21 June 2010

The Tudors Season 4

The Tudors Season 4 Wavers, but Concludes Wonderfully
By Kristin Battestella

The Tudors: The Final Season“You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends.” It seems like it’s been longer than four years and 38 episodes since Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ opening introduction to The Tudors.  At last, here we are at the final season of Michael Hirst’s sexy and heady but no less dramatic ode to medieval debauchery. Though not as juicy as previous seasons, this departing Season 4 leaves the not so merry England in style.

King Henry VIII (Meyers) marries his fifth wife, the young and carefree Katherine Howard (Tazmin Merchant).  Unfortunately, senior Lady in Waiting Jane Boleyn (Joanne King) uses Katherine’s attraction to chamberlain Thomas Culpepper (Torrance Combs) against her-and the exposé harbors deadly results for all involved.  The Princesses Mary (Sarah Bolger) and Elizabeth (Laoise Murray) return to court and are restored in Henry’s line of succession behind the young Edward (Eoin Murtagh), whose future power is already being manipulated by his uncle Edward Seymour (Max Brown) and his wife Anne (Emma Hamilton). Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) has marital troubles of his own, and he butts heads with the returning Earl of Surrey, Henry Howard (David O’Hara).  Can wife number six Catherine Parr (Joely Richardson) restore order to Henry’s court before his madness destroys England?

A lot happens in these final ten episodes-and at the same time, not much happens either. With two wives, wars with France and Scotland, and the infamous gluttony of Henry VIII in store, Season 4 should be tighter and better paced than it is.  We spend the first five episodes with Katherine Howard, and again it seems like too much time with nothing happening before we get a ridiculously rushed departure for the young Queen and her lover Culpepper.  Honestly, all we see is his head on a stick!  I dare say he is not in his death episode-how can that be? We spend so much more time on meaningless sex and intrigue to nowhere between the Seymours and uneven guilt with Charles Brandon.  Despite no plans to continue the series into Edward’s and later Mary Tudor’s reign, all this attention to the secondary players at court looks like a backdoor storyline for just such a format change.   Why not continue into something called The Seymours or Seymours versus Greys or such?  The early dallying makes it seem as if The Tudors is already dead and buried, yet budding action in France with three episodes left doesn’t seem like a show that’s concluding any time soon. New characters and events happen so fast, but shouldn’t this be time for some serious H8 brooding?   It’s a pity we must jump forward in time several years to correct these errors for the finale.  Children age up, critical deaths happen off screen, and new religious turmoil and beheadings all happen in the second to last episode.  Surrey’s downfall, Anne Askew, and a disastrous rack are introduced halfway through Episode 9-where was this conflict and drama when we were dawdling with Katherine Howard?

Although some have been displeased with the mostly pretty boy portrayal by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (From Paris with Love, Match Point, Elvis), his vocal changes, aged makeup, and physical transformation into the Henry VIII we’ve long expected is wonderfully despicable, sad and yet touching. Occasionally, his madness, cruelty, and crazy look are even too tough to see in comparison to The Tudors’ prior sexiness.  Again, sometimes it seems the King is almost a supporting player in his own show, but Meyers makes the most of every scene with a surprising range of skill and reflection.  Henry is blinded by Katherine Howard’s youth, yet establishes fine relationships with Anne of Cleeves and Catherine Parr.  There are moments of fatherly charm, and of course, the twisted madness we’ve been waiting for.  The beautiful final episode is all about him, and rightfully so. Though pleasantly surprised by the lengths Meyers has gone in appearance and performance, Henry Cavill’s resolution as Charles Brandon has been a disappointment.  I don’t think it is Cavill’s (Stardust, Immortals) fault, as again, he’s been barely there until the final three episodes, but more should have been given to the only other cast member who’s kept his head off the chopping block for all four seasons.  Cavill’s given the moments to shine in the end, but too much was instead made of the new hottie Torrance Combs (jPod) as Culpepper early on.  Why bother spending two episodes developing such a cruel and obsessive dude when you’re going to axe him two episodes later?  

