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Requiem for a Queen

sadface
Caught the fifth episode of the new season of THE TUDORS this evening.

Given my fascination with history and my love of historical fiction, it's probably no surprise to most of the regulars here to know that I've watched this Showtime series from the beginning, albeit with decidedly mixed feelings.

The show has great costumes, great sets, great visuals overall. The storytelling has been rather uneven, though... the first season in particular was weak, I thought... and they do fudge about with history some... though I give them props for presenting the period in considerably more detail than any previous dramatization has done, with a lot of complexity and a rich cast of secondary players. You know how I love that stuff.

The thing I mostly DON'T like is the lead. Henry VIII is the heart of the series, of course, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has played him start to finish as the Shouting Studmuffin, with nary an inch of depth or understanding. Worst Henry ever. (See Keith Michell's portrayal in the classic BBC miniseries if you'd like a look at how it should be done).

If you can manage to ignore Rhys-Meyers, however, there has been some wonderful acting in the series, especially by the actresses playing Henry's wives. Natalie Dormer was especially outstanding in her portrayal of Anne Boleyn, perhaps my favorite Anne of all the actresses who have played the part over the years. The actresses who played Katherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour, and Anne of Cleves were also very good.

And in this evening's epiosde, the beautiful and talented Tamzin Merchant's wonderful portrayal as the doomed teenage queen Katheryn Howard came to its bloody conclusion on the headsman's block, in a scene as gut-wrenching and heart-breaking as Anne Boleyn's execution a couple of seasons back. Tamzin took on a daunting task with this role. Katheryn was the youngest of Henry's queens, only fifteen by some accounts (others say slightly older), and while far from innocent, she was naive, unsophisticated, frivilous, giggly.. a kitten frolicking in a tiger cage, oblivious to the claws around her. Tamzin caught all that wonderfully, I thought... both in the character's introduction last season, and in the first few episodes of this seasons... sexy as hell in the bedroom scenes, a playful child with her friends and ladies, awkward and ill at ease at court.

This week, however, the mood changed abruptly, when all the sunlight went away, and Katheryn and her lovers and friends were swallowed by darkness. Tamzin did all that beautifully as well, showing us Kathryn's fear and desperation, and, finally, her courage as she faced the axe. My favorite scene, though, was a completely silent one, where Tamzin dances alone in a darkened abbey while her friends and lovers are being tortured and beheaded elsewhere, and we intercut between the two. Exquisite.

Next week THE TUDORS continues as they bring in Henry's sixth and final queen, Catherine Parr. Unfortunately, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers will still be on hand, but I expect I will watch anyway, to see how the show comes out (I do wish the show was going to continue and gives us the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth. Why call it THE TUDORS if the only Tudor we get is Henry, badly portrayed?) But no matter how good the actress portraying Catherine Parr turns out to be, I know that Tamzin's beauty, grace, and talent will be missed.

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mod4finil
May. 10th, 2010 07:02 am (UTC)
OMG SPOILERS??
Hah, just kidding. But I have to agree, Rhys-Meyers is what stopped the series from clicking with me.
(Deleted comment)
Re: OMG SPOILERS?? - wolflady26 - May. 23rd, 2010 12:21 am (UTC) - Expand
alice_mccoy
May. 10th, 2010 07:02 am (UTC)
... and they do fudge about with history some...

That is a polite way of saying it. :)

I agree that Natalie Dormer was utterly convincing and I look forward to seeing Tamzin's scenes. May I ask if Henry is fat yet ? I always understood he was fairly corpulent before he married Jane Seymour but heaven forbid that Mr R-M is portrayed as anything other than young and fit.
grrm
May. 10th, 2010 07:06 am (UTC)
No, this Henry is a Studmuffin to the end.
(no subject) - sheppeyescapee - May. 10th, 2010 07:44 am (UTC) - Expand
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Brilliant! - lampster65 - May. 13th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
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ragdoll
May. 10th, 2010 07:19 am (UTC)
While I would politely disagree with you about JRM (although he's obviously *not* anywhere close to historical Henry), I think that Tamzin Merchant's Katherine Howard was wonderfully heartbreaking. Thanks to her bravura performance in The Tudors, I was really looking forward to seeing her in the role of Dany in AGoT -- so sad that she won't be moving on to another multi-layered and tormented princess in the near future.

As for why the title The Tudors - I think the original plan was to continue the story past Henry VIII's reign, but finances and other logistics got in the way, and the producers were lucky to even finish out all of Henry's story in the time given.

