Wednesday, April 8, 2009

TV Watch: The Tudors

The folks at the Showtime cable network have proven that they are just as adept at creating entertaining, high-quality television programming as their HBO network rivals. Sunday evenings now belong to 'The Tudors', an excellent historical period piece that tells the story of King Henry VIII of England.

Henry was the 2nd monarch of the 'House of Tudor', which drew its identity from the family surname of Henry's father, King Henry VII, whom Henry then succeeded to the throne. The Tudors had originally gained power in the aftermath of the 'War of the Roses', and in the period of their rule from 1485 until 1603 the five monarchs of the ruling family succeeded in uniting England with Wales and Ireland as one kingdom. Their reign also resulted in great social, legal, and political questions of marriage, divorce, and the succession rights of women raised, debated, and answered.

Henry VIII, whose reign began at the age of just 18 years and lasted until his death in 1547 at age 56, was a particularly flamboyant and controversial figure. This was due both to his personal and religious actions, views, and rulings. In his personal life, Henry was married six times, with the first three of his wives each bearing him children who would each eventually accede to the throne.

Henry treated his wives cavalierly, moving from one relationship to another at his sexual whim, and these relationships and the events surrounding them form one large part of the Showtime series. Henry also was noted for establishing the 'Church of England', which broke from the Catholic Church after Henry was excommunicated by the Pope following his divorce of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Despite his political struggles with Rome following the split, Henry was known to advocate Catholic ceremony and doctrine throughout his life, and for much of it he brutally suppressed the Protestant reformation of the church. Henry's struggles with his faith and the various religious authorities and figures of the time form the other major highlight of the series.

Henry VIII himself is played in 'The Tudors' with energetic, ravenous intensity by Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Other notable starring turns during the first three seasons come from Henry Cavill as Henry VIII's brave and dashing friend and aid Charles Brandon, James Frain as his political right-hand man Thomas Cromwell, Jeremy Northam as Henry's friend and religious confidante Sir Thomas More, and Natalie Dormer as his mistress and later his 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn.

These are just a handful of a dozen or so outstanding acting turns in 'The Tudors', which also benefits from first-rate costuming, sets, and locations which send you back in time to the 16th century with credibility in every scene. Now in its third season, this is one of the finest series in recent television history, a truly great drama, and one which you should not miss.

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1 comment:

Zack R said...

Great post, thanks Matt. I don't get Showtime but this review may very well move me to subscribe. Or I guess I could wait for the DVDs, which may already be available for the earlier seasons. There's always room for a new series on historical British royalty, in my book.