26 February 2008

The Tudors Season 1

The Tudors Wins on Flair, Not History

By Kristin Battestella

The Tudors has made quite a name for itself-from busty billboard ads to Emmy nominations. Showtime’s series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a young Henry the 8th is not meant to be a history lesson, but trumps on lavish love and locales.

Meyers leads an ensemble cast in King Henry’s court, including the wicked Cardinal Wosley (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park), Henry’s older wife Queen Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy, The Commitments), and of course Natalie Dormer (Casanova) as the alluring Anne Boleyn. Political players come and go in this first ten episode season. Each episode is meant to be a year in Henry’s reign-plenty of time for mistresses and heads to roll.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Elvis, Match Point) received a Best Actor Emmy nomination, but Season 1 rises on Neill’s twisted Cardinal and his polar opposite Jeremy Northam (Amistad) as Thomas Moore. As dynamic as Meyers and Dormer are, it is very easy to feel for Queen Katherine’s predicament. Kennedy portrays the religious Spanish regal to perfection.

As solid as the performances are, The Tudors’ Writer and Director Michael Hirst (Elizabeth) backed himself into a corner with several built in historical discrepancies. Gabrielle Anwar (Burn Notice) guest stars as a Henry’s sister Princess Margaret, but the character is actually a composite of his two historical sisters, making some of her storylines convoluted and unbelievable.

But of course, The Tudors makes no pretense at being historically perfect. The series sells itself on the lavishes and lustful ways of the Middle Ages. There are more accurate portrayals on film. It seems strange to me that some viewers complain about the lack of authenticities in The Tudors. It is just a TV show, and hey, it is possible folks who watch the series may take an interest in the real history. The Tudors definitely appeals to the female romance soap opera demographic-as well as the renaissance fan boy. Stuffy Oxford scholars? No.

Many viewers should tune into the Irish/Canadian production for the lovely on location scenery. The costumes might not be one hundred percent authentic, but the opulent fashions and stunning Irish locales add another layer of color and eye candy. Most medieval shows seem so dark or drab, but not The Tudors. The indoor sets do seem small and leave a little to be desired, as do some of the cgi establishing shots of 16th century places or ships that don’t currently exist, but these quibbles are not jarring enough to disturb your viewing pleasure.

So alas, I must mention the sexual content-and there’s a lot of it in The Tudors. It’s Showtime, so we shouldn’t really be surprised at the nudity-male and female-nor the rough and cheeky action. Hey, it’s what they did back then, and when you are dealing with a lothario as notorious as Henry the VIII, its nothing to be a shamed of. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is wiry and sexy and impish, sure, but Hirst has struck double gold by baring all of Henry’s pal Charles Brandon. Henry Cavill (Stardust) has become a fan favorite. Sometimes there’s a point to his lover boy scenes, but most often not-that is the nature of The Tudors. It can be a straight period drama when it has to be, but it isn’t’ afraid to have a good time, either.

Definitely not for minors or prudes, The Tudors Season 1 is now available on DVD. Season 2 is forthcoming from Showtime this Spring. As long as the ratings are there, Showtime will continue to invest the bucks into this sexy period soap opera. Performances and kink in a tight, crafty balance-The Tudors needs to be seen to be believed. Check out Showtime’s website for trailers and downloads. Once you are addicted, take the DVD plunge.

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