The Other Boleyn Girl begins with a scene of two young girls (pre-teen, it looks like) running through a field playing while their father discusses having accepted a proposal of marriage for one. I was dutifully shocked (shocked, I say!) at the juxtaposition of childhood innocence with worldly scheming. It seems that once upon a time--a time not so very long ago that the women didn't have shampoo and modern dental work to grow up to look like Natalie Portman--women were subject to the rule of men and even men in their family, even, shockingly, their own fathers, used that rule not for the good of those women but in callous disregard to the feelings and desires of those women. I wonder...is it possible...that living in such an unhealthy and oppressive environment would cause a woman to be inwardly and outwardly warped, to devalue herself, and to pursue sexual power as the only power available to her?
The film then moves to a scene of a woman, near death, exhausted from childbirth. Stunningly, yet more shockingly, she appears more distressed at her inability to produce a male offspring for her mate than at her own brush with death. I believe the words "I'm sorry" may have crossed her lips (though this was evidently not a Disney film, since the "it's all my fault" line required of all Disney heroines remains unspoken here). I was saddened to learn that once upon a time, in a time and land so very far away that even childbirth was dangerous, some women even internalized the expectations of a patriarchal society, treating them as right (or at least normal) and accepted with good graces the fact that their very lives were of less import than the concerns of the men who surrounded them.
From there we move to a scene where a male messenger informs the king that his child has died during the birthing process. The messenger's nervous looks and the king's icy glare lend an air of sudden, unexpected (so very, very unexpected!) menace to what one had assumed was going to be a grief filled scene. I was flabbergasted to learn that not only do some men care more about their offspring than the women that bear them but they may be so monstrous as to vent their wrath, anger, or disappointment on innocent bystanders simply because they can.
And so we veer from scene to scene, each illustrating some frightening and inconceivable truth--sisters both love one another and see one another as rivals. Sex existed before 1960s and sometimes people (even women!) spoke frankly about it with one another. Words like "other" in movie and book titles are sometimes used ironically or ambiguously in order to surprise the reader.
The Other Boleyn Girl seeks with all its might, pushes, strains, strives, positively labors, to be incomprehensible, and it succeeds, finally, but not in the way it wants. Years and years of Law & Order: SVU have beaten the message home to even the most culturally obtuse that it's tough to be a woman in a man's world, and, unfortunately, adding to that fact the observation the fact that women who lived long ago (but not so very long ago, if you know what I mean) had it even worse doesn't exactly create the ground-breaking expose that it was supposed to.
I don't know, perhaps I'm getting this all wrong. Perhaps the point is not supposed to be that some idealized historical romance setting can contain all the ugly truths of living in a world bent to power but rather to show that our progressive, egalitarian views of ourselves aren't really that much farther evolved than the dark ages we congratulate ourselves for surpassing. (Yeah, yeah, I know, the label "Dark Ages" doesn't exactly apply to this time period, but it isn't like they are all speaking Elizabethan English, so sue me.)
It's not that this is a horrid movie. Heck, it's always a pleasure to watch Scarlett with two "t"s for 110 minutes, even if she isn't running around in a white Puma jump suit or whispering in Bill Murray's ear. It's just that the last time I was expected to be this impressed at an elaborate announcement of truths already known, my cat was crying for a treat for doing good-boy peeing in his litter box.
P.S. (Later edit) I spoke too soon. Portman does, in fact, give a derivation of the "it's all my fault" line in the last third of the movie.