King Henry VIII's (Eric Bana) marriage to Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent) does not produce a male heir to the throne; their only surviving daughter is Mary (Constance Stride). Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) and his brother-in-law Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance), plan to install Boleyn's older daughter Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman), as the king's mistress. They hope Anne will bear him a son. Anne's mother, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas), is disgusted by the plot. Anne eventually agrees to please her father and uncle. Anne's younger sister, Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson), marries William Carey (Benedict Cumberbatch), even though his family had asked for Anne's hand.
While visiting the Boleyn estate, Henry is injured in a hunting accident, indirectly caused by Anne, and, urged by her scheming uncle, is nursed by Mary. While in her care, Henry becomes smitten with her and invites her to court. Mary and her husband reluctantly agree, aware that the king has invited her because he desires her. Mary and Anne become ladies-in-waiting to Queen Catherine and Henry sends William Carey abroad on an assignment. Separated from her husband, Mary finds herself falling in love with Henry. Anne secretly marries the nobleman Henry Percy (Oliver Coleman), although he is betrothed to Lady Mary Talbot. Anne confides in her brother George Boleyn (Jim Sturgess), who is overjoyed and proceeds to tell Mary. Fearing Anne will ruin the Boleyn family by marrying such a prominent earl without the king's consent, Mary alerts her father and uncle. They confront Anne, annul the marriage, and exile her to France.
Mary becomes pregnant. Her family receives new grants and estates, their debts are paid, and Henry arranges George's marriage to Jane Parker. When Mary nearly suffers a miscarriage, she is confined to bed until her child is born. Norfolk recalls Anne to England to keep Henry's attention from wandering to another rival. In her belief that Mary exiled her to increase her own status, Anne successfully campaigns to win Henry over. When Mary gives birth to a son, Henry Carey, Thomas and Norfolk are overjoyed, but the celebration is short lived, as Anne whispered to Henry that the baby was born a bastard, which infuriates Norfolk. Henry then has Mary sent to the country at Anne's request. Shortly after, Mary is widowed. Anne encourages Henry to break from the Catholic Church when the Pope refuses to annul his marriage to Queen Catherine. Henry succumbs to Anne's demands, declares himself Supreme Head of the Church of England, and gets Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to annul the marriage.
Henry comes to Anne's rooms but she refuses to have sex with him, and, in a fit of rage, he rapes her. A pregnant Anne marries Henry to please her family and becomes Queen of England. Despite the birth of a healthy daughter, Elizabeth, Henry blames Anne for not producing a son, and begins courting Jane Seymour (Corinne Galloway) in secret. After Anne suffers the miscarriage of a son, she begs George to have sex with her to replace the child she lost, because if anyone found out about the miscarriage, she would be burned as a witch. George at first agrees, realizing that it is Anne's only hope, but they do not go through with it. However, George's neglected wife Jane witnesses enough of their encounter to become suspicious. She reports what she has seen and both Anne and George are arrested. The two are found guilty and sentenced to death for treason, adultery and incest. Distraught by the news of the execution of George, his mother disowns her husband and brother, vowing never to forgive them for what their greed has done to her children.
After Mary learns that she was late for George's execution, she returns to court to plead for Anne's life. Believing that Henry will spare her sister, she leaves to see Anne right before the scheduled execution. Anne asks Mary to take care of her daughter Elizabeth if anything should happen to her. Mary watches from the crowd as Anne makes her final speech, waiting for the execution to be cancelled as Henry promised. A letter from Henry is given to Mary, warning her not to come to his court further, and implicitly revealing his decision to execute Anne after all. Ten days after Anne's execution, Henry and Jane are married, Norfolk is imprisoned, and the next three generations of his family are executed for treason. Mary marries William Stafford (Eddie Redmayne) and they have two children, Anne and Edward. Mary takes an active role in raising Anne's daughter Elizabeth (Maisie Smith), who grows up to become Queen of England, and reigns for 44 years.Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn. Portman was attracted to the role because it was a character that she "hadn’t played before", and describes Anne as "strong, yet she can be vulnerable and she's ambitious and calculating and will step on people but also feels remorse for it". One month before filming began, Portman started taking daily classes to master the English accent under dialect coach Jill McCulloch, who also stayed on set throughout the filming.Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn. Johansson expressed concern over the film being "such a melodramatic tale". In response to critics being skeptical about the film featuring American actresses as major British characters, Johansson said, "The three foreign actors will be using English accents. I'll take away the eyebrows and the make-up and you won't notice I'm American".Eric Bana as Henry VIII of England. Bana commented that he was surprised upon being offered the role, and describes the character of Henry as "a man who was somewhat juvenile and driven by passion and greed", and that he interpreted the character as "this man who was involved in an incredibly intricate, complicated situation, largely through his own doing". In preparation for the role, Bana relied mostly on the script to come up with his own version of the character, and he "deliberately stayed away" from other portrayals of Henry in films because he found it "too confusing and restricting".Jim Sturgess as George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford. Though the three siblings are all very tight-knit, George and Anne are closest. George supports and loves Anne for her rebellious and unconventional attitude. He is forced to marry Jane Parker. George is often viewed as the most vulnerable and probably the kindest of the siblings.Kristin Scott Thomas as Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire and OrmondMark Rylance as Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and OrmondDavid Morrissey as Thomas Howard, Duke of NorfolkBenedict Cumberbatch as William CareyOliver Coleman as Henry Percy, Earl of NorthumberlandAna Torrent as Catherine of AragonEddie Redmayne as William StaffordJuno Temple as Jane ParkerIain Mitchell as Thomas CromwellAndrew Garfield as Francis WestonCorinne Galloway as Jane SeymourConstance Stride as young Mary TudorMaisie Smith as young Elizabeth TudorAlfie Allen as the King's Messenger
