The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)




Director:     Justin Chadwick. 

Starring:     Natalie Portman (Anne Boleyn),  Scarlett Johansson (Mary Boleyn),  Eric Bana (Henry Tudor),  Jim Sturgess (George Boleyn),  Mark Rylance (Sir Thomas Boleyn),  Kristin Scott Thomas (Lady Elizabeth Boleyn),  David Morrissey (Thomas Howard - Duke of Norfolk),  Benedict Cumberbatch (William Carey),  Oliver Coleman (Henry Percy),  Ana Torrent (Katherine of Aragon),  Eddie Redmayne (William Stafford),  Tom Cox (Rider),  Michael Smiley (Physician),  Montserrat Roig de Puig (Lady in Waiting),  Juno Temple (Jane Parker).  

struggle between the two Boleyn women to marry King Henry VIII


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Father, Thomas Boleyn, says to his wife Elizabeth that he received a request for marriage today for Anne from the Carey family for William, their eldest son. He says he offered them Mary, the younger sister, instead.

Mary gets dressed for her marriage. Her brother George comes in to ask her if this is Mrs. Carey?

The wife of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, has a stillborn baby boy. The doctor tells Henry VIII he’s sorry but the baby was stillborn.

The Duke of Norfolk, Anne’s uncle, tells Thomas Boleyn that the king and queen barely speak to each other anymore. So, he wonders, which Howard girl would become the mistress? Dad asks what about Anne? Norfolk says that Anne is his first born child. Mary prepares for her first night as a married woman. Her husband tells her to lie back.

Anne comes in to see her father and uncle. Uncle says that an opportunity has arisen. There is a huge strain on the king’s marriage. Anne is very blunt and says what they are saying is that they want her to bed the King. Yes, says uncle. If she could become the mistress of the King of England then she could get a marquis or a duke to marry after the affair ended.

The family has to prepare for a royal visit. A rider shouts out: "The King! The King!" Henry VIII arrives on horseback. Thomas Boleyn greets him. He introduces Henry to his wife Lady Elizabeth and to Anne. At dinner Anne sits on the left hand side of Henry.

The next morning they go on a hunt. Anne rides her horse and Henry asks her how she will stay on without a male to help her. She tells him she will use her thighs just like he does. The hunters are out for a long while and Thomas wonders what could be keeping them. They come back with Henry VIII on a stretcher.

Apparently Anne went into the ravine something which she has done a thousand time. The King followed and fell. The stag then badly  injured him. Anne tells Mary that it was her fault. So dad and uncle replace Anne with Mary at the king’s bedside. When Henry gets better he asks her: "How could I have overlooked you?" He sees that she is married. Yes, she is married to William Carey.

Henry is better and is leaving. He doesn’t say goodbye to Anne. After the king is gone, dad and uncle tell Mary that the king has secured a position for her with the queen’s household. And he has offered her husband a position to be a gentleman of the privy council.

But Mary doesn’t want to go. She begs her husband to stay in the countryside. They will surely separate them at court. Mary is shocked when her husband says nothing against the plan, thereby agreeing with dad and uncle. Mary asks her mother to intercede, but she says she can’t. To make things even worse, Anne is mad at her sister for grabbing the king’s attention for herself.

Mary comes to court and reports to the queen Katherine of Aragon. The queen is none to happy to see Mary for she knows her husband appointed her to the post. The Queen says Mary must have some special talent if she was picked personally by the king. She has Mary sing for her, despite Mary’s protests that she can’t sing.

Jane Parker tells Mary not to take is so hard. The queen knows that she is here at court only because the king desires her. Jane takes a liking to George Boleyn. She keeps watching him carefully.  Mary is told that her sister Anne is thriving at court.

Henry whispers to Mary: "Tonight." She is prepared so she will be ready to be with the king. He gives her a drink of wine. He tells Mary that he both likes her and trusts her. Mary blushes over the compliments and Henry says she blushes because Anne got all the compliments in the family. Henry tells her he knows how hard it is to be the middle child. He kisses Mary. She then leans in to him and they kiss. They have sex. They are still in bed together in the morning.

Uncle and dad grill Mary as to what happened during the night. Did they have sex? Yes. Did they have sex more than once? Mary is uncomfortable talking about this, but uncle tells her she will have to get used to it. She will have to do this many times. So Mary says: "Yes, more than once." Uncle asks was he satisfied? She says he was and he didn’t have to say it for her to know it.

Mary is with the king again. Henry asks her if it would be alright for him to give her husband an assignment that would take him away from court? Mary answers that she won’t interfere in matters of state. The king smiles.

