The Other Boleyn Girl – My Opinion

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Today I’m going to give you my opinion on the film of The Other Boleyn Girl starring Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn, and Eric Bana as Henry VIII. It also co-stars Benedict Cumberbatch as William Carey, Ana Torrent as Katherine of Aragon, Jim Sturgess as George Boleyn and Eddie Redmayne as William Stafford, among others.

I don’t think the film version lived up to the novel. The novel was a lot more detailed, and the characters seemed to be entirely different from novel to film. I wish the film had focused more on Mary Boleyn and her relationship with William Stafford, and how that affected her view of the court, and her children. The film seemed to tail off after Anne became involved with Henry VIII, but there was a lot more in the novel after that point, which wasn’t seen in the film. I think that this let it down as a lot of Mary’s lesser-known story (what happened when she left the court after her secret marriage to Stafford) was eft out, and this was the bit that most intrigued readers in the first place when the novel was published. I haven’t seen the earlier TV film of the novel, so I don’t know how that differs, but when I eventually get around to watching it, I will review it here.

However, I think the sets of the film were brilliantly constructed, particularly the Boleyn residence. It showed precisely how the Boleyns were relatively well-off but that they also lacked the funds to make their home ready for a royal visit. That was the reality of Tudor England. Any money that noble and well-off families had went to flaunting their children at court to get preferment, as a lot of families who were at court didn’t really spend much time at their country homes. The court sets were not quite as well done, but they still seemed to be very realistic, and the costumes were also great. The costumes worn by Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn seemed to match the reports of her appearance, and the appearance shown in portraits of her. However, I do think that a lot of the costumes in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ have been overlooked because of the sumptuousness of the costumes in shows like ‘The Tudors’, which were possibly a bit more OTT.

Scarlett Johanssen as Mary Boleyn and Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn in 'The Other Boleyn Girl' (2008)
Scarlett Johanssen as Mary Boleyn and Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ (2008)

I think that the casting was done very well. I really really enjoyed Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Mary Boleyn – it’s exactly how I imagined her. She was nervous and shy but developed into a sensual woman, who managed to break out of the typical Tudor woman stereotype and marry a man of her choosing, and brought her children up the way she wanted to bring them up. However, I do think that Portman should have shown more of Anne’s temper and her anger at the delay in her marriage to Henry. I don’t think that was portrayed well enough, though perhaps that was the fault of the writers more than the actors. Bana could also have done with showing his more powerful side, as the King came across as someone you could just walk over, and the farce of the trial at the end didn’t represent what the sources describe. No witnesses were called for Anne’s trial by all accounts, and she certainly didn’t come face-to-face with Smeaton after the arrests. However, I also think that Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn was interesting because she showed a different side to Anne than any other portrayal I’ve seen before. She showed the sheer effort it would have taken to hold the interest of Henry VIII for nearly eight years, and the changing opinion Anne had of Henry. At first, Anne believed Henry was a great king, but she quickly realised he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted, and that included fabricating charges against her so that he could have her killed and marry Jane Seymour.

What really makes me think about this film is that some of the instances reported in history, but that historians dismissed, like the charge of incest, actually appear in the film. Yes, Anne and George do not actually have sex, but they do come close, and that is more than historians actually acknowledge. I think that films are actually a lot more accurate to the historical record than we give them credit for. The incest charge may not be accurate, but you can tell that the writers, director and producers have, at least at a basic level, conducted some of their own research outside of the novel, which I think is more than has been acknowledged by a lot of people, historians included. Film is often dismissed out of hand by historians as being fictional and not accurate, but film portrayals can give us a sense of how perceptions of these historical figures has changed over time, and that is incredibly valuable.

22 thoughts on “The Other Boleyn Girl – My Opinion

  1. I know, but historians have to think about everything, possible thoughts, and possible conclusions, because there is a huge lack of evidence. Historians think about things that there is no evidence for because it is possible. I’ve read more than enough to know that. It’s one of the first things I learned. You have to take things with a pinch of salt (sometimes a huge one!) but it is always worth considering.

    I didn’t say that it wasn’t hearsay, but I don’t think you can dismiss things just because of the lack of evidence. I don’t think that Anne and George committed incest, but I think that the potential was there. Incestual relationships weren’t all that uncommon to be honest. If she was that desperate, Anne would have considered anything.


