Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Continuing on the path of the Tudor Dynasty, which started with a look back and forward at the history of Henry the VIII on film, I was able to watch the first three episodes of the new Showtime show The Tudors. Depicting the life of Henry the VIII as a young, strapping man of 25, it first season will capture Henry’s relationships with Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. While many sites have said this is a cheap, soap opera version of the HBO show Rome, The Tudors can definitely hold its own.
For those needing a refresher, the show follows Henry the VIII, the King of England, as played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Henry is a young man, hell-bent on being remembered for the wars he’s started. He’s also a notorious ladies man, basically screwing any woman with a pulse, especially the ladies-in-waiting to his wife. That wife, Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is a very devout Catholic and deeply saddened that she can’t seem to bear the King a male heir.
That’s pretty much the running story of the first two episodes of The Tudors. While the show is supposed to show the love affair between Anne and Henry, Anne Boleyn doesn’t actually appear till the very end of the first episode, and even then she doesn’t actually have a part until the second. That’s where the show gets you, as the opening credits state “you think you know the whole story, but you really only know how it ends.” As a hard core fan of this time period I thought Anne and Henry would start their relationship with the opening scene. Far from it.
This show really strives to show Henry, both the King and the man. You don’t see his many famous exploits right away. Instead, you learn about his notorious background, with the first scenes involving him in various compromising positions with several women. For instance, the first two episodes deal largely with Henry’s relationship with his first mistress, Elizabeth Blount (Ruta Gedmintas) and their child. The third episode does start the foundations of a love affair with him and Anne, but I enjoyed getting to know Henry beforehand.
If all this makes you cringe at the thought of a serial love story in wigs, fear not. While the relationships are the cornerstone of the show, they're not the crux of it; Henry is also very much a diplomat. You see him start a war with France and make various enemies and allies. There is a lot of political intrigue in this show, so if you need something smart there is plenty of that as well. However, if neither of these things appeals to you, then there's also a great deal of the good old "T n A." The first episode shows various women’s “assets” on display, much like Rome (there's that pesky comparison again!)
(This seems to be a nice segue into a topic that irritates me. Various websites online showed the first two episodes of The Tudors. These sites included IMDB.com, MSN.com and Showtime’s own website. Sadly, these episodes were heavily edited. Not just to edit out the naked women, but a lot of the sex scenes were either heavily toned down or omitted completely. I was very surprised that even Showtime’s own website couldn’t show these eps au naturale. This causes some consternation, as without these scenes it really takes away the menace of Henry’s character. You have to experience him as a womanizer in order to understand the danger Anne faces in loving him. I say experience this show on Showtime in all its glory.)
While the bodies on display in The Tudors are really something to behold, the acting skill held within them is also top-notch. Now while I’m a purist for accuracy with this story, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the acting, with one unfortunate exception: I do not think Jonathan Rhys Meyers was the right choice for Henry the VIII. While I don’t believe a morbidly obese man should have been Henry for “authenticity” I would at least expect someone intimidating, someone imposing, and someone you definitely don’t want to dick around with. While Rhys Meyers is good at being the lover of ladies, and acting like a spoiled brat, he just isn’t able to achieve that aura of menace to instill fear into his enemies.
On the other hand, the rest of the cast is amazing in their roles. Sam Neill shines as Cardinal Wolsey, and while I will always remember him fondly as Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park, I enjoy his backstabbing Cardinal character. Maria Doyle Kennedy is beautiful as the neglected Queen Catherine. You can just see the pain in her eyes every time Henry looks at another woman. I would expect an Emmy nomination for this one. Elegant Natalie Dormer is our Anne Boleyn, and while she’s no Genevieve Bujold she is a great Anne. She is so innocent and alluring, you want to be around her, but you know she can stab you in the back as soon as look at you.
Henry’s “boys” are also great fun to watch. The trio of young men, with Henry at the helm is definitely the comic relief but they each have their moments coming up to have their own story arc. The standout for me is the dashing Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon. In history he’s executed for sleeping with the King’s sister, and with Cavill in the role I can definitely see how he can be a seducer. His character doesn’t get the beginning of a story until the third episode. At first you simply see him as a man screwing anything that moves, even the Duke of Buckingham’s daughter to disastrous results. But when Henry’s sister Margaret (Gabrielle Anwar) shows up in the second episode, you know there’s going to be trouble. By the time Brandon is given the role of giving Henry’s sister to the King of Portugal in the third episode, you can definitely see where their relationship is going.
This, in a nutshell, is what makes The Tudors so special. You assume the story will involve just Anne and Henry but there are so many other characters to get behind. I love Charles Brandon’s story arc just as much as the main story. There’s a little something for everyone in this show and you’re seriously missing out if you don’t experience an episode. My only sadness is that this conflicts with my original love, Entourage, but I guess that’s what TIVO’s for.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.