Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 6

"You don't like the French very much, do you, Mr More?"

"I don't mind them, Mr Wyatt. It's just that they're so very, very French."

This episode we get to see the French court, which, as the cliche goes, is much more fun than the English one. There is more geopolitics, in which Henry is again shown to be king only of a middling power, nothing compared to France and the many realms of Charles V.  The clutching at the small straw offered by Pope Clement's escape from the Emperor is pathetic to see, although at least the ambitious Thomas Cromwell gets a chance to ingratiate himself with the King.

Possibly the most horrifying thing here is the sight of Anne reading her love letters from Henry to her father and uncle; as an aristocratic woman she is nothing but a commodity, pimped out by her male relatives. She is a sympathetic character, only beginning to learn the cynicism that will eventually lead to her tragic and awful death; for now the most awful thing is an unpleasant clash with Catherine of Aragon.

Wolsey is off to France, his favourite place, for a spot of doomed diplomacy, and Thomas Wyatt goes with him. Unfortunately Catherine, in cahoots with her bezzie mate the Spanish ambassador, has diplomatic aims of her own; there will be no divorce, however hard Wolsey tries and however much his future, and probably his life, depends on it. Life isn't fair in an early modern autocracy.

There's a parting between lovebirds Sir William Compton, who was serious, and Thomas Tallis, who just wanted sex. But we must forgive Tallis, for he's a genius, and to France he must go. Diplomacy goes through the motions; Mary gets another pie-in-the-sky betrothal, this time to the Duc d'Orleans, but it doesn't feel very substantial, just like Wolsey's desperate plan to set up a conclave on Henry's divorce in the absence of the Pope.

The whole theme of the episode is summarised, beautifully, by Thomas Wyatt's poem, They Flee from Me, about his fling with Anne Boleyn, yes, but also the attractions and extreme dangers of court, with a predatory Henry at the top of the food chain and getting hungrier and hungrier. The future for courtiers can be bleak, and Wolsey is looking increasingly doomed, especially with the Boleyn menfolk poisoning Henry's mind against him; he's been embezzling money, like pretty much anyone in this period of history.

Henry and Brandon eventually reconcile in the most laddish manner possible but, while Brandon is guileless and straightforward, he cannot remain untainted by the moral compromises necessitated by his closeness to power. He may not be burned by the son, but the episode ends with Wolsey, having failed, looking desperate, alone, and in fear of his life.

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