Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Tudors: Season Two, Episode 5

"Mr Cromwell, there really is no difference between us... except that I shall die today, and you shall die tomorrow."

Spoiler: Sir Thomas More dies at the end. Sorry about that.

Everyone at court is all a-flutter about the oath they have to swear, on pain of death, recognising the king's marriage and his religious supremacy. There then follows an episode that examines the concept of integrity under such extreme circumstances: will people stick to their principles if it means a tortuous death? It is still moral to stick to one's principles if, like More, one knows that it will lead to penury for one's entire family? We know not, for we enjoy such things as freedom if speech and freedom of religion. This episode examines the choices open to those who do not enjoy such things. Oh, and More cops it.

Henry will not be moved; More must swear, as has the rest of his family, no doubt under protest, or suffer death by hanging and disembowellment. The scenes between More and his wife, with moral blackmail on both sides, are difficult viewing.

The King's mood is not improved by Anne's miscarriage, Both Catherine of Aragon and Chapuys are left to wonder what will become of them as they, of course, refuse to sign. Pope Clement VII, meanwhile, remains the cynical political operator, who can see the public relations benefits of Bishop Fisher's forthcoming martyrdom, an excellent touch and a welcome bit of black humour.

Power, meanwhile, accrues to Cromwell more and more. Anne is also coming to enjoy the dizzy heights of monarchical power, but is forgetting where she came from, conniving with her father in disowning her pregnant sister Mary Boleyn for the terrible crime of marrying a commoner. Hubris can be terribly unjust.

She should, perhaps, think on the precariousness of her position. We have just seen the king shagging a random woman, and the King could change his mind in a heartbeat, disinheriting Elizabeth in favour of Mary. All live at the harsh caprice of their king.

Fisher's graphic be heading is all the more affecting because of his frankly admitted fear; the bishop has a wobble of faith at the moment of his martyrdom, which is both horrible and deeply ironic. 

The Pope is, as it happens, furious about Fisher's killing. He is more tolerant of Michelangelo's constant swearing, for "We forgive him because he is a genius." There can never be too much praise for the late and much lamented Peter O'Toole.

Henry, self-indulgent and spoiled as only a king can be, feels both guilt and resentment towards More, who has the effrontery to prick the conscience of a King. He reacts childishly, of course, cruelly depriving More of books for his last few days. 

More is, however, magnificent at his show trial, and his condemnation brings forth a sense of joyful freedom; the worst is now happening anyway, and he can now speak his mind and damn the already decided consequences. The king is, at least, kind enough to commute his sentence from hanging, drawing and quartering to the rather less tortuous beheading.

More, respected by the crowd and begged for forgiveness by his own executioner, faces his death with a simple dignity and grace, and we must force ourselves to remember that he, too, persecuted and murdered innocents for their faith. Henry, meanwhile, screams and screams like the petulant little boy he is.

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