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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

The Other Boleyn Girl

HBO’s Succession For The Tudor Era

There are some events that happened so long ago that any interpretation of what may have happened is best left to the imagination. The Other Boleyn Girl is such an event. An event of seduction, betrayal, and a scrambling fight for power.

In the 1500s King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) lacked a male heir. Seeing this as an opportunity for personal gain, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) and Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) persuade Thomas' daughter Anne (Natalie Portman) to seduce the king. Henry falls for Anne’s younger sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) instead. Mary soon becomes pregnant and confined to her bed leaving Anne charged with keeping the king from straying. The plan backfires however when Anne seeks the king's affections for herself.

The Other Boleyn Girl doesn’t portray the power dynamics of those times as something that’s very fluid. Power is this one thing that only has one version of it and you either have it or you don’t. The way to have it is simply to be in good graces with the monarch. Portman must have had a blast playing Boleyn because even though it eventually becomes a very sad story, it’s just very engaging. Anne knows how to get under people's skin and manipulate them. Anne does love her sister but not enough to place her happiness and well being before her own.

Mary is literally the definition of a puppet on a string. It doesn’t matter how much her family throws her in the garbage, takes her out, and cleans her only to throw her right back in again. She will ALWAYS come crawling back. She doesn’t want much from life. She doesn’t need power or wealth. She just wants to be safe, healthy, and happy. She wants her family to be happy. She has a moral code that is absolutely not of the modern era. Mary just isn’t a millennial, she doesn’t belong to that world. I’d say she was born at the right time for her but how can it be right when she is taken advantage of at every possible opportunity? Nobody ever really sees her, only what she can provide for others.

Giving birth is one of the most physically painful experiences there is. I’ll never know what it feels like (Thank God) and I’m sure it’s not the same for every woman but Mary’s experiences with it are what comes to mind. She’s howling like an animal as she is stretched out and in shattering agony. The way she stares at her son when she holds him is what makes her a woman of her time. She fits the fantasy the men around her have. She feels what they think she should feel because of her sex. She holds her child and his father doesn’t show up because Anne is smiling to show she won him over. Mary is devastated but undefeated. She wears herself out as the film goes on but she remains loyal. She’s the Cinderella of the 1500s. Part of having power at that time is to be surrounded by people who look up to you and never leave you alone. Mary wants quietness and to be left alone. Anne on the other hand needs constant people in her life to give her validation. She’d have never predicted that it would even be possible for her to become queen but once she has it in reach, she won’t stop until the crown is on her head. She soon learns that once it lands on her head she has to work to keep it there.

Nothing is ever as easy as she imagines but she doesn’t cave in because she knows who she is. She feels validation from herself but out of lust for power, she wants others to know it too. There’s actually a lot about Anne that’s very praiseworthy and there are moments between her and Mary that are beautiful and sincere. Anne is just so used to others wanting her for their own gain that she doesn’t know how to look at someone without seeing what they could or could not provide her. There is no endgame. Life in the king’s court is always a request for something. She is also the older sister and feels this pressure that Mary doesn’t have. Anne feels overwhelmed while Mary feels forgotten. Mary makes excuses for Anne because she loves her but the higher Anne aims, the heavier her weight is on Mary.

King Henry VIII: Why are you here for her? You have put yourself at great risk.

Mary: Because she’s my sister and therefore one half of me.

Eventually, that’s all she has left to offer. No other explanations. Mary’s own perspective and love for her sister just HAS to be enough for her pleads. Her parents were never any help. Mark Rylance’s Boleyn is too weak and greedy to pay any mind to how messed up what he’s asking of his daughters is. Kristin Scott Thomas’s Elizabeth Boleyn has a sour puss chip on her shoulder for the entire film out of annoyance towards her husband’s relentlessness and David Morrissey’s Duke of Norfolk has too much rage towards Anne for Mary to even take up a little bit of space in his head anymore.

Mary is completely on her own. Anne always had Mary, she just didn't realize it until it was too late. People take other people for granted all the time and there are never any consequences for it. Anne did eventually pay the price but she didn’t deserve it. Contentment and happiness with so little are the best and safest way to live and Mary was always bound to end up in that place even though she had to lose everyone else first.

Portman and Johansson are both as raw as vegetables and tender as bones in their performances. Mary is the other in The Other Boleyn Girl because she’s treated as the other. Anne is the Boleyn Girl because she’s number one and constantly fighting to stay there on top of her empire. The Other Boleyn Girl is HBO’s Succession for the Tudor Era. Alliances change every 5 seconds and your legs will shake uncontrollably as you nervously wait for everything to fall apart.

Mary: We’re sisters.

Anne: And therefore, born to be rivals.

This is obviously not how it’s meant to be. Anne’s not saying it’s how it should be, she’s saying that that’s how it is. She could have afforded to be more compassionate when she visits Mary after childbirth but I have to give her credit for her ability to read things as they are. She sees the world as it is and not how she wants it to be. She simply tries to make it how she wants it to be but at the expense of other people. Humility is what I hope others will take away from The Other Boleyn Girl. There’s an Anne and a Mary in every relationship. America and Russia currently have an Anne and Mary relationship. Maybe Mary isn’t as ruthless or as feared as Anne but doesn’t underestimate her. With the right support, she’ll soar higher than you think.

Google. (n.d.). The Other Boleyn Girl. Retrieved June 14, 2022, from

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