    1. So brothers and sisters were sleeping with eachother all over the place? There is nothing to consider. The desperation that is put about in PG novels is entirely made up and is pure fiction . So after all this time we should just consider things because there is a lack of evidence. Why not just say it didnt happen because there is no evidence?? Do you think evidence is going to come out of nowhere and prove these fantasies to be true? Are you getting a degree in Tudor history? What books have you read? The blog you put out today on Mary Tudor was entirely copied from Wiki exept for the part where she might have strangled her French king husband, that’s from the Tudors.


      1. I’m getting a Masters degree in History this year. In July I graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in History with a 2:1, Early Modern history mainly, but my dissertation was on Anne Boleyn’s image in the public sphere, so I’m used to looking at conjecture and wild conspiracy theories, because it was a part of my dissertation.

        As for books I’ve read, the list is quite extensive:-
        * Eric Ives ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’
        * G.W. Bernard ‘Anne Bleyn: Fatal Attractions’
        * Marie Louise Bruce ‘Anne Boleyn’
        * Alison Plowden ‘Tudor Women’
        * Norah Lofts ‘Anne Boleyn’
        * David Starkey ‘Six Wives: the Queens of Henry VIII’
        * David Loades ‘The Tudor Queens of England’
        * David Loades ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’
        * David Starkey ‘The Reign of Henry VIII’
        * David Loades ‘The Boleyns’
        * Peter Ackroyd ‘Tudors’
        * Alison Weir ‘Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn’
        * Karen Lindsey ‘Divorced Beheaded Survived’
        * Antonia Fraser ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’
        * Retha Warnicke ‘The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn’
        * Derek Wilson ‘Henry VIII’
        * Neville Williams ‘Henry VIII and his Court’
        * David Starkey ‘Henry’
        * Robert Hutchinson ‘House of Treason’
        * Elizabeth Norton ‘Anne Boleyn’
        * Josephine Wilkinson ‘Anne Boleyn’
        * Alison Weir ‘Henry VIII: King and Court’
        * Alison Weir ‘Mary Boleyn’
        * Alison Weir ‘Elizabeth the Queen’

        I know none of them really talk about the incest charge, aside from dismissing it, but I just think it’s an intriguing possibility, hence the dissection.

        A lot of the evidence on Mary Tudor does concur. Most of the information I’ve gleaned from my reading of books on Anne Boleyn, as a lot of them do go into background on Mary, as Anne spent a lot of time around her during her period as the French queen. Ives, Bernard and Norton to name but a few. I have an excellent memory, and as most of the evidence points the same way, it is pure coincidence. I did check her birth date and death date on wikipedia but aside from that … Wikipedia isn’t an academic source, and shouldn’t be used as such.


    2. For the sake of clarity here I am also MissHannah1980 who made the above post (two accounts; two blogs, one person. Confusing, I know).

      I studied History at Queen’s University, Belfast (about ten years ago now). Although we were encouraged to use conjecture based on evidence, we were certainly not encouraged to pick theories out of thin air. Anne Boleyn’s fall was swift and largely unexpected; so it would be impossible to say how “desperate” she was. Only weeks before her arrest Henry had been highly attentive of her. It wasn’t like it was on The Tudors. To make a claim such as the one you are, you need evidence and you need a strong supportive argument based on that hard evidence. Historians would strongly discourage you from simply pouring out your theories and leaving it at that.


      1. As I said above, I’m used to looking at wild conspiracy theories about the Tudors, as the public sphere involves all of these, and so I suppose I have become quite used to talking about it and dissecting it, so if it came across as fact, then I’m sorry. Some historians, like Bernard and Wilkinson do lean towards the fact that incestuous relationships were more common than we think, and I suppose I built on that assumption.


  2. If you’re studying History at an academic level, the first thing you must learn to do is leave your assumptions at the door. If there is no evidence to support something – no matter how strong your gut instinct is- then it must be left as nothing more than hearsay.

    I won’t repeat what the other commentators have already said about Anne and George Boleyn. I just want to reiterate that evidence is everything, and you have none to support your ideas.


  3. Just because you think something might be true does not make it so. It is truly defaming and absolutely unfair to Anne that someone who claims to be find of her would write that she would even consider sleeping with her brother . I don’t think for one second the thought crossed her mind. We tend to forget that Anne had no problem getting pregnant by Henry in the first place . Miscarriage was a common occurrence . Why would a baby by her brother somehow live long?


