'Boleyn' comes off as all pomp, but of no circumstance

When an MSNBC pundit wondered if Hillary Clinton had "pimped out" daughter Chelsea by assigning her to woo superdelegates, he was summarily suspended.

The subject was off-limits, the mere implication offensive - a sign of our cultural sensitivity. It's hard out here for a guy who even uses the WORD "pimp."

History shows us that political elites and other cultures have not always been so squeamish. Take the 16th English aristocracy - they were crazy for pimping.

"The Other Boleyn Girl" is the story of an English family that pimps out both daughters to girl-crazy King Henry VIII (Eric Bana), hoping to gain political, social, and economic advantage. (Alternate title: "Boleyn For Dollars").

The scheme, as imagined in "The Other Boleyn Girl," takes shape as it becomes clear that Henry's aging wife Catherine cannot produce a male heir. Thomas Boleyn knows the king wants a woman who can give him a son, so he dangles foxy daughter Anne (Natalie Portman) in front of him.

The king isn't interested. On the other hand, the king gets a big crush on Anne's sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson), and Thomas happily makes her available for conjugal purposes. Anne takes this as a betrayal, and makes it her life's ambition to take Henry away from Mary.

There is far more at stake here - England's relationship with the Catholic Church is strained, and Henry's estrangement from his Catholic wife has made the situation worse. This isolates England from the rest of Europe, and stirs the pot at home, where Protestants are working to gain political power.

All these crucial issues are muted and downplayed in "The Other Boleyn" so that the titanic cat fight between Anne and Mary can be brought to fore. This is a movie that values soap opera over history, on the grounds that those who do not learn from "Knot's Landing" are doomed to repeat it.

Alas, it's not a very good soap opera. Portman is no Joan Collins, and Johansson (albeit playing a pushover) is not much of an adversary. In general, there isn't much feeling beyond their treachery and reconciliations.

It might help if more effort had been made to make Henry an interesting character (history indicated that he was), but Bana is all costume - a mass of paisley tunics and puffy sleeves, and we're left with the impression that England is ruled by a richly upholstered sofa. *

Produced by Scott Rudin; directed by Justin Chadwick; written by Peter Morgan; music by Paul Cantelon; distributed by Sony Pictures.