It'll be interesting to see what Michael Hirst does with the Borgias next.
aliantulay
May. 10th, 2010 08:08 am (UTC)
isnt tamzin playing dany
hippoiathanatoi
May. 10th, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
She played the part in the pilot. However, HBO has recently confirmed that they are recasting the part with a new actress and reshooting her scenes.

This happens often with pilots, that there are tweaks or things just don't quite mesh.
hippoiathanatoi
May. 10th, 2010 08:14 am (UTC)
I have not seen this current episode, but have been looking forward to it. I've found the role of Katheryne has not been one that best shows Ms. Merchant's talents, especially as it would have applied to Game of Thrones -- she lacked the _fear_ that Dany has at the start of the novel, and growing maturity. But this was because of how her role was written, and I'm sure she acted the part to the fullest of the production's hopes.

This episode sounds like it will show something that's akin to Dany. Yes, I'm looking forward to it. A shame that Ms. Merchant's not in the role any longer, but I can only hope that whichever young actress gets the part will be at least as good.

One last remark on The Tudors: One of the best things about the show has been the costuming. It's stunning, and I see others agree: many award nominations, and an Emmy win a couple of years ago. I'm unsure what direction costuming is going on Game of Thrones, if they're going to give it all a bit of a more subdued, grimy kind of look ("How do you know he's the king?" "He's the one not covered in shit."), or if they're going to highlight the luxury in which the nobility can live. But if the garments of the nobles are as rich as those in The Tudors, I for one will not complain.

(That said, I hope Game of Thrones handles the armor rather (a lot) better, budget allowing. The jousting armor in previous seasons of The Tudors was laughably bad. My ideal is that we see as many people in full plate and mail, or full plate for the great and the powerful, as one saw in Excalibur 30 years ago. That's unlikely to happen on a TV budget -- even an HBO TV budget, I expect -- but that's my hope.)

And now, for something completely different, I know mod4finil was joking, but I bet you will get someone complaining about spoilers in all seriousness, much as people have complained re: "spoilers" for The Pacific (have you been watching it? what do you think? I find it better than Band of Brothers in a few ways, but the nature of the war in the Pacific and their choice of how to depict it has made the narrative very loose).

You really ought to master lj cuts, just to save gripes about long posts or what have you in the future, as some have done (and rightfully, because the LJ Friends page is not very useful as far as navigating -- no way to hit a button to just skip to the next item).

If you use the Rich Text Editor, all it takes is clicking that squiggly button at the head of spoilery/lengthy matter, or simply manually placing <lj-cut text="Whatever I want to say about the cut"> there. The FAQ explains it very concisely.
ship_in_harbor
May. 10th, 2010 09:43 am (UTC)
The costuming ... As a seamstress of middling talent and a history geek I have been so pleased with the clothing.
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The Pacific - tikehau - May. 10th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The Pacific - hippoiathanatoi - May. 10th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
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jimaine42
May. 10th, 2010 09:26 am (UTC)
As much as I usually enjoy your LJ and never mind hints and spoilers about other things such as Game of Thrones...I have to agree with hippoiathanatoi here: please have someone show you the cut function. I am a bit annoyed about having my weekly dose of "The Tudors" spoiled like this - historically, there isn't much to actually be surprising, but I do enjoy the "wrapping" (and the semi-ignorance of not knowing exactly in which episode the inevitable happens). It's nice, it's shiny, and I don't mind knowing what's inside, as long as nobody else tears the wrapping before I do. Please use cuts. Let other lovers of the show have their moments when they choose to and read your detailed opinion - and comment on it - later. Thanks and peace.
geg
May. 10th, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC)
QQ harder
you could have stopped reading as soon as you read the first sentence.
greyshay
May. 10th, 2010 09:27 am (UTC)
I've never been a fan of "heartthrob" representation of historical characters myself. It's like seeing Tom Cruise play the part of any of the apostles during the Last Supper or something similarly silly.

It breaks away any sense of belonging and when I find myself hating or disliking a character because I really can't find any merit in the way an actor is portraying the character, I tend to shy away from TV-shows or movies.

I guess that is why I love most of the BBC shows when it comes to murder mysteries or shows that revolve around typical characters. They seem to know what casting a character for a role is really about. They hit the nail on the head with farmers, creepy people, sneaky people and yes... even ugly people. For all that its worth, they seem to be able to cast people for roles and not actors... if that makes any sense.

On the topic of the Tudors, I'm afraid I haven't watched any of it... simply because the Henry character gave me the exact same feeling I described above somewhere. I saw an actor, looking like he was born in this age and the way he came across pushed me away from watching the show. That and the obnoxious commercial breaks they tend to throw around here in the Netherlands. For a country that is named like a fantasy realm... they certainly know how to bash the head of fantasy in with their commercial crap.

