Filed under: The Show
Alex Strachan, CanWest News Service
Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The Tudors has caused quite a stir in snob society and among historians, and not in a good way. Elizabeth Michael Hirst’s lush, romantic — and sexy — retelling of the early years of King Henry VIII’s reign in 16th-century England has caused a schism between those who think history should be recreated with a fastidious loyalty to the historical record, and those who value entertainment and storytelling above a history lecture.
Execution is everything, as the saying goes, and The Tudors is so beautifully crafted, so gorgeous to look at and compelling to listen to — Canadian composer Trevor Morris’ Emmy-winning main title theme and background score is TV music for the ages — that it’s easy to forgive any historical transgressions.
Hirst has managed to do something unusual in any event: take a story familiar to history buffs and anyone who paid attention to history class in school, add several layers of depth and urgency, and make it sexy, unpredictable and romantic.
But not shallow. In tonight’s episode, the second before the end of The Tudors’ first season — a second season has been made, and is waiting to be scheduled — Sam Neill’s scheming Cardinal Wolsey is disgraced, humiliated, stripped of his powers, banished to a chilly, godforsaken rooming house and eventually cut down to size.
Hirst’s love of language is plain — this is not your typical TV dialogue — as when a pained Wolsey tells the soon-to-be-promoted Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam), “Tell me, Thomas, what exactly do you think you might have achieved . . . that makes you look so smug?”
“With respect, Your Eminence,” More replies evenly, “to some degree it wasn’t for me to achieve anything.”
The arrogance of papal Rome and its acolytes, the murderous zeal of the new Reformist church and its agents, and the lingering effects of the Plague — an affliction which, as followers of The Tudors know, makes no distinction between taxpaying proles in their village hovels and the sexy blue-bloods in their gilded castles — are mere background.
The Tudors is first and foremost a love story. A twisted, eccentric and ultimately star-crossed love story, true, but a love story just the same.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers seethes with sensuality and repressed sexual energy as the young king, who wants what he can’t have. Details-oriented history buffs have complained in web forums and online chatrooms that Meyers’ Henry bears little resemblance to the portly, bearded Henry VIII of historical record, as depicted in paintings and drawing-room movie dramas like A Man For All Seasons, but even the Henry of historical record was an athlete in his younger days.
It’s the women, though, who wield the real power in The Tudors, and that’s the reason Hirst’s adaptation, like Rome before it, makes such compelling and unpredictable TV drama.
Natalie Dormer is alluring, wary, hypnotic, calculating and seductive as the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, and Maria Doyle Kennedy is the very picture of loyalty and long-suffering silence as Catherine of Aragon, the legal and legitimate wife Henry VIII decides to cast aside.If you think you know how tonight’s episode ends, think again. Next week’s finale ends on a jarring, unexpected note — Toronto’s Peace Arch Entertainment has just released the first season in a sumptuous DVD box set, if you can’t wait to find out — and tonight’s outing sets up the finale in high style.
The Tudors was not made for know-it-alls, which may be why know-it-alls dislike it so much. It was made for a wider audience, casual TV viewers who appreciate a good story, well told.
The Tudors isn’t just good — it’s near brilliant, both as TV entertainment and as a rousing portrait of a time in history when kings behaved like hooligans and decent people paid for their beliefs with their lives. (9 p.m., CBC, channel 9, cable 10)
Sadly, this will be the last new episode for a while, so enjoy it while you can. (9 p.m., Global, channel 22, cable 3 and Fox, channel 2, cable 7)
The Windsor Star 2007
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