Monday, 26 May 2014

The Tudors: Season Four, Episode 9

"The law is whatever his Majesty says it is!"

It's late 1545. Henry is getting close to death, but he remains deadly. At last we see the Earl of Surrey paying the ultimate price, and even Catherine Parr sails close to the wind. There is an increasing conflict over the King's legacy; Bishop Gardiner, and Henry himself, forcibly insist on Catholic doctrine under royal supremacy, with celibate priests and a people expected by their King to read the Bible in a English, yes, but not, Heaven forbid, to hold opinions about it. Yet the next generation, aside from the increasingly fanatical Mary, is in the grip of Catherine and Protestantism. Meanwhile Surrey, the last symbol of the England that was, predeceases the king who decimated the old noble families such as his.

Gardiner is pleased  at his protege Wriothesley (pronounced "Risley"!!!) appointment as Lord Chancellor, but on the other hand Catherine has managed to publish an openly Protestant tract by the clever means of dedicating it to Henry. Not everyone is so fortunate; Gardiner has a heretic by the name of Anne Askew arrested, "examined" and illegally tortured (Henry expresses impatience with due process as he orders this to be done), being horrifically torn asunder on the rack. She looks horribly mutilated when we next see her, shortly prior to her graphically depicted burning at the stake, leaving us in no doubt as to the unspeakable pain she endures. Henry's tyranny is not abating in these final months.

Surrey has buggered up in France due to an old-fashioned reliance on honour over tactics, having to flee the field in disgrace and stripped of his Order of the Garter. Henry, meanwhile, diplomatically arranges for Boulogne to be returned to France in right years' time, thereby rendering pointless the whole campaign with all it's costs on blood and treasure, and no one calls it treason.

Surrey, ever arrogant, plots to seize Prince Edward so he can control the heir to the throne, but is caught and questioned. He defies his questioners, proud of his ancestry, and goes as far as almost to escape his cell. His defiance at his trial is a pivotal moment as he gives voice to an old England of law and aristocratic checks on royal power, to roars of approval from the people. It is a shame that David O'Hara's acting is not up to the purpose here; this episode gives the character a real chance to shine but, through no one's fault, but O'Hara's, it falls flat. The guilty verdict, against the court's wishes, is no surprise, but it is still a shock to hear that he will be hung, drawn and quartered as a commoner.

All of this gives a context to the real danger that the Queen is in. Gardiner orders three of her ladies to be "examined", including Catherine's own sister. This eventually leads to nothing, but more damaging is her falling out with Mary, who has heard the rumours as to her religious beliefs. When she finds herself speaking too frankly to the King she realises she has gone too far, and Gardiner asks the King to put her on trial. But he won't. When it comes to wives, at least, he's mellowed a bit.

The Tudors continued to wind down superbly, with a nuanced script superbly realised. One more to go...

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