Treachery, treason and trollops
By Patricia Treble
Macleans, October 1, 2007
Rarely has a series slogan been so apt: Romance. Seduction. Murder. Just another day at the office. The Tudors is to a history lesson what Jackie Collins is to fiction-a suck ’em in and hold ’em drama that won’t let go. Think of the worst machinations of The Office or Desperate Housewives and then multiply by 100. The Tudors’ cool, hip and rollicking good fun never lets up, even when the script deviates from the numerous bedroom scenes (three in the first half hour alone) to impart a little political and religious background. A leanly muscled Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Match Point, Elvis) oozes royal sex appeal in the role of King Henry VIII.
The Tudor monarch is the perfect candidate for a soap opera miniseries. His personal life featured a mess of mistresses and wives and a dearth of legitimate heirs; his public life took place against a tumultuous time in European history-the discovery of the New World, the Protestant Reformation and the end of the old medieval ways. In Henry’s court aristocrats and ambitious newcomers alike could enjoy a fast rise to power and riches that boggled the mind-or an equally rapid plunge ending with a one-way trip to the Tower of London. Even courtiers such as powerful as Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Neil) knew they were walking a tightrope-at one point the powerful clergyman saves his hide by “voluntarily” handing over his extravagant Hampton Court Palace to his envious monarch.
Today Henry VIII is remembered as an obese lecher who broke away from the Catholic Church and married umpteen times in a desperate attempt to secure a male heir. Those with a bit more knowledge of English history may even recall the rhyme needed to keep separate the fates of those unfortunate six women (three Catherines of various spellings, two Annes and a Jane): “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.”
But in his early years, when The Tudors begin, Henry was a handsome, muscular 30-something with a commanding intellect. Rhys Meyers’ portrayal of a vigorous, athletic and intelligent man in the prime of his life, able not only to joust for hours, but also to have philosophical discussions with Thomas More, offers a historically accurate peek at what Henry was before he grew too fat to wear armour.