Anne suddenly marries Percy in a small wedding ceremony. George soon learns of the marriage of his sister and  tells Mary. Mary is concerned about Anne’s position because Percy has pre-contracted to marry Mary Talbot. This will mean a scandal that will hurt Anne’s reputation.

Mother tells father about Anne’s marriage. And the marriage has been consummated. The family is furious with Anne and it is decided that Percy will marry Mary Talbot as arranged and Anne will be sent to France to the court of the queen. She will stay there until her father has forgiven her. Her mother tells Anne to see this as an opportunity.

The next day Anne rides out in front of the carriage. Mary is soon pregnant. Henry is happy to hear about it. But the queen is certainly not happy. Daddy Boleyn is happy. Brother George will be a viscount and dad will be an earl. And Jane Parker will marry George. George, however, doesn’t want to marry Jane Parker. Mother Boleyn tells her husbands that these gifts will go as quickly as they came. She doesn’t like her husband playing such ambitious games with her children’s lives.

The doctor tells Mary that she must begin her lying in stage and stay in bed for the sake of the baby. She sees that the King is now hanging out with Jane Seymour. Feeling they are losing control of the situation, Dad suggests they bring Anne back from France. He has heard that she is quite changed.

Anne comes homes. Her mother tells her that her job is to entertain Henry and keep his mind on Mary. Henry wants to know why the folks in one group are laughing so much. Someone says it’s because of the funny stories Anne Boleyn is telling them about life at the French court. The king asks for Anne to stand up. She slowly rises. He wants to know what kind of stories she is telling about the French court. She says that the French king is rather petty and she could tell immediately that he is not a great man. Henry asks if she things he is a great man? She takes her time about answering, but does say that she sees greatness in front of her. Henry tells her that he finds her much changed and she is welcome back to court.

George tells Mary that Anne is back. Jane Parker speaks to George and wants to know where he has been. He was with Mary and now that Anne is back, Jane can be doubly jealous. Jane reproaches her husband saying that he never lies with her.

Henry pursues Anne. He comes but only sees her get up and leave without saying a thing to him. Henry sends her a gift and Anne sends it back. Henry is furious that she sent the gift back.

Anne speaks with Mary. She is still very mad at her. She says that Mary stole the king away from her. And she told their parents about her marriage to Percy. A messenger brings another gift from Henry to Anne. She tells the messenger to send it back, immediately. Anne then tells her sister that surely she sees now that she has her interests at heart. Anne just asks: "Why this cruelty? You know I love him." Anne replies: "Perhaps you should stop."

Henry comes to see Anne. Anne tells him he should be paying more attention to Mary than her. Henry replies that he has shown Mary enough attention. Anne strikes back with the claim that she would never betray her sister. She tells Henry: "Leave me."

Mary is giving birth. Henry comes to see how it is coming along, but his attention is diverted by the presence of Anne. He wants Anne to tell him that there is still hope for them. Anne acts offended and says that he first betrayed his wife and now he is betraying her sister. The king really wants Anne, so he says: "I vow I will never lie with my wife, nor speak to your sister again." His attention starts being diverted to Mary, because Mary has just given birth to a boy child. So Anne diverts his attention back to her by saying: "Very well, my Lord. You may have hope."  Henry refers to her as his one true love. Mary is shocked when he doesn’t come to her, but leaves without saying anything.

Uncle reads the riot act to Anne. He says: "Damn you!" She had better have a plan and the plan better work, now that she has ruined their hopes for Mary. Very cruelly, Anne says that Mary and her bastard child will go back to the country. "It is the king’s wish and mine." Mother says that Anne can be the one to tell Mary.

Anne goes to see Mary. Mary asks her: "How can you show your face in here?" She warns her to take care because Henry will do to Anne what he did to her (Mary). Anne tells Mary that a man’s love is worthless without backing by money and power. She then tells Mary that she is going back to Rochford alone with only her child.

In the morning Mary is leaving She sees Anne riding behind Henry on his horse. Anne tells Henry he should get rid of his queen. She urges Henry to find a reason to get her out of court. A little later she hears that Wolsey has agreed to draw up plans to send the queen to a nunnery.

Henry wants to have sex with Anne. But she says she can’t give herself to him yet for a child with Henry would be dubbed a "bastard" and she a "whore". She wants Henry to get the marriage annulled then he will be free to remarry.

Then a scandal breaks. Mary Talbot is annulling her marriage to Percy because his prior marriage to Anne was consummated. Henry is very upset and confused. He has Mary return so he can talk to her. He tells Mary that she is the only woman he trusts. Her sister Anne has a certain power over him, he says. So he wants to know from Mary if he can trust her? Mary asks why would he not trust her?

