Saturday, 4 October 2008

The Tudors: Revisited

Being an aficionado of the period, the current Season 2 of Showtime's 'The Tudors' should have had me spitting feathers of inarticulate rage at some of the bigger liberties taken over dates and personnel, but I found it impossible not to be completely overwhelmed by the sheer gorgeousness of the sets and wardrobes, along withthe passion spilling out all over my living room carpet.

The story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is well documented but has so many twists and turns that may or may not be true, depending on which historian you speak to, because of the depth of feeling that their relationship evoked not only at the time but for decades afterwards... and Michael Hirst, the writer, made good use of all of them.

The only thing you can be truly sure of is that the King was absolutely gagging for Anne and would stop at nothing to have her. This version of the story has focussed on that and the other political machinations around them. As a bodice-ripping, sumptuous humdinger of a production, it has been quite magnificent. The lust, the depravity, the violence of the time have been fully to the fore and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

Other films and series have shown the King as we all know him - fat, red-faced, syphillitic and elderly - but in real time he would have been in his 30s and early 40s for this series. Younger, yes, than Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the actor who has portrayed him but Henry was known to be the most handsome prince in Christendom in his youth so it is conceivable that, before he hit middle-age, he could have been somewhere in between the glacial profile of JRM and the caricature with whom we are more familiar.

The idea here was to keep the story as contemporary as possible. To show a king who wanted to be a good leader, a great dynastic prince and the father of a brood of sons to succeed him. What he got were two daughters and the reputation for being ruthlessly obsessed with getting a son, at no matter what cost to the women involved. He was aided and abetted in this by his advisers, first Wolsey, then Cromwell, both of whom had their own axe to grind, their own visions of the future to secure in terms of wealth, power and religion and manipulated the ever more unpredictable monarch accordingly. As the ill-fated Sir Thomas More said at the time, 'Never tell the King what he can do, only what he should do. If he were to know the extent of his full power he would be uncontrollable.'

The death of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, the miscarriage of her son and Henry's new-found passion for Jane Seymour made Anne's position untenable. He wanted rid of her at all costs and made this abundantly clear to Cromwell, who manufactured the evidence of her demise, gleaned from the backstairs gossip of jealous and vengeful courtiers and the tortured confession of the musician, Mark Smeaton.

Last night's season finale dealt with Anne's trial and execution. It doesn't matter how many times I watch the final drama played out, I always pray for a different ending and this time was no exception. The interminable delays as the French executioner and his sword made their way from Dover meant that her death was postponed by a whole day after she had hoped to be past her pain.

But the confirmation from Archbishop Cranmer that her marriage had been declared null and void because of her close relationship to another woman with whom the King had had carnal relations - her sister - must have been the worst blow of all. She was still to die for adultery, even though she had never truly been married in the eyes of the law and she would be leaving her daughter a bastard rather than a Princess.

Natalie Dormer's characterisation of Anne was stunning to the end and, as she knelt on the scaffold awaiting the final blow, her fear was palpable. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried.

Overall this lavish series has been excellently written and performed and I'm very much looking forward to Season 3 and Henry's continuing quest for a son... although the much vaunted appearance of Joss Stone as Anne of Cleves, a German Princess, is going to be a bit much to cope with.


Gorilla Bananas said...

Ugly actors never get major parts even when the characters are supposed to be ugly. Joss Stone as Anne of Cleves, the Mare of Flanders? She is probably more attractive then any of Henry's wives were in real life.

Osbasso said...

Joss Stone?? Will she be singing for her supper in each episode??

Kyra said...

I agree completely with your review.

But curious, I watched the season finale quite some time ago (2-3 months). Or perhaps there is a delay for those across the pond?

Z said...

Anne Boleyn, the archetypal Bad Girl. No wonder she is still so fascinating, and that we resent her end so much.

having my cake said...

Mr Bananas, This has certainly been true of this series. All very beautiful people. But Joss Stone...?

Os - Exactly! And in German because she didnt speak any English!

Kyra - Yes, our last episode was on Friday.

Z - We should found our own fan club for her :)

Anonymous said...

I can't watch this series without picking holes in the pseudo-history. There are more errors than a...well, an error-filled bag, errors. It really annoys me that people think it's anything approaching the truth.

And when it comes to Anne of Cleves, she wasn't a mare at all. All that happened was Henry said she had strange smells about her and her parts were of 'such slackness' that he basically couldn't get it up.

He liked women with small breasts, like Anne Boleyn's, which he called "my pretty little duckies, which I hope soon to kiss".

Did this stop me buying the DVD of the first series to drool over JRM?


BenefitScroungingScum said...

I have loved this series (and not cared about historical accuracy!) I've not seen the series finale yet as I was busy on friday but omg that sex scene with Henry and Anne where she slaps his face was one of the most passionate/erotic clips I've ever seen. BG x