I hope the next actress to step into the fray to portray the role of Queen will spark that feeling of respect and well acted character likeness that you found in the Tamzin actress. Perhaps when I get around to obtaining the DVD set sometime in the future, I'll give it a go... if only to remember what you said about the acting and see if I too get that feeling.

Thanks,

MWW
lampster65
May. 13th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
Tom Cruise as Aragorn
I remember those heady days when casting for Lord of the Rings was going on. Several excited fans(?) were pushing Tom Cruise for Aragorn! Oh how I wish there was a "throw something at their head" option for the internet!
ship_in_harbor
May. 10th, 2010 09:40 am (UTC)
I've felt that JRM has consistently been the weakest link of the show. I just can't forget him petulantly yelling "But I'm the king of England!" I giggle whenever I think of it.

I disagree a bit about the first season, though. I lived Catherine of Aragon and looked forward to every bit of screentime with her (which naturally meant more Chapuys, one of my favorite secondary characters). I mourned her eventual death.

Catherine Howard on the other hand ... Perhaps Tamzin Merchant is some kind of chameleon, but I was disappointed in her casting as Dany. She has been annoying me since last season and I admit I cheered at the end of last week, knowing her downfall was coming. She's been horribly boring.
inizitu
May. 10th, 2010 10:16 am (UTC)
Tangentially, did you ever give Spartacus: Blood and Sand another shot? The first few episodes were a bit rough, and dear god the screwing and CGI blood, but it eventually became really good TV. There were a couple twists that were a bit GRRM-y, even. ^_^
hippoiathanatoi
May. 10th, 2010 06:49 pm (UTC)
Have to agree with you. It really found itself as it went on.
(no subject) - inizitu - May. 10th, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
shesnotallthere
May. 10th, 2010 10:17 am (UTC)
I wasn't fond of Rhys-Meyers as Phillip in the remake of The Lion in Winter, either. (Honestly, I'm still at a loss as to why anyone felt that movie needed a remake in the first place. The first version wasn't broken, it didn't need fixing.)
darmys
May. 10th, 2010 10:17 am (UTC)
I'm a little surprised that you didn't mention Lady Jane Grey. I know she had the shortest rule in English history, but she did sit on the throne, well at least she did figuratively speaking
bobabooie
May. 10th, 2010 11:18 am (UTC)
Spartacus revisited
I know this is way off the subject but did you ever decide to give the Starz Spartacus another chance. I know the first two episodes were pretty crappy, but it ended up getting a lot better, and actually quite fun to watch by the final episode, despite the blatant 300 ripoff fight slowdown sequences.
inizitu
May. 10th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Spartacus revisited
LOL! I asked the same thing! =)
papersky
May. 10th, 2010 11:21 am (UTC)
Similarly, I've been watching the brilliant 1960 BBC "An Age of Kings", which is all of Shakespeare's history plays done in order and with the same cast. Perhaps naturally, as it's the Wars of the Roses, it's been reminding me vividly of ASoIaF from time to time, especially in Henry VII, which was new to me -- when Duke Humphrey told his wife he was a good man and none of this could touch him, my husband said "And there's Ned Stark!"
snarky_sharky
May. 10th, 2010 11:46 am (UTC)
the worst Henry I ever seen was Eric Bana in 'The other Boleyn' or whatever that movie was called.

I agree that Natalie Dormer was fantastic and with death of Anne Boleyn the show lost a lot for me
majkia
May. 10th, 2010 12:00 pm (UTC)
Tamzin Merchant did a wonderful job in this past episode. I had my doubts, as her portrayal of the teenage dingbat didn't seem to take much effort on her part (perhaps my prejudice rather than a slight on her talents) but she certainly convinced me of her talents last night.

A shame she's leaving, but I'm wondering if it isn't because she has a different offer, rather than a slight on her acting talents.

We'll see!
mippa
May. 10th, 2010 12:08 pm (UTC)
As someone who was born in 1983, I just recently watched over the BBC Henry VIII miniseries you briefly mentioned.

I am in complete agreement. Keith Mitchell's portrayal of the King was so layered, in-depth...and his sudden change from vengeful to remorseful to indignant righteousness to each and every other emotion a human being could be capable of possessing (save for self-reflection) was so believable and yet, confounding at the same time.

I was going to watch the Tudors once I was finished with this mini-series, but will I be setting myself up for disappointment?
grrm
May. 10th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
You will certainly be disappointed in Rhys-Meyers as Henry, after watching Keith Michell.

