Having already spawned four published sequels and a BBC television adaptation, Philippa Gregory's historically questionable novel about the dabblings and diddlings of Tudor England graduates to what it was seemingly made for: a dripping Hollywood production, complete with requisite American flesh. The Other Boleyn Girl's sordidly fictionalized account of the love triangle between Anne Boleyn, her sister Mary, and Henry VIII (played by adequately sumptuous Yanks Natalie Portman, ScarJo, and Eric Bana, respectively), seems perfect for a gleefully trashy Hollywood period piece—all ripped bodices, knowing glances, chamber clothes, and that looming, inevitable axe drop.
Never mind that it often feels like just another excuse to put a few pretty things in fancy clothes. Never mind that Portman and Johansson make for completely unbelievable siblings, or that Natalie's Anne Boleyn as unscrupulous seductress is insufferably cartoonish. Never mind even that its impatient narrative finds most of its dialogue awkwardly itemizing the sequence of events as it unfolds, or that its pointlessly long-lensed artiness actually obstructs a good deal of the action on screen. Never mind all of this, as long as you actually deliver on what it is that you're advertising: incestuous, imprudent, and improbably constricted flesh.
Unfortunately, The Other Boleyn Girl can't bring itself to completely embrace its damp, salacious undercurrent—it's too concerned with the preposterously arrogant notion that it has, within itself, some kind of serious period drama. Sure, it looks like they've thrown a lot of money at it, but still somehow the whole production comes off feeling weirdly cheap and flimsy—and not just for the triumvirate of ridiculously adorned heartthrobs hamming it up all Masterpiece Theatre. Flat where it might be more effectively stylized, and needlessly stylized where it might be more effectively subdued, the whole production left me strangely yearning for the delicate hand of another, similarly conceived "pretty Americans playing fancy royals" affair: Marie Antoinette. As boring as fuck as that film ultimately was, it at least had the visual flair to justify some of its self-importance. The Other Boleyn Girl, on the other hand, is too dumb to recognize its greatest strength: That sometimes pretty people in fancy clothes doing sexy things is more than enough on its own.