24 May 2009

The Tudors Season 3

The Tudors Season 3 Perhaps It’s Finest
By Kristin Battestella

The Tudors: The Complete Third SeasonAfter two great seasons of Showtime’s revelry with Henry VIII and The Tudors, I wondered how creator Michael Hurst could keep his series fresh without such key players like Anne Boleyn, Thomas Moore, and Katherine of Aragon. Though there are a few slow spots this season, Year Three might very well be The Tudors at its finest hour.

Now that Anne Boleyn and her severed head are good and buried, King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) marries the sweet and fair Jane Seymour (Annabelle Wallis). Things are good at court for the King and Queen, their friend Charles Brandon the Duke of Suffolk (Henry Cavill), and Henry’s daughters Mary (Sarah Bolger) and Elizabeth (Claire MacCauley). Unfortunately, Thomas Cromwell’s (James Frain) persecutions of the Catholic Church in England anger the Northern faithful. Robert Aske (Gerard McSorely) and his Pilgrimage of Grace do not make things easy for Henry, and the birth of his long awaited son Prince Edward is of little consolation. Likewise, alliances with Germany and ill marriages to Anne of Cleeves (Joss Stone) and Catherine Howard (Tazmin Merchant) hasten Cromwell’s downfall at Henry’s court.

Sure, I liked The Tudors before, but more and more episodes and events linger on my mind from week to week. Yes tonight I was thinking very good things about The Tudors. We've spent two seasons with Henry getting everything he wants no matter how impossible. Anyone who knows his or her history also knows Big Harry’s going to get his way with Robert Aske, too. Again, The Tudors slims on historical accuracy, and fans who love the debauchery can still find plenty of it in Season 3. We’ve got our sex and nudity, but as we’ve gone further, The Tudors has become a very serious show. Goodness these folks bumped uglies because they could, and they didn’t know about venereal diseases, and well, there was little else to do. But beyond the sex and ruthlessness, by golly Henry’s court has the same trials and tribulations as we do.

Some of the politics around the Pilgrimage opened the season on a slow note, and I really could care less about the introductions of the latest pretty mistress Lady Misseldon (Charlotte Salt) and ruthless one-eyed henchman Sir Francis Bryan (Alan Van Sprang). Are these just loose historical personas contracted to show skin, screw, and say naughty things? Fortunately, Jonathan Rhys Meyers carries The Tudors amid its coming and going cast. His soliloquies at Jane Seymour’s deathbed in an entire episode dedicate to the Queen’s deadly delivery are, I think, Meyers best yet. Despite all his wealth, power, divine influence, and penchant for giving or taking life on the chopping block, Meyers brings forth Henry’s human side. He is a monarch, but a man-and not just in the bedroom. Henry can’t have it all, and the high cost of his wife’s life for the son he’s so desperately desired is almost more than he can bear.

One or two episodes after the loss of Queen Jane also seem slow-but these are dark, psychological episodes that hot and bothered Tudors fans might be unaccustomed to. Meyers takes Henry to even more creepy and disturbing places-and this from a man who beheaded two wives. We do have a fairly attractive King in comparison with those hefty historical portraits, but Meyers’ appearance has changed dramatically since The Tudors began. The styles have changed slightly, adding more big furs and dark colors to Henry’s wardrobe, but Meyers has also carefully crafted new, decrypted facial expressions to highlight the madness that is slowly consuming the King. Now having seen Season 3, it seems as if Meyers’ Season 1 Emmy nomination was one of polite recognition. I do hope he receives due for this season. With Sam Neill, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Jeremy Northam unrecognized previously; should someone, anyone from these series walk away with acting hardware, I’d be happy.

Understandably, there seems to be new faces in each episodes’ opening credits as enemies and wives come and go (and other actors have left over too much of an ensemble feeling), but I don’t understand why The Tudors does not include all its semi regular anchors in the intro. Sarah Bolger, Anthony Brophy as Spanish Ambassador Chapuys, Joanne King as Jane Parker, the Seymour Family, and several others could be included in a separate ‘co-starring’ motif. Not only does their screen time warrant the honor, but also it might help if there are fans who tune in or out of the series according to, well, wife. Now in its initial run on Showtime, The Tudors can have its lovely opening and seriously lengthy previouslies for each episode; but come syndication, pretty montages and sex scenes will have to go. The Tudors will be left to stand on its talent and merit. Thankfully, it can succeed on those alone.

I don't dream over Henry Cavill like some, but I'm glad his character has more to do this season. Gone is the nude playboy from the initial episodes and in his place is a devoted yet conflicted husband and father struggling to keep his home life, faith, and allegiance to Henry’s court separate. Instead of opulent jousts-which were great at the time-The Tudors displays quiet moments between Henry and Charles reflecting on their lost youth as the price of nobility. Like Cavill, we’re older, wiser, and stepping back to reflect on this turbulent dynasty. To a serious viewer, this touching familiarity does more for Charles Brandon then his early butt shots ever could. By contrast, Edward Seymour (Max Brown) and Sir Francis are too new to care about amid all their politicking and sex. In some ways, Michael Hirst has been very smart and coy about the nature of his show. The sex gets folks in the door and keeps the revolving cast going, but the three meaty players Meyers, Cavill, and James Frain are what's bringing things to the hilt now.

