Note: There was a time in my life when my medication was unregulated, and during this freefall period I would often create an entire new blog based on nothing but a whim and a desire to be validated in some way. One of these blogging experiments was “Popcorn in the Dark”, a site wherein I intended to do my own snarky version of movie reviews. I didn’t get very far with this madness, mainly because this epiphany occurred during a period when I had 10 different blogs percolating. Yes, 10. I was clearly out of my mind. In any case, the following was my virginal attempt at being the next Pauline Kael…
Popcorn in the Dark: “The Other Boleyn Girl”
Okay, right off the bat, kind of a crappy title, yes?
The history books (well, at least the history books that I ran across whilst living in a southern state, where historical revisions occur daily thanks to the right-wing extremists) already make little mention of this shadowy sister of Anne Boleyn. She existed, this much is generally accepted, but since she was a woman, her personal achievements were lost to the wind because all historians were male at the time. Still, somebody somewhere in the modern age thought her story was movie-worthy. But the title of this movie reinforces the obscurity of her apparent non-accomplishments. How’s that for your self-esteem?
Seriously, they could have at least come up with some vague, innocuous title like “Second Fiddle” or “My Enemy, My Sister” or “Fleur de Lis”. Something. But no, they slap a title on the movie that sounds like somebody’s lazy research notes for a mundane high-school civics project. All those high-paid production people in Hollywood and this is the best title they could come up with? No wonder other countries in the world are tromping us when it comes to scholastic achievement. We can’t even come up with a title that has the tiniest hint of creativity.
Anyway, on to the movie. We have Eric Bana as Henry VIII, Natalie Portman as Anne, and Scarlett Johansson as…. see, I can’t even remember her name. Probably “Mary”. Lots of people were named Mary back in the day, since you couldn’t get on the Internet and see what was trending on social media. So we’ll go with “Mary”. (Don’t get all uppity if this is wrong; most of you didn’t even know Anne Boleyn had a sister until three seconds ago. Chill.)
Initially, as youngsters and then budding women, sisters Anne and Mary are besties. We have lots of background scenes with the two of them running about, cavorting discreetly, bonding, and wearing restrictive clothing. Things look rather perky in their sunshine world of not being poor or having to face reality. At the same time, because history is filled with manipulative people who can’t see the forest for their ego, we have Mummy and Daddy and a really atrocious uncle plotting on the sidelines for the most politically and financially-astute arranged marriages for the frolicking girls, a sure sign of impending doom.
Once we’re done with the developmental scenes, fraught as they are with duplicity and scheming, here comes Eric Bana, aka Henry, looking mighty fine on a horse. (In fact, all of the lead actors look pretty plush, considering that somebody decided to go for the “natural look” and none of the stars seem to be sporting any makeup. This is the great divide in society; some people are blessed with dewiness and age-defying clear skin, others are not.) Much to the surprise of the scheming older Boleyns, Henry decides that he wants to play slap and tickle with Mary, instead of the family-proffered Anne.
Instantly, Anne transitions from soul-mate sister to scheming shrew. Okay, maybe not instantly, but her misgivings about the proceedings are bolstered by what the Boleyn seniors do next. They easily toss Mary to Henry as a sacrificial offering (take this one, so sorry that we were trying to showcase-showdown the other one, love us!) Then the family sends Anne to France as semi-punishment for not being immediately desirable. Apparently, if you don’t snag a king on your first attempt, it’s imperative that you live in a foreign country to sharpen your consorting skills.
Naturally, when Anne finally returns from the Land of Cheese and Wine and Failure, she has a very large croissant shoved up her ass. She’s not happy, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to not have another stamp on her passport. And since Anne has been irrevocably warped by the twisted manipulations of her scheming parents, she doesn’t choose an honest and righteous path to self-betterment, such as taking night classes or reading books of poetry in a cloistered tower. Instead, she decides to destroy her sister, because you always hurt the ones you love when it comes to 16th-century royal politics.
Meanwhile, and rather conveniently, we have some mess with Sister Mary not being able to provide a much-needed heir to the throne. (I’m not really sure what all the fuss was about, as Mary was not actually married to Henry, who was still married to that pesky Catherine of Aragon who wouldn’t leave when she was no longer wanted. Any progeny of Mary would be about as useless as a crouton dropped on the floor in the local diner, but apparently Henry desired biological merit badges as proof of his ability to create manly sperm with a sense of direction and purpose.)
Naturally, Anne takes advantage of Mary’s lack of conception, and she becomes an immense thorn in Mary’s side, spreading lies and making malicious posts on Ye Olde Facebook. So we have lots of scenes with Suffering Mary trying really hard to get a nether bullseye, and Ambitious Annie doing her best to holler out whenever Henry’s arrow falls short of the mark. Suffice it to say that things become a bit tense at Boleyn family dinners, with both the interactions and the figgy pudding being rather curdled.
Eventually, of course, Henry tires of all this whining and non-production of babies, and he grows impatient. After all, he’s able to change the religion of an entire country with the wave of his hand, so why is it that his royal posse can’t find a suitable fertile woman for him to make sport with? (Because it’s always the woman’s fault, right? The issue has got to lie within the mysterious plumbing of womenfolk who require an entire aisle at Ye Olde Walgreen’s full of maintenance products that are lilac-scented. It’s never the man’s fault, as he doesn’t have to maintain anything because he has a dangly bit, and this appendage, no matter how lackluster, trumps any situation.)
So Henry boots out Mary (it’s not me, it’s you), and he tries another flavor of Boleyn, probably because the castle staff will only have to change one letter on all the monogrammed bits of the palace where he keeps his sporting equipment. Anne rushes in, saliva dripping, only to find that pleasing the king is a bit more complicated than having a bodice with quick-release touch points. There’s that whole thing about his enormous ego and his fondness for letting the guillotine help him win arguments.
In a lovely example of karma, Anne’s not real successful with that damn male-heir thing, either. She spits out Elizabeth, of course, but people weren’t really interested in a child without a dangly bit. Then the rumors start, because rumors always start when there’s nothing decent to watch on Ye Old Cinemaxe: Anne’s been playing hide and seek, if you will, with her brother. The whole Boleyn family has been misbehaving, and members of such have gone so far as to frequent unsavory nightclubs. And Anne has been spotted wearing white after Labour Day. The horror!
In the end (and I’m admittedly skipping a few plot developments because there’s an inevitable point in every movie where you stop caring and you’re just waiting for the credits so you can go pee), all of the Boleyns are executed, destroyed socially, or forced to wear cheap linen. Except for Mary, who retires to a cottage in the country and lives a full life, presumably working in her chaste garden and shyly flirting with local stable boys who don’t have the authority to behead other people just because they can’t produce a zygote.
Moral of the story? Life’s too short. Don’t bang the king unless you’re just really, really bored.
Originally posted in “Popcorn in the Dark” on 07/03/09 and “Bonnywood Manor” on 02/29/16. Slight changes made. For those invested in Bonnywood trivia, the “Popcorn” blog ended up having the shortest run of all my writerly incarnations, fun while it lasted but eventually tossed aside like… what was her name again?