The Tudors - an early look
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.)