Much of the filming took place in Kent, England, though Hever Castle was not used, despite being the original household of Thomas Boleyn and family from 1505–1539. The Baron's Hall at Penshurst Place featured, as did Dover Castle, which stood in for the Tower of London in the film, and Knole House in Sevenoaks was used in several scenes. The home of the Boleyns was represented by Great Chalfield Manor in Wiltshire, and other scenes were filmed at locations in Derbyshire, including Cave Dale, Haddon Hall, Dovedale and North Lees Hall near Hathersage. Dover Castle was transformed into the Tower of London for the execution scenes of George and Anne Boleyn. Knole was the setting for many of the film's London night scenes and the inner courtyard doubles for the entrance of Whitehall Palace where the grand arrivals and departures were staged. The Tudor Gardens and Baron's Hall at Penshurst Place were transformed into the interiors of Whitehall Palace, including the scenes of Henry's extravagant feast.
Historian Alex von Tunzelmann criticized The Other Boleyn Girl for its portrayal of the Boleyn family and Henry VIII, citing factual errors. She stated, "In real life, by the time Mary Boleyn started her affair with Henry, she had already enjoyed a passionate liaison with his great rival, King François I of France. Rather ungallantly, François called her 'my hackney', explaining that she was fun to ride. Chucked out of France by his irritated wife, Mary sashayed back to England and casually notched up her second kingly conquest. The film's portrayal of this Boleyn girl as a shy, blushing damsel could hardly be further from the truth." She further criticized the depiction of Anne as a "manipulative vixen" and Henry as "nothing more than a gullible sex addict in wacky shoulder pads". The film presents other historical inaccuracies, such as the statement of a character that, by marrying Henry Percy, Anne Boleyn would become Duchess of Northumberland, a title that was only created in the reign of Henry's son, Edward VI. Also, it places Anne's time in French court after her involvement with Percy, something that occurred before the affair.
The film was first released in theaters on February 29, 2008, though its world premiere was held at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival held on February 7–17, 2008. The film earned $9,442,224 in the United Kingdom, and $26,814,957 in the United States and Canada. The combined worldwide gross of the film was $75,598,644, more than double the film's $35 million budget.
The film was released in Blu-ray and DVD formats on June 10, 2008. Extras on both editions include an audio commentary with director Justin Chadwick, deleted and extended scenes, character profiles, and featurettes. The Blu-ray version includes BD-Live capability and an additional picture-in-picture track with character descriptions, notes on the original story, and passages from the original book.
The film received mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 42% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 140 reviews. The site's general consensus is: "Though it features some extravagant and entertaining moments, The Other Boleyn Girl feels more like a soap opera than historical drama." Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 50 out of 100, based on 34 reviews.
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film "more slog than romp" and an "oddly plotted and frantically paced pastiche." She added, "The film is both underwritten and overedited. Many of the scenes seem to have been whittled down to the nub, which at times turns it into a succession of wordless gestures and poses. Given the generally risible dialogue, this isn’t a bad thing."
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "This in an enjoyable movie with an entertaining angle on a hard-to-resist period of history ... Portman's performance, which shows a range and depth unlike anything she's done before, is the No. 1 element that tips The Other Boleyn Girl in the direction of a recommendation ... [She] won't get the credit she deserves for this, simply because the movie isn't substantial enough to warrant proper attention."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone stated, "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."
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian awarded the film three out of five stars, describing it as a "flashy, silly, undeniably entertaining Tudor romp" and adding, "It is absurd yet enjoyable, and playing fast and loose with English history is a refreshing alternative to slow and tight solemnity; the effect is genial, even mildly subversive ... It is ridiculous, but imagined with humour and gusto: a very diverting gallop through the heritage landscape."
Sukhdev Sandhu of The Telegraph said, "This is a film for people who prefer their costume dramas to gallop along at a merry old pace rather than get bogged down in historical detail ... Mining relatively familiar material here, and dramatising highly dubious scenarios, [Peter Morgan] is unable to make the set-pieces seem revelatory or tart ... In the end, The Other Boleyn Girl is more anodyne than it has any right to be. It can't decide whether to be serious or comic. It promises an erotic charge that it never carries off, inducing dismissive laughs from the audience for its soft-focus love scenes soundtracked by swooning violins. It is tasteful, but unappetising."