This season, we only briefly see Katherine Howard, as writer Michael Hirst is saving her fate and final wife Catherine Parr for next year. Singer Joss Stone, is however, a bittersweet surprise as the maligned Anne of Cleeves. Some may disagree, but her German accent sounds fine to me; and despite ill stylings akin to the ‘Flanders’ Mare’ talk, she’s certainly not ugly. Her discomfort with Henry and his anger at their lack of consummation could have been disastrous onscreen. Instead of falling prey to humor or kink, the awkward marriage plays quite sadly. We hate that Henry’s been duped by Cromwell, for how can the King ever be duped anyway? Yet we feel sad for both the man and his wife. Again, the humanity of Henry’s court wins against all the flair and naughty bits. Cromwell’s downfall is a little too quick and anticlimactic against the slow burn of Wosley’s spiral, but we also only have eight episodes this season in which to pack all this medieval debauchery.

Perhaps in 10 or 20 years when this show seems dated, The Tudors will still be considered good television. Now that we have a young Elizabeth on the show, its nice to see that one man has been able to make a complete observance of the Tudor dynasty, at least from Henry VIII’s early reign to Elizabeth: The Golden Age. When this series is over, I think its depth of character and serious religious drama and reflection will keep it fresh before the historical liberties, sex, and sweet costumes. The Tudors runs at 50 minutes plus per episode, and figuring for season four there will be less than forty episodes total. Even so, in a day when television shows are so butchered and dismissed after one or two seasons, it’s rare to get such a meaty, extensive, and proper period television program.

Currently available on the Showtime networks, websites, or on demand packages, look for The Tudors Season 3 on DVD sometime this winter-I imagine around the holidays or before the fourth and final season next Spring. At this point, I might wait for a complete series packaged set for all the features and bits, but Seasons 1 and 2 can be found affordably enough. Not for kids or prudes, of course, period aficionados and fans of the cast will always delight. Get hooked on The Tudors today for years of head rolling enjoyment.


The Anne Boleyn Files said...

I think that The Tudors is a great show, despite its many historical innaccuracies. It's brilliant that it's making more and more people interested in this period of history. I agree with you about the character of Charles Brandon and how they have definitely given his character more depth - the torn feelings he had over obeying Henry and massacring teh women and children, his hallucinations etc. Great acting!
Although JRM has not aged or gone huge and ugly, I think that he's great as Henry - showing that mix of arrogance, courage, fear and bitterness. You can see how Henry was so insecure and afraid of losing everything, how having a son was everything to him but his sad realisation that it came at a huge cost.
I do miss Thomas More, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn though, such major characters.
Sounds like you're enjoying the show too!

Kristin Battestella said...

Hello, hello! I'm glad there's still an audience for intelligent historicals, and I'm curious as to what Hirst does once The Tudors is over.

We shall see!

Anonymous said...

I also agree with you, it’s the one of the great show on screen. I’m a huge fan of the show and of Sarah Bolger, playing Mary. She is too hot…. I have been watching episodes of The Tudors for a long time.

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi B. I agree Bolger should be considered a regular!

Thanks for stopping by!

Kelly said...

Great show forever.. I have been watching this show for a long time.. In this show i like all the Hot ladies.. Really i'm in love of this show.. Whenever i watch The Tudors episodes then the same night all the ladies comes in my dream..

EZRyder said...

I think this series does a fantastic job of telling the story of Henry VIII using the same actor in the Primary role, (and I emphasize series as in real time VS Time line).I can only judge in reference to my favorite cable shows, which include,Breaking Bad,True Blood,Dexter,Sparticus and other dynamic new cable series.If I were to do this I would Vote for a new class of Cable Shows for Henry VIII to be included in. Perhaps we could call it Classical Cable Shows? I guess Sparticus would have to be included but I wouldn't want to choose between the two ;)

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi Ez! It's so nice to have a real comment instead of some of the spam I've been getting lately! ;0)

I agree there has been some more period quality series on cable,and more is to come from Hirst, including The Borgias and some juicy Camelot series on Starz. Time will tell!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Kristin, for your accurate and excellent review.

I have finished wathing the third season on DVD a few days ago. I was looking for reviews on the internet and found yours, that I really enjoyed.

As you, I miss characters that gave Season 2 a great plotline: Thomas More, Katherine of Aragon, or Anne Boleyn. Furthermore, I do miss a great presence from Rome. I think Max Von Sidow's character does not give such a personality as Peter O'Toole did in Season 2.

I also appreciate the evolution of Charles Brandon. He is more important in this season and less a good looking guy as in the Season 1. A logical evolution as he was young before and now, thanks to his marriage and his age, a more mature and responsible politician.

Another great performance is given by Queen Jane Seymour. Her beauty and naivety is a precious jewel in this season.

Now, I am looking forward to get the Season 4 in DVD.

Thanks for your review,

Kristin Battestella said...

Hola Lorenzo! Thanks for finding us and taking the time to comment!

I'm glad you enjoy the performances and growth in Season 3. You'll enjoy Series 4 I'm sure!