There’s a hole in your background, dear Henry
The Tudors 8.30pm, Showcase
‘‘ MY lords and ladies from far America, I bring news of a tale of 16thcentury swiving and political prurience that will engage those edified by the most learned of television.’’
That this 16th- century The Sopranos has a once- over- lightly approach should not surprise, given it is the work of Michael Hirst, creator of Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth ( 1998), a costume drama in which the historical details were not allowed to get in the way of a good yarn.
It’s the same with this series about Henry VIII’s reign. It has the basic story right: priapic potentate needs a legitimate son and will do whatever it takes — breaking hearts, chopping off heads, creating his own church — to do it.
But the script amalgamates some of the players and confuses chronologies to keep the story ticking over. Hirst also has England at the centre of the politics of reformation Europe when it was not all that important a player.
These are hardly offences worthy of beheading compared with the way generations of filmmakers have plundered the past for contemporary stories in fancy dress.
The real problem Tudors is ordinary.
It should not be because this episode has the lot: sex and ambition, jealousy and politics, with Henry ( Jonathan Rhys Meyers) increasingly angry that he is not allowed to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he can marry Anne Boleyn ( Natalie Dormer).
But the script and many of the performances fail to deliver a sense of the stakes involved. Anne’s ability to manage the egomaniacal monarch is not convincing and Rhys Meyers acts as if he expects to play this part for the rest of his life and is pacing himself. Henry was a monstrously scary man, but Rhys Meyers presents him as a
that The petulant teenager whose rages are not that impressive.
And for anybody not taking notes, keeping track of all the attendant lords and ladies and what they want ( other than to keep their heads while their enemies lose theirs) is not easy.
It is Sam Neill as Cardinal Wolsey who saves the series, despite lines that make him sound like an oleaginous opportunist rather than the supremely subtle operator he was. Neill portrays Wolsey as a politician who knows his survival depends on delivering everything Henry wants but fears securing a papal annulment for the king will be beyond him.
If this was the first presentation of Tudor history on TV it would be welcome, but it’s not, and some of the series and films that have gone before have covered the same ground much better. So, I pray you, lords and ladies, why bother?
Shades of Sopranos : Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry, Maria Doyle Kennedy as Catherine and Sam Neill as Wolsey