There’s a hole in your back­ground, dear Henry

The Tu­dors 8.30pm, Show­case

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Stephen Matchett

‘‘ 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

is

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

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