An uninspired title for a lavish royal story of intrigue, ambition, lust, power, mishigas, and witchery, bitchery, block. There were two Bolyn girls, you see -- Scarlett Johanssen as shy Mary Bolyn, with her exquisitely misshapen features, and Natalie Portman as Anne, girlish and grasping. The Bolyns, like the royal family itself, is full of knaves. I mean, imagine a father pimping off his two daughters, even to a Eric Bana's king.
Henry VIII (ruled 1509 -1547) is Eric Bana, who gives a subdued performance compared to, say, Charles Laughton or Robert Shaw. Henry ran through six wives, enough that a mnemonic peg has proved itself useful over the years:
King Henry VIII, To six wives he was wedded. One died, one survived, Two divorced, two beheaded.
This movie deals with the first two -- Catherine of Aragon of Spain, who stubbornly refuses to give Henry a son and heir but becomes instead the mother of Mary Queen of Scots, perhaps out of spite. The marriage is annulled, a great shock at the time, and the actress, the magnificent Ana Torrent, gives the role all she's got. But as Catherine approaches menopause after twenty-four years of marriage, the frustrated younger Henry has had enough. Catherine leaves the court in a high dudgeon, dies later in prison, and Henry takes up with shy Mary, she of the low dudgeon but high bosom, of which the viewer gets not a glimpse.
Now, I'm describing the movie, not the historical facts because I'm unable to remember anything that happened before I was five years old. In any case, Mary and Henry get along quite well, although of course they aren't married. The men of the court, especially Boleyn pater, are anxious to see Mary become queen. The dialog is exceptional when the nobles question Mary about her first night. "Did he lie with you?" "Yes, he lay with me." "Did he lie with you more than once?" "Yes, he lay with me more than once." It was enough. She gives birth -- but to a girl, not a boy. The end credits tell us that this is, in fact, the case and that the girl grew up to be Elizabeth I -- the Elizabethan Age of Shakespeare, Sir Francis Drake, the Spanish Armade, Errol Flynn, et al. I understand the claim is in some dispute.
The king sheds Mary, though. First of all, he's not keen on baby girls as heirs, though he's willing enough to give it another go. "Well, if she can bear a healthy baby girl, she can bear a healthy baby boy." He's put off the scent by the conations of Mary's sister Anne. It's hard to tell from the film whether Anne is deliberately trying to undo Mary's position, which has seemed secure. The king is tender with Mary and she has grown to love him. In any case, Anne enters the king's affections kind of crabwise, which isn't hard since Anne is beautiful and flirtatious while the king seems to be ruled entirely by his glands. As history has shown, Anne has made a big mistake and is succeeded by Jane Seymour, the wife from whom the actress (née Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg) copped her name.
All of the performances are up to par, as is the direction. Scarlett Johansson gives the most notable performance, possibly because it's the most complex, whereas Portman is shackled to the role of bitch with mute. We don't see that much of Eric Bana as Henry, but he joins all the men of the story in being scheming and unscrupulous brutes. Not that the women are much better, with the exceptions of shy Mary and proud Catherine.
I kind of enjoyed it, although if you stripped the story of its historical roots and cut its budget by about 999,999% what you'd wind up with is something resembling a Lifetime Network Movie. You know, give the characters contemporary dress, get rid of the "lie with"s, and make the king a CEO, and there you have it.