To begin with, don’t be fooled by the fact that this series is written by Michael Hirst, who wrote the screenplay for the 1998 film Elizabeth as well as the recent sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Even though The Virgin Queen was herself a Tudor through and through, this series is stylistically an entirely different affair than those films.
The Tudors is a soap opera, for starters. I had to laugh at the words of one TV critic, who wrote that, “…though this is a costume drama, the characters can’t wait to get out of their costumes.” Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays Henry VIII, looks nothing like the portly, bearded image we commonly see of Henry. In fairness, Henry did not achieve that sort of girth until later in life; in his youth he was quite the sportsman. Nevertheless, Rhys Meyers, with his crew cut, his lean, buff body, and his generally petulant attitude, seems much more akin to a spoiled rock star than to a centuries-ago British monarch. Not that I intend that as a criticism, necessarily. I think Rhys Meyers is exactly what the producers wanted. And after all, we’re talking about Henry VIII here – a man who was renowned for his excesses and extravagance. So that kind of works, but I want you to be ready for it.
The first season of The Tudors has 10 episodes in all. So far, we’ve watched 7, most of them in the past few days (having Comcast On Demand makes it very easy to do!). Not to give too much away, but Cardinal Wolsey is goin’ down! He is played by one of my favorites, Sam Neill. At first, I wondered how they could get someone of Neill’s caliber locked up for a TV series, but when I figured out that Wolsey was going to have a short run in Henry’s world, I realized how Neill could work it into his assuredly busy schedule. He does seem to relish playing the “power behind the throne.”
For my money, the best actor is the whole thing is Maria Doyle Kennedy, who plays Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. I’m not normally in the habit of feeling sorry for royalty, but Kennedy has a way of pulling those feelings out of me. And even though Catherine is the woman over whom Henry broke with Roman Catholicism in order to divorce, she remained in the larger picture for many years afterward, so I hope I can look forward to her continuing presence in the series.
That brings me to the one great advantage I have in watching this – my roommate CC. She is a devotee of British royal history from way back, and it’s been helpful to watch this series along with her. She’s able to fill in historical details that get glossed over. She’s also able to spot where things are being reported out of historical order or being made up entirely. I realize that not everyone would appreciate having such a person near when they’re trying to enjoy a TV show, but for me, it very much heightens my enjoyment of the process.
Season Two is already in production and will debut on Showtime in January (I think). I learned just today that Pope Paul III will be played by another one of my faves, Peter O’Toole, who is also the only movie star I can think of who has a double-phallic name. With all of the nudity and sex going on in this series, he’s gonna need both of them.