The Other Boleyn Girl is not historically accurate. Nor was the 2002 historical novel on which the new film is based.
But not too many of us go to see a melodrama about 16th century English nobles for historical precision. We go to get a feel for life in a drastically different era.
That's where The Other Boleyn Girl succeeds. Whether correct in the details or not, it invites us to imagine the pettiness behind the pageantry and the crassness behind the castle walls, and offers a sense of how the social order worked. It makes us feel as if we're briefly in that place and time.
Where the film fails is in storytelling. It gives us romance, adultery, beheadings, divorces, rape, betrayal and the basest kind of ambition. It takes us through events of lasting significance. Yet at times the pace is so slow, it seems like not much is happening.
The hook is King Henry VIII's affairs with two Boleyn sisters: the elder Mary (Scarlett Johansson) and then Anne (Natalie Portman), whom he famously married. (Sample inaccuracy: The movie portrays Mary as the younger sister.)
At any rate, Mary, who is newly married to somebody else, is ordered to become the king's mistress but then falls in love with him. Anne beguiles Henry into loving her but refuses his sexual advances until he does her bidding (including forming the Church of England so he can marry her).
The results are, of course, famously tragic for Anne.
The relationship between the sisters is wonderfully complex, and Portman and Johansson are appealing and believable. Some people will probably grumble about the casting of two Americans and an Australian (Eric Bana as Henry) in the leads, but they do good work, as does a uniformly excellent supporting cast, including David Morrissey as the ultra-ambitious Duke of Norfolk, Kristin Scott Thomas as the girls' mother and Mark Rylance as their ineffectual father.
Marty Clear can be reached at