To me, a great historical movie is one that makes me hope, irrationally, that things might turn out differently than they did in real life. Like Titanic - I know it was manipulative in its tearjerkiness and promoted a song that makes people want to drown in subzero waters, but the movie brought those many passengers to life, and in between sobs I desperately wished the ship might not sink after all.
I relished reading The Other Boleyn Girl a few years ago. It was so compelling & engaging, I even enjoyed getting sick at my in-laws' house, having to stay behind while everyone went out to dinner and the power went out; I plumped myself up with pillows & blankets and read by candlelight about the plight of Mary, Anne & George Boleyn. I was intrigued by the siblings' relationship and the sometimes ruthless, oftentimes outrageous workings of family; I dearly loved Mary & George, and Anne became real - less a sad footnote & unfortunate caricature in history books, more a sympathetic young woman caught up in a quest for power.
I was gleeful about the possibility of a movie; I had cast the characters in my mind and when the actual movie proved a reasonable match, I made giddy plans with my girlfriends. This would be a film to savor - beyond the certain lushness of costuming and scenery, it was a story to be consumed by; I was prepared to get lost in its rich decadence.
That it was supposed to be released before Christmas and was postponed until the end of February perhaps says something. I'm not sure what they were doing during that time, but it didn't help. Chunks of pertinent information were left out, and I'm not just speaking as a disgruntled reader; those who didn't read the book would be confused as to why certain characters were behaving in certain ways. A great deal of heartbreak, motivation, frightful deceit, and even the feeling of time passing (the king was with Mary for about 3 years, then spent nearly 6 years pursuing Anne and 3 years married to her) were neglected.
Because characters are real historical beings does not mean viewers necessarily know or understand them; that seems an obvious piece of moviemaking - fill us in on details we weren't aware of. When I read this novel, I was genuinely sad about Anne; witnessing her descent was painful, I wanted to stop her at every move, to be the guardian angel who knows how it ends and steps in to halt it all. Remarkably, sadly, the movie could not bring up that emotion. Honestly - when I'm just ready for her to lose her head and am not broken up about it, that is a poorly executed (ha) film. As I read, every character, each an actual individual whose life was marked or ended by virtue of knowing Henry VIII, drew from me an anguished response; I wished they had made different choices, or been elsewhere when things started to fall apart. As I watched, I found myself thinking the actors did fine enough jobs portraying people from the time period but I was not anguished over their actions; I remembered they were actors and was not moved.
In the end, it was a sad movie not because of what befell the people, but because of how let down I felt that I was not distressed. I'm glad I had a free ticket and my two best friends, or else I would have demanded my time back.