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The Other Boleyn Girl

An Uneasy Tale of Two Siblings

Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson couldn’t look less alike as Anne and Mary Boleyn, the upwardly mobile sisters at the center of The Other Boleyn Girl, but there’s a reason for that. Despite their family ties, strained to the breaking point by their tempestuous dalliances with King Henry VIII (Eric Bana), they are dramatically differentiated foils.

Anne, whose naked ambition drives her obsessive, manipulative quest for Henry’s hand, is the architect of a misguided power play that will lead to England’s split with the Roman Catholic Church. Mary, as her pale-faced, soft-spoken sibling, is all naiveté and (mostly) noble intentions, even as she assents to becoming the king’s royal mistress.

These are roles for which the Boleyn girls have been callously groomed by their cynical father (Mark Rylance), whose willingness to improve his family’s lot quite literally on the backs of his daughters goes a long way toward explaining Anne’s voracious greed for power and position.

As the “other Boleyn girl” -- so called for her failure to capture the king’s eye during an ill-fated hunting expedition -- Anne overplays her hand with the deluded confidence of a classic screen villainess. For her part, Portman is a revelation. She savors every contemptuous syllable as she makes her thinly veiled bid for Catherine of Aragon’s throne -- though Henry’s haste to take the bait seems more convenient than plausible.

Adapted from Philippa Gregory’s deliciously lurid novel by Last King of Scotland screenwriter Peter Morgan, The Other Boleyn Girl is less a sober historical epic than a period-piece soap opera, with England’s most notorious monarch indulging in steamy romances with Anne and her considerably more sympathetic sister.

The rest, as they say, is something like history -- Anne’s inability to provide Henry with a male heir, and a rumored tryst with her brother, George (Jim Sturgess of Across the Universe), earned her a spot on the king’s chopping block, while Mary is left to begin life anew in the countryside, far from the scene of her family’s very public disgrace.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars