Monday, 26 May 2014

The Tudors: Season Four, Episode 8

"I will burn as many heretics as I have to..."

It's now 1544. Henry continues to get no younger, and the war (a theatre of the deeply unpleasant 1542-46 Italian War) goes on while, at home, a gentle religious conflict erupts between Bishop Stephen Ward, hammer of the heretics, and the a Queen, who slyly arranged for both Elizabeth and Edward to receive a Protestant education, Elizabeth with Roger Ascham, no less.

The Queen is putting herself in real danger by doing this, but she manages the risks sensibly, with circumspection and ensuring that she is well liked, even by the increasingly fanatical Mary, whose heart is broken by the departure of her elderly father figure Chapuys.

Lord Surrey, meanwhile, scion of an ancient house that he is, dreams of being Sir Lancelot, but such things do not happen in this age of muskets and disease. Indeed, the death toll from dysentery is horrendous, yet Henry's grip on reality is slight enough for him to cruelly insist that the sick soldiers fight. On a much nicer note, Brandon falls touchingly in love with his young French belle. But this is a rare note of beauty in a very ugly war.

Henry ultimately takes Boulogne, but his disease-stricken army means he will be unable to March on Paris, as he promised to the Emperor that he would. We see, through following the war from the point of view of ordinary soldiers, that the human cost is incalculable for a war that is for little more than the glory of kings and popes and emperors. Ordinary life is indeed cheap.

Henry returns home, seeming older than ever. He isn't much longer for this world, however much the otherwise superb Jonathan Rhys Meyers may be appallingly lacking in the required level of obesity for this point of Henry's life. What is more, his exchequer is empty, he has earned the enmity of the Pope and he had betrayed the Emperor in failing to march on Paris, or would have done; Charles V has in fact abandoned him first. Such is sixteenth century diplomacy.

We end with Henry, alone, collapsing to the ground. He isn't well, and there is a profound sense of entropy and decline wherever we look...

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