Picks and Pans Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

updated 03/10/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 03/10/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Kristin Scott Thomas | PG-13 |

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HISTORICAL DRAMA

Would this movie have delivered a more rousing charge if the leads had switched roles? As is, Portman's witchy sexpot and Johansson's placid pudding pot are a tepid twosome in this true tale of teenage sisters who battle it out for Henry VIII's affections in 16th-century England.

Based on a popular 2001 novel by Philippa Gregory and directed by Justin Chadwick (PBS's Bleak House), The Other Boleyn Girl tells the little-known story of Mary Boleyn (Johansson), who was the younger sister of Anne Boleyn (Portman). It was Mary who first bewitched the married Henry (Bana) and bore him a child, only to see calculating Anne steal him away and wed him.

As the film gallops swiftly through several college courses' worth of Tudor history (and a couple beheadings), it emphasizes plot over character development and subtlety. Portman works way too hard trying to be a vixen, while Johansson seems bored with her put-upon heroine. Best here is Thomas as the girls' mother, a woman whose wit and tongue are sharp enough to cut through all the heavily costumed frippery.

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