  4. On what basis do you believe that Anne Boleyn could even have considered incest? Sibling incest was seen as abhorrent as it is now, if not more so. It was simply a vile and, I submit, preposterous allegation, designed to ruin the reputation of the Boleyns and therefore make it easier to dispose of them without them gaining public sympathy. There is not a shred of evidence to support it, and to even imply that they could have been capable of considering it in the absence of such evidence is totally unfair, any more than there is evidence that Anne would have considered sleeping with anyone other than the king to get pregnant. You may as well argue that Anne Boleyn “could have” secretly harboured a passionate crush on Jane Seymour, or that Henry VIII’s motivations in having two of his wives executed “could have” been because he was a devotee of Arachnid the Destroyer and needed to make a sacrifice every six years. Ridiculous examples, sure, but suggesting a genuinely devout Queen of England might have wanted to use her brother as a sperm donor (as was done in The Other Boleyn Girl book and film) is just as ridiculous, to me.

    Too often I’ve seen blog posts and novels attempt to trash a queen’s reputation by suggesting – without evidence – that she wanted to foist a non-royal bastard onto the throne: Eleanor of Provence, Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou and Anne Boleyn have all come in for this treatment. The people who make these arguments often don’t realise they’re being deeply offensive to the memory of people they’re writing about. Of course, if reliable evidence emerged, then that’s completely legitimate to explore. But I think it’s irresponsible to make such statements – even as speculation – in the absence of evidence, especially when it’s something damaging to that person’s reputation.


    1. I think that Anne Boleyn was almost so desperate to have a child and preserve her life so she could raise her daughter, Elizabeth, that she would have considered anything. I think in some respects, The Other Boleyn Girl is a lot more accurate than we give Gregory credit for. In some ways, I don’t think it was a serious consideration, just a fleeting wish, as she tried to sort things out in her head. I admire her so much for the lengths she would go to to protect her daughter. I don’t think she committed incest, but I do think it was possible that she fleetingly thought about it.

      I’m not trying to trash Anne’s reputation. Most of my writing is trying to protect and defend her reputation. And showing how her image develops through literature. But I’ve learnt through my degree that we shouldn’t ignore possibilities because of a lack of evidence, when there is so much evidence missing about Anne’s life, but I can see your point about reputation. History is about uncovering the truth and possible truths, and I don’t think we should ignore something which could theoretically be true.


      1. There is no possible way you can know what Anne thought, unless she confided in someone in writing. I am not a fan of Anne here, but I still say that it’s not right to attribute your thoughts to a historical person, long dead and gone. Who knows what she was like? We don’t even know if she was in a position to sort things out in her head. From all accounts, her downfall was pretty swift and unaccountable.


      2. “I think that Anne Boleyn was almost so desperate to have a child and preserve her life”
        This with respect is reasoning backwards. Anne Boleyn had no way of knowing that she would be arrested on trumped up charges and put to death. What happened to her was unprecedented, and sent shock waves not just through England but through Europe.

        Yes, she would have been anxious to conceive a male heir WITH THE KING, but to assume that she would have had any inkling of what her ultimate fate would be and therefore would have done anything to avoid it is to suggest she had some kind of psychic foreknowledge, and that is stretching it, to say the least. Further, to even consider that a strongly devout and moral woman in the 16th century would have even “fleetingly” contemplated a heinous sin is doing her a disservice.


  5. I probably should have made this clearer, but I believe that there were some people at court who did believe that Anne and George committed incest. That’s a lot more than historians generally seem to accept – they seem to assume that everyone except from Henry seemed to assume that the charges were false. I don’t believe they actually did, but I believe that Anne could have at least considered it in her desperation to have a child. I’m still trying to perfect my writing style. Obviously I need to be clearer.


  6. “Yes, Anne and George do not actually have sex, but they do come close, and that is more than historians actually acknowledge. I think that films are actually a lot more accurate to the historical record than we give them credit for.”

    No! Historians don’t acknowledge that it happened because there is no evidence that Anne and George’s relationship was at all inappropriate, they believe it to have been a charge added to the indictments simply to blacken the Boleyn name and to cause shock and horror. The Other Boleyn Girl takes the charge and makes it real, and that doesn’t make it “a lot more accurate to the historical record” unless you take the charges at face value, which means that you would also believe that Anne committed adultery with all of the men named.

    I don’t believe that Anne and George committed incest.


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