Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Tudors: Season Four, Episode 10

"You won't die. I forbid it!"

This is it, then. The end. It's a heavy weight to bear, but we get a worthy finale in the end. Of course, the fact that we end with Henry VIII's death gives rise to the question of why the series is called The Tudors, a title that seems to promise us Bloody Mary and Good Queen Bess. But no matter. This is good stuff.

Henry is dying. The series is ending with him, so how best to end than with a warrant with the arrest for heresy of yet another Queen? Catherine Parr is intelligent, circumspect, and knows how to play the game, but she is in real danger here. There are signs of the next reign- Prince Edward is now old enough to speak some Latin, and Edward Seymour is a powerful man indeed- but Bishop Gardiner, for obvious reasons, prefers Mary. Whichever camp you look at, though, the vultures are circling the King.

The King is (finally!) much fatter. He`s quixotic, too, this time siding with the French against the Emperor, and proposing that mass be abolished (!) in both realms. He`s too late, though; Francis I is dying of syphilis. He still has power within his own houehold, though, and there is a sense of real danger as Henry tells Catherine that he knows nothing of any warrant for her arrest; is he playing his old games?

The Queen is, rightfully, scared, and determined to hide her thoughts. There is a power struggle at court between Gardiner and Edward Seymour and she, unlike the old, happily weary and sick of politics Duke of Suffolk, cannot simply remain neutral, confident of the King`s affection.

There is move and counter-move. Gardiner sets up an Inquisition; the Seymours use Gardiner`s embezzling ways to blackmail him. The Queen, questioned by Henry, gives a fiery defence of herself, and we know that the King wants to believe her. He hasn`t exactly gone soft in his old age, but even if you didn`t know the famous rhyme I think you`d know, by the rules of drama, that Catherine was utimately safe.
There is great uncertainty. Prince Edward`s education, a matter of vital importance to the kingdom`s future, finally comes under scrutiny as Gardiner begins to notice the religious inclinations of his tutors. The struggle between Gardiner and Edward Seymour soon leads to fisticuffs, and an extraordinary tour de force of acting from the great Simon Ward. His fall is brutally sudden; in the end, Henry sides with his Queen and the uncle of his son. Family trumps religious fanaticism in the end, ironically. But then, for this King, both of those things were always just playthings in his power games.

The dying Henry, like Canute, is not omnipotent and is powerless aainst the ravages of time and natue; he commands Charles Brandon not to die, but must nevertheless mourn his old friend, the only honest man at court. In scenes which must surely be meant to evoke I, Clavdivs he sees visions of his past wives making cameo appearances to rebuke him. Catherine of Aragon is furious at him for failing to marry off Mary, Anne Boleyn reminds him of Elizabeth`s cleverness and her own innocence ("Poor Catherine Howard!"), and Jane Seymour tells him sternly that he has killed Edward with his mollycoddling. There will be but one generation more of Tudors; the future of Henry`s realm lies not with the fruit of his loins.

Henry, at his own insistence, dies alone. Death creeps up slowly, and when he`s young again we know he`s dead. We end with an emotional montage, that Hans Holbein portrait, and some text to give us a potted history of the next three reigns. It's a fitting end to a magnificent series, the I, Clavdivs of our age.

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