Guys may assume the film version of Philippa Gregory’s chick-lit bestseller about two Boleyn sisters who bed Henry VIII as a way to secure the fortune of their pimp family is a form of dude torture. They’re wrong. And not because first-time director Justin Chadwick does a consummate job of bringing Peter Morgan’s scripto cinematic life — he doesn’t. The film moves in frustrating herks and jerks. What works is the combustible teaming of Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, who give the Boleyn hotties a tough core of intelligence and wit, swinging the film’s sixteenth-century protofeminist issues handily into this one.
Johansson plays it subtle-sultry as Mary, who bears Henry (Eric Bana) two bastard children but can’t get him to divorce his wife. It’s Portman’s more calculating Anne who pulls off that trick but who fails in the son-producing department. After one miscarriage, she enlists her brother (Jim Sturgess) for stud service to fool the king. The facts of these relationships are largely unknown, so the movie plays fast and loose with them. Anne did indeed lose her head on the chopping block after a thousand days as queen. And in Portman’s dynamic performance you can seet srength and vulnerability warring for Anne’s soul. In this bedroom view of history, it’s that image that sticks.