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September 3, 2015

The Tudors - an early look

by Julia Ward, posted Mar 16th 2007 11:05AM
Jonathan Rhys Meyers Henry VIII
So, it turns out Henry VIII isn't just that portly guy at the Renaissance Faire with a gigantic turkey leg greasing up his maw. He was an athletic would-be humanist with an over-the-top appetite for sex and a body hard enough to qualify him for gay porn, or at least, that's how Showtime's The Tudors, the latest in bodice-ripping historical dramas, portrays him.

The Tudors premieres on April 1st, so I will refrain from giving away any major plot points so as not to spoil the fun. Well, I'll try not to give away any of the plot points that haven't been blown by a thousand history texts and half a dozen great movies including A Man for All Seasons.

The Tudors picks up shortly before Henry's meeting with France's King Francis at Calais and introduction to Anne Boleyn. With figures like Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas More taking center stage, The Tudors seems likely to focus on Henry's divorce from Queen Catherine and break with the Catholic Church. So, unless your high school shunned European history, you know who not to get attached to.

I don't know about you, but I'm loving the bastard children of Masterpiece Theater and the BBC. Rome, Deadwood and now The Tudors represent an incredibly cheesy trend that I can get behind. Deadwood probably doesn't belong in that category as David Milch puts art before historical accuracy and sexed-up melodrama, but all three have that strange inevitability in common. You can't watch without thinking, "Damn, that Thomas More guy is a freaking saint." Oh wait, he is a freaking saint. You can't watch any of Henry VIII's romances without that creeping sense of dread. If you can't remember the order, it's "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived."

There are some fine actors involved in this slick, sumptuous production - chief among them Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry, Jeremy Northam as Sir Thomas More and Sam Neill as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Sam Neill does a good job playing the morally complex Wolsey. Part sage diplomat, part self-interested political manipulator, Wolsey has been depicted by both Orson Welles and John Gielgud. Neill may not fill their shoes, but he steps up to the plate and puts in an solid performance. Northam manages to make the goody two shoes More a calming force in Henry's life and plays nicely off of Meyers' robust energy. More comes off not as a noble bore, but as a family man with convictions and real faith. But, this show doesn't belong to them, it belongs to Henry. And, what a Henry.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a scenery chewing, ham-fisted, over-the-top joy in The Tudors. His performance is operatic - dripping in sex and excess. While historically accurate, Meyer's Henry is hilariously incongruous to popular perceptions of the king. He's a popular hero - a modern humanist who alienated aristocrats in favor of middle class intellectuals and artists. He's an athlete. He's a scholar. He's a sex machine. He has the 16th Century equivalent of Matthew McConaughey's "can't find a shirt" disease. This performance has more than a few things in common with Meyer's other uber-sexy turn as David Bowie stand-in Brian Slade in Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine. This Henry VIII is, above all else, a rock star.

As is probably befitting this type of production, the dialogue tends toward the ridiculous. Much of it has to fill in the blanks for viewers who haven't caught up with their post-War of the Roses history via a Wikipedia crash course. The rest of it ranges from middling to just plain silly. Following a conversation about Machiavelli's The Prince, Henry turns to Thomas More and says, "It's not like your book Utopia. It's real. It's not so... utopian." And, they share a hearty laugh. Henry VIII just ain't Henry V so don't expect any St. Crispin's Day speeches. What you can expect is a raunchy, historical potboiler with performers unafraid to go the distance and remove their pants. You're either going to love it or hate it.

What about you folks who caught the online preview? What did you think? Do you think your enjoyment of it is directly proportional to how sexy you think Jonathan Rhys Meyers is? Needs more jousting?

(And, here's a random aside, one of my favorite composers Thomas Tallis shows up for the festivities. Check out Kronos Quartet's recording of his "Spem In Alium" on their Black Angels CD, if you're into that kind of thing.)

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Tim od Denver

I don't care if I even have the sound on...I'll watch it for one reason..to see JRM and the bonus shots of skin..That man is too hot

March 20 2007 at 1:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

that guy looks just like me scary but interesting

March 19 2007 at 2:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Charlie Smith

In fact, as a young man Henry was noted for his powerful build and athleticism, though he was tall and blond, not dark like Rhys Meyers. However, by the time he met Anne Boleyn he was a fat middle-aged man, old enough to be Anne's father. This series is fiction, not history.

March 17 2007 at 4:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just watched the first episode, and as a huge history fan and as a JRM fan... Loved it! Yeah, inaccuracies, sure-- but seriously, when aren't there? I love how it's going so far, loving JRM as Henry VIII and really, really wishing I could afford Showtime.

March 17 2007 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How can you hate it? It's like a good Rome.

March 17 2007 at 11:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's good to be the king.

March 16 2007 at 6:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bastard children of Masterpiece Theatre and the Beeb? Oh, SNAP! Great line! (Hey, I love 'em too.)

Haven't seen the episodes yet (the library computers won't let me) but I've seen clips over on YouTube, and I think the "historical accuracy" kinda comes and goes.

I can, however, testify from personal knowledge that the young Henry VIII was a far cry from the bloated monster of his final portraits. On my last trip to England, I toured the Royal Armouries in Leeds, where Henry's tournament armour is housed. As it was made to fit his body exactly, it is plain to see that Henry was tall, athletic, and what the English called "quite fit!"

Oh, heck, go look for yourself:


March 16 2007 at 2:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"a body hard enough to qualify him for gay porn"

Julia... I won't ask how you know that...

March 16 2007 at 1:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

From the looks of that pictures, Jonathan Rhys Meyers has come a loooong way from that skinny lad in Bend it Like Beckham....

March 16 2007 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Complete and utter rubbish. I hate this.

March 16 2007 at 12:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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