to his niece Anne. Benedict Cumberbatch gets a particularly heart-wrenching scene when he is forced to “divorce” Mary so the family can throw her at the king. Can someone please point out any meaningful differences between the scheming of the English court and Hollywood? Because I don’t see any.

Another standout supporting character is Elizabeth Boleyn, the mother of the three siblings at the center. She consistently spouts gems of wisdom and calls out the fuckery of the men around her with class and confidence. I don’t recall her having such a developed role in the book, but it’s nice to see Kristin Scott Thomas make the most of it.


Movies from about 2000-2010, particularly romances and rom-coms, had a particular aesthetic. Newer movies such as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before have tried to recreate the aesthetic, but it was so specific to that time frame. Sepia tones, soft piano music, and a general sense of idealism are the hallmarks of this aesthetic, along with mainly straight, white characters.

I have a gripe with the movie that involves spoilers, so skip this paragraph if you haven’t seen/read it. In the book, George Boleyn has an undercover boyfriend. Historical inaccuracy aside, they completely removed this detail from the movie. I could work with that if they didn’t keep in a MUCH more sexually explicit plotline. The whole movie is about two sisters sleeping with the same man, so let’s get off our high horses. That isn’t even the most explicit thing, though… I’m not even going to write it, but if you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you know the scene I’m talking about. It’s just a discussion, an “almost”, but it’s still disgusting. I can’t believe writers thought it was ok to imply incest but not that George might be gay.


This movie is rated PG-13, which seems far too generous in my mind. There is one rape scene, although everyone remains clothed, and two off-screen beheadings. I had to mute and look away at some of these more graphic scenes, and I would say kids under 15 should not be watching this.


This movie is a fun chance to see A-list actors in their early roles, and fans of Bridgerton or similar shows would enjoy this film. I’ll give it 7.5/10 for intriguing actors and pretty aesthetics. Points are docked for violence and melodrama. Watch it if you like Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johanssen, or Bridgerton; otherwise, I recommend The Great Gatsby or Inception. That’s all from me for now, but I’ll catch you on the flip side.


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