Anne comes to Mary to thank her for what she did for her with Henry. And now that they are making up, Anne tells Mary that she wants her to stay with her at court. She says she needs her sister here by her side. On her way to her trial, the Queen stops to speak to the two Boleyn "whores". She says she will never give up her daughter’s right to be the future ruler of England. The Queen says to the court that the only authority she recognizes is that of the Pope’s.

Anne argues with her family that England should break with Rome. Her mother says no because it would mean breaking with the Catholic Church. Uncle says it would isolate England politically. Anne says it will be different when she is queen and gives Henry a son.

Henry is very angry with Anne. He demands to have sex with her saying that she must show him it was worthwhile to make all these political and marital changes. Anne stills says no since they are not married, but Henry forces himself on her, ignoring her cries of protest.

Anne marries and is crowned queen. The people call out to her: "Witch! Witch!"

A young man named Stafford tells Mary that he is leaving court. He says he has seen enough. He also says he has his eye on a place in Tatton and he would like her to come with him. Mary says that her family would never allow it! Stafford asks: And you’d care after all they have done to you?

Anne has a baby girl that she names Elizabeth after Henry’s mother. The child is healthy. Henry stops by and says: "Well, if we can have a healthy daughter, we can have a healthy son." Anne is upset when she sees Henry with Jane Seymnour. She argues with Henry and slaps him. Anne tells Mary that Henry hates her for what she made him do. And it’s all slipping away from her.

Good news. The Queen is pregnant again. But one night Anne bolts upright in bed and tells her servants to go get her brother and sister for her. When George and Mary arrive Anne says that she lost hr baby. She says it was almost without pain and so quick that it almost was as if it never was there in the first place. She tells George and Mary to get rid of it;, put it in the fire. George picks up the baby and leaves the room with it.

Anne tells George and Mary that Henry just stares at her. He will have her burned as a witch. And he won’t lie with her now. So she is thinking that she will have to lie with another man for she must have a son. Mary tells her that is treason. So Anne asks George to have sex with her. She pleads with him saying that her life depends on it. She takes George with her into another room. Jane Parker sees Anne with her husband and cries. But George tells his sister that he just can’t do it. He apologizes. Mary decides to return to Rochfort. Jane tells Anne’s uncle and then King Henry about Anne and George.

Anne comes in to see Henry. He says: "You witch! You cursed, evil witch!" He has both Anne and George put in prison. At home Elizabeth Boleyn, thinking of her two children in prison, slaps her husband and tells uncle: "Look at what you have done!"

Anne goes to court. She is charged with adultery and incest. Mary rides to the court. Anne is found guilty with even her own uncle voicing her guilt. George is beheaded.

Mary goes to speak with Henry, who sends everyone else out of the room. Mary says she knows she is too late to plead for George, but she begs Henry for the life of her sister. Henry asks her why she has come here for Anne? Does she realize by coming here she has put herself at great risk? Mary says she had to come for her sister because she is one half of herself. Henry says: "And I would do nothing to hurt any part of you." This gives Mary some hope.

Mary goes to see Anne. Anne tells her that she and George did not have sex. Mary tells her sister that she will be spared. She lies and says that Henry is not with Jane Seymour, but Anne knows she is just telling a "generous" lie.

Anne walks to the execution platform. She says that she humbly submits to the law. She even says nice things about how great a king Henry is. Mary watches. She is handed a note. She is hoping it will be a reprieve for her sister. But it is not. Henry writes that Mary took a great risk by coming to court. She is only spared herself because he likes her. But she is never to come to court again for she will not be so fortunate next time.

Just before her head is lopped off, Anne says: "Sweet Jesus, I commend my soul to thee!" Mary walks to see her mother. She takes baby Elizabeth from her mother and walks out past staring men and women of the court.

Wretched and disgraced, Sir Thomas Boleyn died two years later.

The Duke of Norfolk (Anne’s uncle) was later imprisoned. The next three generations of his family – son, grandson, and great grandson — were all executed for treason.

Mary married William Stafford and lived happily with him away from court for the rest of her life.

Katherine of Aragon’s daughter Mary became the Queen of England upon the death of her father, Henry VIII.

Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, became the next queen, Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England for forty-five years. .


Very entertaining movie even though I know the story well.  Except I didn't know about the role of the other Boleyn sister, Mary.  King Henry does not come off very well in the film.  Of course, few people do as most of them are too greedy for their own and their loved ones's good.  Court politics can be a very dangerous game to play as seen by the life of Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary.  Both my wife and I enjoyed the movie a great deal. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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