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Family affairs
Portman the only standout in 'The Other Boleyn Girl'

The Other Boleyn Girl (PG-13)

2 1/2 stars out of 4

If you leave the theater after watching this movie scratching your head and saying to yourself "That's not the way I remember it happening in history class," you won't be alone. While a lot of what takes place in "The Other Boleyn Girl" is based on fact, a lot also stems from the imagination of Phillippa Gregory, writer of the 2002 novel of the same name.

It's easy to see why the novel was a best-seller and has such a large cult following. In pulp form, with the added advantage of your own imagination and reams of fine detail, the story probably played out quite well. The big problem with paring down such a libertine novel to commercial screenplay length is that it will inevitably feel chopped up and disjointed.

Writer Peter Gregory, who ironically penned the equally abbreviated script for "The Queen," rushes through the chapters with a Cliffs notes, bullet-point mentality. As soon as a twist or subplot is introduced, it's quickly resolved or abandoned altogether. There's little dramatic tension, and the movie feels more like a well-dressed period soap opera than the sweeping historical epic it should have been. This isn't to say it's not entertaining or fun to watch. It's engrossing in a train-wreck sort of way and delivers a good amount of unintentional humor.

The title provides more than a little irony. At various points in the movie, both Anne (Natalie Portman) and her sister Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson) are the "other" woman in their respective relationships with England's infamous King Henry VIII (Eric Bana).

Realizing the king's burning desire to have a male heir (something his current wife Catherine of Aragon has failed to do), the Boleyn girls' father and uncle use the daughters as pawns to inch themselves further up the royal food chain. Both girls immediately recognize they're being pimped out, but eventually fall in line and get with the family program.

The headstrong Anne is the first one at bat, but shoots herself in the foot by riding alone and then showing Henry up during a fox hunt. Mary is quick to mend Henry, and he finds her demure and unthreatening air preferable. With their roles of lead and backup now reversed, the sisters must adjust, and neither handles it as they should.

Director Justin Chadwick and the design team strike the right look and tone, but it is Gregory's cut-and-paste screenplay and the wooden performances of Johansson and Bana that sabotage everything. Not surprisingly, Portman is the only cast member who possesses any zing and, perhaps recognizing the lack of same from her co-stars, occasionally takes it too far. In the process, her character does offer a textbook method of capturing the attention and eventually snaring that all-elusive, noncommittal male.

Unless you're a dedicated Portman fan, an Anglophile junkie, revel in guilty pleasure melodramas or are on the lookout for a new, foolproof man-trap guide, you can wait for the DVD. More than likely, that will be sooner than generally expected. (Sony/Columbia)