From television series like 'The Tudors' to feature films like 'The Other Boleyn Girl,' Henry VIII certainly has received a lot of attention in recent years. But in its attempt to justify and indulge his endless affairs, decadent self-absorption, and notorious disconnect with his people, Hollywood would like us to believe that Henry was a sexy renegade who worked to balance a tumultuous personal life with the needs of a despondent country in the midst of religious upheaval. I suppose the alternative wouldn’t sit as well with audiences.
Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, 'The Other Boleyn Girl' focuses on two sisters who vie for the affections of Henry VIII (Eric Bana) when his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent) begins to unravel. Henry is obsessed with having a son/heir to the throne, seeking whomever can succeed where his current wife has failed. Meek and hesitant to court the king, Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson) becomes genuinely infatuated with his advances, while her more aggressive sister, Anne (Natalie Portman), is determined to secure a seat at the royal table. While Mary initially secures her place in the court with a fortuitous pregnancy, a miscarriage leaves her bedridden and discarded, allowing Anne to sweep in and steal Henry’s attention.
It’s tough to explain exactly what I didn’t like about 'The Other Boleyn Girl.' The film certainly boasts exquisite attention to detail and a compelling cast of characters. Portman and Johansson portray the Boleyn sisters with passion, developing characters with more to their souls than simple political ambition. Television director Justin Chadwick imbues each girl with a duality that reveals the nuances of their decisions and behavior. Likewise, his Henry VIII is a cold, conflicted, and calculating ruler whose exploits aren’t sugar-coated for mass consumption. Bana crafts Henry as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a vile man whose priorities have been blinded by his desire for an heir. While the character may not be historically accurate, at least he's portrayed as a fairly heartless bastard.
Unfortunately, it’s this bleak outlook that ultimately holds the film back from greatness. Simply put, there isn’t a single character who elicits a personal investment from the audience -- Mary comes close, but I ultimately found her too passive to earn my sympathy. Even more depressing are the characters played by varuous members of the supporting cast. Each actor handles his role with composure and self-assurance, but this is a world populated by shrewd villains who would sacrifice their own children in order to further their position in Henry’s kingdom. The entire experience becomes an exercise in futility as each Boleyn girl is paraded in front of the voracious Henry at the cost of their souls. There isn’t a gripping drive to such a narrative and the film devolves into a desperate soap opera that doesn’t offer anyone to root for. I couldn’t help but wish Chadwick would abandon history and allow Spain or France to invade England simply to kill the whole lot of them.
The historical accuracy of Gregory’s tale has been called into question on more than one occasion, but it never really mattered to me. Much like 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age,' 'The Other Boleyn Girl' fails because it doesn’t deliver its story from a satisfying angle and never really lives up to its promises. The film has clearly been designed to explore the consequences of envy and the quest for power, but instead it gives us a trite examination of two women who fail to secure a legacy for their rather repulsive family. I can’t say I outright hated the film, but I can definitely say that I have little desire to trudge through it again.
Shot using high-end Genesis HD cameras, 'The Other Boleyn Girl' impresses with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that looks absolutely fantastic. Minted directly from the digital source, the picture doesn’t display a hint of noise, edge enhancement, or troublesome DNR. While a fine haze of filmic grain has been inserted, it remains steady regardless of lighting and never detracts from the image quality.
The intentionally desaturated palette is gorgeous, blacks are inky, and shadow delineation reveals all of the intricate textures and decorations lining each set. Contrast is spot-on as well, maintaining order without allowing whites to bloom or dark expanses to crush. Best of all, detail is extraordinarily refined, showcasing every strand of hair, chipped stone, and stitch on the screen. There isn’t a lot to complain about here as the entire production has been rendered with care from beginning to end.
If anything holds the transfer back, it’s the director’s insistence on washing out the performers’ fleshtones. While I’ll admit that it lends itself to the pastiness of 16th century court members, it inadvertently robs the actors of their natural hues. As it stands, skin looks rather milky and, at times, sicklier than was probably intended. Ah well, it’s a relatively small matter that shouldn’t dissuade any fan from going with the Blu-ray edition of the film. This is a stunning transfer that shows how immaculate a high definition transfer can look when it’s captured from an original digital source.
'The Other Boleyn Girl' features a decent Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix that sadly fails to compete with other lossless tracks found on comparable period releases such as ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age.' In this case, the sound designers squander the track’s potential with flat interior acoustics, inconsistent levels of ambiance, and lazy surround support. While these fundamental inadequacies only become distracting at certain points in the film, overall they produce a void in the soundfield that makes immersion particularly difficult. Don’t misunderstand, I’m used to the inherent limitations of conversational soundscapes and didn’t have any lofty expectations here. However, even a quiet mix should be able replicate the echoes and reverberations of an open room -- we’re dealing with vast banquet halls and stone corridors that should be veritable playgrounds for effective sound design.
Thankfully, all is not lost. Crisp high-end tones keep dialogue sounding fantastic, precise prioritization directs each voice to its proper place, and weighty sound effects use the LFE channel to their advantage. Overall low-end extension is more than satisfactory, imbuing the musical score with a power that’s conspicuously absent from the rest of the track. Finally, while the rear speakers are silent for the majority of the film, they do pipe up when called upon and tease listeners with hints of what could have been. In the end, 'The Other Boleyn Girl's TrueHD track is certainly acceptable –- it just doesn’t boast the attention to detail other mixes use to enhance and invigorate their character-driven period pieces.
Sony is releasing 'The Other Boleyn Girl' on Blu-ray with a nice supplemental package that ports over all of the features from the standard DVD, plus some well-executed exclusive content. To sweeten the pot further, all of the video features are presented in high definition.
I personally found 'The Other Boleyn Girl' to be a depressing soap opera that lacks the intrigue and heart of better 16th century period pieces. Thankfully, this Blu-ray edition of the film is quite strong, featuring a striking transfer captured directly from a digital source and an engaging package of detailed supplements. Sure, the film’s TrueHD audio track leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s still a faithful representation of the theatrical mix. All in all, while I can’t vouch for the film itself, this Blu-ray release should please fans and dazzle newcomers with its fantastic visuals.