Friday, 14 March 2014

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 1

"Be a pigeon and shit on everything!"

So, the first episode of a brand new series. Been a whole since that happened, hasn't it? In fact, I've actually watched all of The Tudors and made all my notes; the blog is in serious catch up mode at the mo. But fear not; all of the ongoing serieses (er...) will continue on to the end.

So, we have a 2007 series which, being an Irish/Canadian co-production, uses mostly actors for those two countries, a refreshing change from overly obvious casting. Although many of the best American actors are in fact Canadian, while many of the best British actors are in fact from the Irish a Republic, despite their stage-schooled RP accents, such as Michael Gambon and Peter O'Toole, of whom more in another season.

Anyway, in spite of the dynastic title, this is a series about the reign of Henry VIII only, beginning in 1520, on the eve of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. This cuts out Spurs, Flodden and, more to the point, the entire period during which Henry was far too young to be portrayed by the excellently menacing Jonathan Meyers, who convinces perfectly as a spoiled brat born to power.

The series begins, though, with the continental power games between Francis I's France and the Holy Roman and Spanish Empires of Charles V. This year' pawns are the city states of North-West Italy, and the ambassadors are all a kerfuffle. The English envoy has been killed, and possible war looms. Yet the king's chief advisor, the wily Cardinal Wolsey (the solid but somewhat miscast Sam Neill), seems suspiciously pro-French. He couldn't possibly be corrupt, n'est-ce pas?

Henry is, of course, thoroughly Catholic at this point, and happily married to Catherine of Aragon (a suitably self-pitying Maria Doyle Kennedy) as long as he can have his bits on the side and sire his little Fitzroys. And the future Bloody Mary is just a cute ickle girl. Catherine, of course, wants war with France. She is a Habsburg, after all, and cheering for Dad to gain yet more territory.

Yet Henry is not sleeping with her, which upsets her, not because of any apparent libido, but because of her supposed Christian duty as a wife and all that. The seeds are all there.

It's weird to see a thoroughly Catholic England, with all the trimmings, but that's how it was, with cardinals and everything. It's also weird to think that Europe, in 1520, was still a place of lances and jousts, although this would change as the decade wore on. One such jouster, the priapic Charles Brandon (Superman himself, the moderately wooden but pretty Henry Cavill) is a close friend of the King, and something of a semi-invented character. History must, after all, be shaped into drama-friendly form.

The King jousts against Yorkist plotter the Duke of Buckingham, whose accent is inexplicably northern. Being a dynastic rival the duke is, of course, somewhat akin to a turkey in mid-December. Rather safer, for now, is Thomas More, a sympathetic humanist, intellectual and friend of the King, who grounds him and symbolically calls him "Harry". The King agrees with his humanism although, of course, only as far as it suits him to do so.

That, then, is our dramatis personae. We can now move on to your actual Field of your actual Cloth of Gold, in English Calais, which is presented as a kind of proto-European Union, with "collective institutions" and that. How very anachronistic.

There is tension as the King fathers a Fitzroy but has no son with Catherine; is it because she was once married to his late brother Arthur...? I think this one might run and run.

Not long after this we first meet Mary and Anne Boleyn (the superlative Natalie Dormer), while the King and Wolsey share a wonderfully symbolic chess scene. Buckingham's eventual treason and death is somewhat inevitable; his father, of course, was the right hand Man of Richard III, as we well know from Shskespeare's play.

The pieces are set. How will the game play out...?

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