Tazmin Merchant (Pride and Prejudice) does the best with what is given to her, but it’s not a completely developed character-despite what the uneven portrayal would have us believe.  The young Katherine wavers from being just an innocent girl wanting attention, to a possibly abused and unjustly disliked Queen, to a bitchy and horny gal who knows exactly what she wants.  Which angle are we meant to feel for or relate to-is it Merchant dropping the ball or the writing?  Thankfully, Joely Richardson (Lady Chatterley, Nip/Tuck) adds an element of class to the final episodes of The Tudors.  Catherine Parr is thrust into Henry’s court and does her wifely and royal duties despite some religious scares.  Richardson is a fine bookend in comparison with Maria Doyle Kennedy’s initial Queen Katherine.  Likewise, Sarah Bolger (The Spiderwick Chronicles) has given us a darling and insightful look at Princess Mary.  She struggles with court appearances, royal romances, and religious fervor. Despite the rough reign we know is to come, Bolger keeps Mary endearing, particularly in charming scenes with the wonderful Anthony Brophy (Snow White: A Tale of Terror) as Ambassador Eustace Chapuys.  He should have been a regular cast member all along!

Joanne King (Casualty) is wonderfully juicy as the scorned and conniving Lady Rochford-her plotting is what keeps the first few episodes entertaining.  It’s nice to see a character that began as relative filler has now developed into a full court player. It’s also frustrating then to know we’re not getting the same follow up intrigue with the equally dicey Max Brown (Grange Hill) and Emma Hamilton (Into the Storm).  The juice between them, Andrew McNair (Hollyoaks) as Thomas Seymour, and David O’Hara’s (The District, Harry Potter) Henry Howard is played at the forefront of the earlier episodes then inexplicably dropped for Henry’s war in France.  If this is where the intrigue is at, then the show should continue beyond Henry VIII.  With all this unfinished Seymour business happening, we also only briefly see singer Joss Stone returning as the charming Anne of Cleeves.  Again, was this final season to be about Henry’s errors finally catching up to him or the Seymour politics that follows his reign?  Could two more seasons been done without Jonathan Rhys Meyers? Though Sarah Bolger seems up to the task, newcomer Laoise Murray seems amiss as the young Princess Elizabeth.  If we’re going to have the budding Elizabeth, then by golly have her full force. 

In some ways, I’d rather more historical liberties been taken on The Tudors this season.  Have eight episodes done right with Katherine Howard and the war in France, and then give us another season with Catherine Parr and post Henry succession drama.  Can you imagine what a shock it would have been if Henry’s death and aftermath came over four middle episodes instead of one final hour? Other period dramas and historical fantasies are forthcoming to fill the void, but I’m a bit sad to leave Tudor England.  This season has waned, yes, but it doesn’t seem like The Tudors should be over just yet.  Naturally, the production, interiors, and costumes look great; and by its end, The Tudors turns itself round right. In summation of not just this season but also the entire series, writer Michael Hirst spends a solid sixty-minute Episode 10 returning to the core players.  A lovely, otherworldly and ethereal quality takes over at The Tudors’ end. Foretelling from the not-so-dearly-departed, deathbed visions, and built-in retrospectives bring about a bittersweet, tearful, and very satisfying conclusion.  It’s not infamous like The Sopranos cop out, but rather as the King himself says, “It is well done.”

Though faulty in the uneven storytelling and revolving door at Henry’s court, The Tudors is incomplete without this final season of death and madness.  Fans of the series will eat up this conclusion and begin again with the earlier seasons, DVDs, Showtime streamings and repeats.  Despite the liberties taken and sometimes off-mix of drama and sex in Season 4, The Tudors is still one of the finest productions of medieval England yet filmed.  For better or worse its success has ushered in a new, mature pop wave of historical shows.  Now that The Tudors is complete, historians and fans of the cast can study it to their hearts content, compare with long-standing Tudor material, and delight without the wait.  Lose your head one more time with The Tudors Season 4.

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