The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Eric Bana, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted & Extended Scenes, Featurettes, Trivia Track

Justin Chadwick's "The Other Boleyn Girl" is a historical romance based on the bestselling novel by Philippa Gregory. Curiously, it was also the basis for a TV movie in 2003. Chadwick's first large production from BBC Films and Focus Features has an outstanding cast (although none of the three leads are English) and very high production values. It also features a screenplay written by Peter Morgan, who penned "The Last King Of Scotland" and the excellent "The Queen". Historical epics often look stunning in high definition so I was mildly interested in this film, even if historical romance is not my specialty by any means. These days they are about as rare as decent westerns, and yet they once ruled the box office and the Oscars, so I was certainly curious to see how this film turned out on Blu-ray.

The film may be something you'll want to watch before the two widely hailed "Elizabeth" films starring Cate Blanchett, if you were so inclined to make a weekend of it, although this film is far more involved with the human element and romance and betrayal than historical depictions or courtroom drama.

Taking place in sixteenth century England, the first part of the film concerns itself with Henry Tudor (Eric Bana) a.k.a. Henry VIII, whose many conquests and wives have become legend. Having become impatient with his wife Katherine (Ana Torrent) and her inability to provide him a child he is on the prowl for a mistress.

Two beautiful sisters, Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) and Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson) are encouraged by their father Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) to attempt to get King Henry interested enough to fall for one of them. Basically, pimping them out, although that seems a crude interpretation for a film where manners are supposedly so important. Either way, they try Anne first, thinking her adventurous nature and outspokenness and raw sensuality would attract the King. Although he was certainly curious, women who have too much of an opinion or personality are not exactly what he is looking for, so he ends up actually falling for Mary, the more kind and fragile of the two.

Although the supposedly sweet and sensitive Mary has a husband, she can't pass up the opportunity to try and impregnate herself with Royalty, which is kind of like winning the lottery, I guess. But Henry VIII can't help but lose interest once she is bedridden with child and his mind wanders back to her vivacious sister who has just returned from exile in France after secretly marrying a man of stature who was already betrothed. We never really let us glimpse any real transformation, nevertheless, when she is back she is wiser and wittier, and when they finally meet again, the sparks fly.

The second portion of the film is far darker, and Natalie Portman's performance is quite excellent, as we soon come to realize that she has become involved in a situation that takes some extremely bitter and devastating turns, which depending on your knowledge of the actual history of this tragic affair, may shock you.

Costumes were designed by Sandy Powell, and certainly give us plenty to look at. This is a supposedly erotic film about beautiful women with layer upon layer of clothing. Strangely, there isn't anything sexy about this film. The many sex scenes are surprisingly tame, especially when compared to a series such as Showtime's "The Tudors".

In fact, that is one of my main complaints, they deal with these steamy issues with no real style. For all of this forbidden lust and sibling rivalry, it seems so sanitized. For me, the film plays it way too safe and I found it somewhat underwhelming, although I think all of the performances are excellent. It could have been a great epic, but instead it never really rises to the occasion like some other recent additions to the genre. Still, if you love historical romance, you likely may come away quite pleased, although in my opinion, it could have been much better, had it taken some chances.

The picture quality of this often beautiful film is quite outstanding, and 1080p High Definition transfer fills the screen at 1.85:1 offering us textures that pop off the screen and the amazing amount of color in the costumes is simply breathtaking. The black levels are impressive, as are the set decoration. Even if you find some segments of the film less than entertaining, there is always something to see. All of the jewelry and antiques come across with a stunning clarity that we should expect of a new release that was filmed using high definition cameras. Not to mention the beautiful actresses who grace the screen.

The audio is also above average, sporting a very full and rich sounding Dolby TrueHD track that more than delivers the goods, although I was somewhat underwhelmed by the score. Surrounds are in active use for the ambient effects and the subwoofer is put to good use with the arrival of horses and other effects. The dialogue is always clear and audible, sometimes too much so, as in a couple of instances where accents get lost. The audio should please fans of the film.

The special features include a Blu-ray exclusive called 'Inside The Court' which is quite interesting if you would like to learn more about the history behind the story. It features the film playing in a widescreen box to the left with a very colorful background and features a wealth of information on each character and their role in history. Certainly a stylish feature since it gives you much more control over the information than what is standard with these types of trivia tracks. Certainly worth a look, especially if you want to learn some history in a fun new way.

We also have a 'Commentary Track' from the director himself that is fairly enthusiastic. His knowledge of the subject is quite vast, although participation from the two female leads could have been more entertaining.

'Deleted & Extended Scenes' features twelve scenes that clock in at 23 minutes and 43 seconds and it includes an alternate ending, although not a happy one. The scenes are presented in high definition, which is certainly appreciated. It's obvious the filmmakers were forced to make quite a few cuts and certainly a wealth of new material ends up here, some fairly interesting, if you are into the film especially.

'Members Of The Court Biographies' runs 16 minutes and 48 seconds when you choose the play all feature and is quite fascinating in its insight. It features members of the filmmaking team and others as they give you in depth and fascinating insight into the lives and ambitions of all of the main character's from the movie. Good stuff, more interesting than the film in some ways.

We have three short featurettes, all in high definition, the first of which, 'To Be A Lady' runs only ten minutes and thirty three seconds and features Philippa Gregory and Natalie Portman and others as they explain the twisted way that women were expected to behave during that period of time. We've certainly come a long way, or have we?

'Translating History To Screen' runs about ten minutes as well and features the writer of the novel once again along with members of the cast as they discuss how they tried to film a realistic depiction of the times and how they took certain shortcuts and liberties.

'Camera Tests with Justin Chadwick' is only a couple of minutes and features the director's commentary as we watch screen tests.

'Previews' features nine high definition trailers, which is always nice, but no trailer for the film itself.

I tried to access the 'BD Live' capabilities but it wouldn't allow me access, certainly because this is a pre-release.

So this film will have those who will admire it for what it is. I, on the other hand, found it to be somewhat uneven and a bit dull at times, it seems like it could have been more. But fans of the film should certainly be happy with a Blu-ray that includes not only a stellar transfer but also very decent audio along with a healthy amount of informative bonus features (in high definition) that make this release stand out.