But there are many things to like about THE TUDORS as well, so overall, it's still worth watching.
(no subject) - brudewollen - May. 11th, 2010 06:57 am (UTC) - Expand
flippyfrog
May. 10th, 2010 12:36 pm (UTC)
I have been an avid fan of Anne Boleyn for as long as I can remember. I have always felt her true role in the change of religions in Britain has been greatly under appreciated. The fact that she was a strong-willed smart and savvy lady, who had to be accused of being a whore in order to for her position to be taken away. They couldn't get her politically, so they had to resort to witchcraft and adultery, which to me tells me she must have held some weight for the men to use the age-old excuse when a woman isn't simpering and submissive.

Anyway, this I'm probably sure you know since you're a history buff, too. I've just been horribly let down, time and time again, whenever someone portrays her. (The Other Boleyn Girl made me say a string of words that probably shouldn't be shouted in public) The Tudors is the first time I think that's actually come close to getting her personality right. Mind you, I didn't think they made her as strong in the religion department as she could have been, but at least her character was more than a woman withholding sex for power.

I haven't seen past season 2, but I look forward to it. And, while he may have got the character off, from a straight female's perspective, If I'm going to watch sex scenes, the male lead better be hot.Unless it's some kind of joke or meant to make you squirm with horror. So I'm all okay with him staying studmuffin and not gross ulcer on his leg or syphilitic. That would have definitely made me change the channel.
inizitu
May. 10th, 2010 08:04 pm (UTC)
(The Other Boleyn Girl made me say a string of words that probably shouldn't be shouted in public)

THIS. Grumble, grumble, grumble.
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lilpix33
May. 10th, 2010 12:36 pm (UTC)
I agree Mr. Martin! At this stage in the story, Henry should be almost 300 lbs! I read that in order to make JRM seem bigger, they made his clothes bigger, but it's not really noticeable at all. And I honestly wish they would further the series by including Edward's reign, Jane Grey, and Mary's ascension. There are a ton of Elizabeth movies, so I don't need that in the series, but there are so many interesting historical things they could do to truly make the series "The Tudors."

At first, I had a hard time picturing Tamzin as Danys because the character of Catherine Howard was so flighty and giggly and naive (I suppose that would fit the initial character of Danys.) but after the ending last night, I could see a bit of Danys in her. It would've been interesting to see her portrayal of our beautiful Dragon Queen.
zmarlowe
May. 10th, 2010 12:39 pm (UTC)
Jonathan Rhys Meyers played Steerpike in the BBC Gormenghast miniseries. That still makes me sad.
elf_fu
May. 10th, 2010 12:46 pm (UTC)
You have described pretty much why I am glued to the screen every time it is on.

Also, a small (very small) part keeps hoping they will make Mr. Crazy Eyes Henry a bit more rounded before the end of the series.

Probably not. But a girl can hope.
gymnopedie
May. 10th, 2010 12:51 pm (UTC)
Ah well, at least Rhys-Meyers is cute!

But, one of my favorite movies/shows? with him is the first time I saw him, much younger, in Gormenghast. I so much prefer him in that than Tudors...

I almost wish they'd jump a few years and give us some Queen Elizabeth, at least for maybe a season or so.
andhaira
May. 10th, 2010 01:29 pm (UTC)
GRRM, you really should start watching Spartacus. It gets much, much, much better after the first episode. Its the best show on television, to be honest. Should be out on DVD soon, so catch the entire first season then.
kalimac
May. 10th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
And so did they also leave out Henry VII? What a shame. Slyest British monarch ever: rather like a certain breed of George R.R. Martin character, in fact.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has been game to try, but out of his depth, in every role I've seen him in, from Steerpike on.
tersa
May. 10th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
I agree with what you said about ending the series after Henry VIII. After watching the first three seasons, for all their historical fudging, I would have loved to have seen them cover the times up through Elizabeth I taking the throne--which also includes Lady Jane Grey's short reign.

All the depictions I've ever watched show snippets of the Tudors' time on the throne--it would have been interesting to see the stories strung together, with continuity, to give a more complete picture of the consequences of Henry's many wives and policies.
stealingbabies
May. 10th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)
I've likewise been disappointed with Henry. I just barely got into the series, after years of dismissing it based on a couple scenes I had watched with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. I had hoped they would have at least replaced him with a more fitting Henry VIII as the series aged, considering the state he was supposed to be in by the end. I just finished the second season, and I'm glad to have been watching the series as Natalie Dormer's final episode really blew me away. They have some truly amazing things going on in there, and it's a shame that the lead is so "meh" all around.

I was surprised to find out this was the final season of the show, ending with his sixth wife. I was really hoping that they'd go far enough to show Mary and possibly Elizabeth as queens.
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