Be careful what you wish for...
The film centres on the lamentable fortunes of the Boleyn sisters, Anne and Mary, whose futures become irrevocably entwined with King Henry's through some clever and dastardly plotting by their maternal uncle, the revile-worthy Duke of Norfolk. What unfurls, slowly and assuredly, is a rollercoaster of emotion that grips the senses from the get-go.
Having read the book by Philippa Gregory, it was interesting to see how well the film was done, but even for a non-history person - with very little grasp of the politics and general background to the situation regarding Henry’s lack of a male heir - the film is enjoyable. Even those who get dragged along with a group of others will certainly not feel that it has been two hours badly spent, when you get what is essential to any worthy film; excellent acting and a script which lets this shine through. For any guys whose girlfriends have mentioned this film, it’s not just a chic-flick and you will be able to enjoy it too, perhaps even earning brownie-points for comparing favourably - I hope so, anyway! - with the featured male roles…
Of note is that this film is one of two halves, as clear a contrast and as inextricably linked as the sisters around which the story revolves; of gentle love versus ambition and calculated desire; of idyllic countryside versus the intrigue and depravity of court; gaiety versus gruesomeness; of blonde versus brunette.
Truly, the film has excellent casting and the two leading ladies, Natalie Portman (Anne) and Scarlett Johansson (Mary), are well-balanced, in both the script and role allotted to them - neither concentrating on one at the expense of the other. The culminating effect is one of balance; the greater glory Anne sought had a greater cost, compared to the less glamorous position Mary endured with a happier ending. No matter how different their views or feelings, the sisters remain very strongly attached to each other, which is what glues the film together from start to finish.
Unlike many films, the strong emotions of jealously, hate, loyalty and passion required for certain situations are there in believable and poignantly human proportions, so that even I, who would say am fairly inured to blood and violence, found the final climactic scene hard to watch.
Of interest to anyone who would go to see films for a particularly stunning actress or glimpses of bare flesh, this film may be a slight letdown, as the usually breathtaking Johansson is somehow made almost plain on occasions. Nudity, too, is used sparingly but with great effect. From the very first minute you’re drawn to the detail and costumes that delights the eye; brilliance of dress that you just don’t get nowadays (for good reason obviously – try catching the bus or the tube wearing those dresses would be hard enough, let alone sitting down…) that adds another layer of meaning and symbolism in a film that lacks the CGI and stunts that people are often unconsciously expecting of any cinematic experience.This film needs none of these props; Tudor court life was dramatic and brutal enough, frankly.
As with any good film, there is a fair smattering of villains; reliably evil and calculating is the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) for whom we are all able to feel an acute dislike from the moment his shadow darkens the Boleyn door. The parents of these most troublesome twosome are left somewhere in the middle ground - the father (Mark Rylance) ambitious for all the supposedly right reasons, but the mother always suspicious of the cost of the apparent benefits of having one daughter whoring herself to the king and the other dangling herself in front of him.