Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Other Boleyn Movie

Just returned from seeing the film version of Philippa Gregory's wonderful historical novel, The Other Boleyn Girl. I'm about 3/4 of the way through the fabulous book, which is filled with court intrigues, politics, family drama, sex, greed, and just about every complex emotion that exists. The film, sadly, plays more like Beverly Hills 90210 meets the Cliff Notes version of English royal history. The book and the movie seem to be related in title alone, with none of the major scenes in the book making it into the movie.

In fact, nothing in the book that I have read so far appeared to make it up onto the screen, the screenwriter for some reason choosing to depart not only from the fictional novel, but history itself. Some features of the story are so condensed as to be entirely forgotten, such as Mary's husband, prominent at the beginning of the film, all but disappears by the end, with no mention of what happens to him that leaves her free to marry another man, as well as the fact that Mary has two children, a girl first and then a boy, by the king, not just one. That her sister essentially steals the son from her through adoption and holds Mary hostage throughout her reign by refusing to allow her to see her children unless she submits to Anne's will is also ignored. Mary comes across as a tattletale and a spoil-sport instead of the pawn of a larger game that she truly was.

While the roles--Natalie Portman playing Anne Boleyn and Scarlett Johannson as Mary, her sister--were nicely played (with respectable English accents), there was little they could do with a script that decided to completely rewrite the text of the novel, inventing incidents that weren't in the book, changing personality traits of most of the major characters, and going the "safe" route in ignoring the more complex, subtle emotions of loyalty, duty, love, and sibling rivalry that drove these women. Mary is namby-pamby, Anne is a whiny vengeful teenager, George (their brother) is a sap, and King Henry the Eighth is a bigger sap. The mother of the three Boleyns (Kristen Scott Thomas), a Howard, comes across as wronged and righteously indignant at the treatment her daughters receive from their uncle, father, and the King, whereas in the book she is a hard woman who understands the cost of the Howard family honor and eagerly offers up both her daughters to pay the price.

What were the filmmakers thinking? If they'd only stuck to the basic storyline of Gregory's novel, they would have had plenty of material to make this film as intriguing as the book for which they no doubt paid a hefty option price for the right to bring to the big screen. Heck, if they'd just stuck to history, they would have had the same. Disappointing that they chose to turn this into complete revisionist version of Gregory's book and history as well. My recommendation? Skip the movie; read the book.

Great costumes, though. Gotta love anything that lets Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson dress up in pearls, jewels, stomachers, and satin skirts. LOL!

I wonder sometimes why filmmakers who have such wonderful material to adapt from a novel so often stumble and fall? Is it worth it to even see the movie if you've read the book? The only exception I can think of in recent memory where I could answer yes is the Lord of the Ring films. While they didn't match the story line of the books exactly, the deviations taken to bring such a gigantic undertaking to film were true to the spirit of the original and often mirrored the original spectacularly.

How about you? Have you seen any movies that would have been better left as a book, or any that matched or exceeded the quality of storytelling of the books they portrayed?



Kim Lenox said...


I loved the book BELOVED by Toni Morrison, and it's one I think best represented in a reader's mind. I made it through perhaps 20 minutes of the movie version. I think perhaps the movie was good for people who would never have read (and received the message) through the book.

As for THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL -- I've got the book on my nightstand to read (but haven't started yet!). The movie would be fun to watch because -- hello, Eric B-A-N-A, lol! The casting director was extremely kind to Henry's memory, wasn't he?

But yes, I think I'd go to watch it as a fun fluff movie, rather than a strict translation of the book. I've read several reviews of the movie, and while yours is the best so far (you should write movie reviews for syndication, lol!) they've all reported much the same.

Great post!! I love that time period, so hope to enjoy both the book and the movie! Just in different ways/different expectations.

Robena Grant said...

Hey TJ:
My local newspaper in the Cal desert rated the movie as one and a half stars. I'd been interested in checking out the costumes and love the time period but decided I could apply my $10 elsewhere. What a shame. I'd so been looking forward to the movie.

Colleen Thompson said...

I loved, loved, loved the book, but I'm waiting to catch the movie on DVD. Even while reading the tome (it's one long novel), I knew there was way, way to much meat for a two-hour movie.

Anonymous said...

After reading your comments, I think I'll opt for the book and wait for the DVD.

I think most movies fail to capture the book's tone and magic. I thought Emma Thompson's SENSE AND SENSIBILITY was a recent exception.

The only movie I can think of that was better than the book is one of my all time favorites--REVENGE with Kevin Cosner, Madeline Stowe and Anthony Quinn (from Jim Harrison's novella). The story is totally character driven--each person acts as they must given who they are. If you haven't seen it, rent it.


Lucie Simone said...

I devoured the book, and consequently several other of Ms. Gregory's, and I feared the movie would never be able to live up to the brilliance of the book. So, I haven't seen it. Maybe on DVD, but I know the film simply could never capture the whole story. It would have to be a TV series or such to pack all the wonderful drama in.

TJ Bennett said...

Kim, sadly, I think even if you go to see the movie with low expectations, you might be disappointed. However, there is plenty of eye candy all around in the form of the beautiful costumes, period locations, and yes, Eric Bana. :-)

Robena, you could spend your money on the book. Buy the movie tie-in book and you'll get the film's pictures as well, lol!

Colleen, I agree about the meat, but they didn't even capture the sizzle! Shame, too, with that cast and that story.

Lark, I absolutely agree. Sense & Sensibility was a great exception. Haven't seen Revenge. I'll have to check it out.

Lucie, I think that the BBC Productions could do a great job turning this novel into a series. Yeah, that's the ticket. This is my first P. Gregory novel, but I must say it won't be my last!