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Will The Real Henry VIII Please Stand Up?
on 28 April 2017
This epic series spanning 38 episodes tells the well-known story of Henry VIII and his six wives. Although not always 100% historically accurate, the artistic license used is understandable as different interpretations of history are possible after 400 years.
The series is overflowing with plots and counter plots – all of the characters are in danger at one time or another. Inside Henry VIII’s court, illicit romantic liaisons dominate proceedings. Men and women risk their reputations and even their lives to indulge in passionate affairs and relationships.
The battle of religions is a constant theme – Henry VIII moving away from Catholic Rome towards his own self-created and ever-changing version of the Protestant faith. Many ingenious ways are found to torture and kill both guilty and innocent people, including burning at the stake, hanging, beheading and the most gruesome of all – being hung, drawn and quartered. The execution scenes of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard are emotive and dramatic.
Outside the court, events focus on the recurring European battles and political strategizing against France, Spain and Portugal. Words can never be trusted, and invasion always seems likely. Closer to home, Henry VIII attacks northern England hard with bloody and gruesome force when they keep protesting against his rule.
The biggest talking point relating to the actors is Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrayal of Henry VIII. Unlike Charles Laughton in “The Private Life Of Henry VIII” or Robert Shaw in “A Man For All Seasons”, Meyers is relatively short in height, quite slight in build, and had short dark hair and little facial hair – not the classic look for Henry VIII. Although Meyers played his part with great gusto and energy, you are left feeling that an actor who more physically resembled the real king would have been more effective. And, Meyers looks bizarrely young in the first three series, not really representing the true look of the king at that time.
All of the queens are excellent in their own different ways. Maria Doyle Kennedy convincingly portrays the loyal and dutiful Catherine of Aragon, and Natalie Dormer wonderfully captures the coquettish Anne Boleyn. The king’s favourite wife Jane Seymour is enchantingly played by the sultry Annabelle Wallis, and the luckiest queen of all – Anne of Cleves – is amusingly portrayed by Joss Stone, complete with a German accent. The nymph-like Tamzin Merchant is alluring as the ill-fated Catherine Howard. And the last queen standing is Catherine Parr, maturely played by Joely Richardson.
There are many other incredible contributions from Peter O’Toole as Pope Paul III complete with a Latin speech that he had memorized, Sam Neill brilliantly plays the troubled and doomed Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and Henry Cavill is appealing as Charles Brandon. Also, Jeremy Northam wonderfully captures the quiet pious Thomas More, and James Frain is menacing as the self-centred and at times evil Thomas Cromwell.
The set decoration is fantastic – incredibly atmospheric images of Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle and Hever Castle. The interiors are set in natural light from windows or from flickering candle light. Many of the tense and gruesome scenes are filmed in very low light which adds to their scariness and reality. The costumes are wonderful throughout – very detailed with a range of colours and fabrics appropriate to the Tudor times.
The series overflows with extras, including intriguing interviews with actors, writer, director and analysis and commentary from historians. In addition, the tour of Hampton Court Palace is well worth watching.
Overall, “The Tudors” is a fantastic series – full of twisting meandering plots, and filled with illicit romance and political strategizing. The only question mark is whether Jonathan Rhys Meyers was the right man for Henry VIII. On balance, he probably was not. Will The Real Henry VIII Please Stand Up?