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Requiem for a Queen

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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celticblood05
May. 10th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
On the subject of J. Meyers, the shouting studmuffin
I have to say, while I initially agreed with you completely on Meyers' lack of depth in handling King Henry, he has grown on me a bit as the series has progressed. He does not add subtlety to Henry's rage, but I would argue that could be an accurate interpretation of Henry to begin with. My problem is that I always end up comparing the Tudors to Rome and when you have such an epic battles as Gaius Octavian vs. Mark Antony, Henry's political skills automatically fail by comparison. Henry, arguably risked his kingdom for a woman and a son. Mark Antony at his most reckless was not so far gone. Meyers rage may be the only tool in his acting tool box, but I wouldn't say that makes it less accurate.

The reason I feel the need to defend Meyers, when he clearly is surrounded by amazing talent as well (Henry Cavill as the Duke of Suffolk has done an amazing job in my opinion) is because of some of the small things he has brought to the role. His transformation shown in the opening sequences show a time line of Henry's growth and misery. And despite that, Henry never really grows up, continues to blame others for whom he decided to kill in a fit of rage. I look forward every season to where he blames the death of his closest cohorts on his advisers. My argument with Henry is that he never had much depth. He had desires, he had dreams, but he lacked talent. So he made up for that with rage and impulsiveness. And he surrounded himself with talent...ya know...till he killed them.

But enough. If my compelling argument can't convince you, so be it. I think we can all look forward to The Borgias, and I am a fan of Jeremy Irons being cast in the title role. I intend to watch it after I watch the new Game of Thrones episode. Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not say how superbly Tamzin Merchant played Katheryn Howard. I can't wait for her to become Daneryes Targaryen, hope she's okay with putting up with the fan boys that will inevitably follow.
bungeebot
May. 10th, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
I gotta check out the Tudors. I need a good historical TV show to get into, mostly because I just put myself through watching all of Spartacus: Blood And Sand, which is basically like Rome for Frank Miller fans, and people who love to see comically senseless amounts of blood, hardcore sex, and lopped off heads falling to the ground in super slow motion.

I mean, I've never cut anyone's head off before, but I have a strong feeling that, if I did, it wouldn't take 5 minutes to fall to the ground.
random_echoes
May. 10th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
I have seen a worse portrayal of Henry. The movie The Other Boleyn Girl. I regret ever seeing it. I don't really blame Rhys-Meyers for his portrayal as much as I blame the writing and the directing. It seems like all recent portrayals of Henry VIII have been terribly one dimensional.

I wish that the series had actually begun with Henry VII. Like you said, it is supposed to be The Tudors. I know the first Tudor wasn't known for keeping mistresses or beheading wives but he did fight his way onto the throne and fended off several plots against him.
pica_scribit
May. 10th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen The Tudors yet, but I'm disappointed to hear JRM does such a poor job as Henry. I'm really quite fond of him as an actor, ever since I saw him play Steerpike in Gormenghast (bloody marvelous in that, he is).
jpclemen
May. 10th, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
Tazmin Merchant...
You ought to see if you can find a part for her in the HBO series, George... ;-)
wrathchylde
May. 10th, 2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
I'm also addicted to this show. I didn't like JRM at first, possibly because when this show started I had just read Margaret George's THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF HENRY VIII, which is absolutely excellent. JRM has grown on me quite a bit, though.
scott_lynch
May. 10th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
This seems as apt a time as any to ask- I know it's never as simple as "oh, I based such-and-such character on such-and-such actor", but did Robert Shaw's brief but forceful appearance as Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons exert any influence on you when you were fleshing out (no pun intended) Robert Baratheon?

grrm
May. 10th, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC)
No, not really.

Though I do like that film.
stillking
May. 10th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC)

I have it on very good authority (SHO producer, firsthand) that Rhys-Meyers needs special 'handling' to make filming most days, and is regularly carted off to rehab between seasons. Perhaps we're not seeing him at his best.
neurona_muerta
May. 10th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
I've always wanted to hear your opinion about this show! Glad you were able (among all this big debate regarding fanfiction) to give us your view on it! :)

Well, I've watched it since the beginning as well, as I am fascinated by this period in the history of England, and by the great figures that lived there.

Shouting Studmuffin really defines Henry VIII in The Tudors xDD It's perfect!! Tough I admit I like his childish tantrums. I believe Michael Hirst declared to defend his representation of Studmuffin!Henry is that he was very fit before he had that jousting accident that left him lame. He said that him being fit can be found on some physician's notes or something like that.

I too loved Natalie Dormer's portrayal of Anne Boleyn. Henry's ill-fated wife has always been controversial. Writers like Phillipa Gregory, with her book "The Other Boleyn Girl" and Eustace Chapuys back in Anne's days really were a blemish in Anne's reputation. I think this show made her justice. It can be really appreciated how everything regarding Anne's matter was a foregone conclusion, and that she didn't have any chance even before she was taken to court.

Henry's behaviour in the matter as well (very symbolic when he eats the swan), his coldness towards a woman he became really obsessed with, and the merrymaking he did with Jane Seymour (which I found really tasteless, but hey, that's how Henry Tudor rolled XD). Natalie definitely did an excellent job portraying her. I know of a lot of fans who stopped watching the show after season 2 because Anne would never be in it again xD

This show really has epic scenes (and an exquisite soundtrack in my opinion) which hold a lot of symbolism, and can make you love and hate the characters at the same time (happened to me with Cromwell as well as the Duke of Suffolk). Overall I enjoy watching it, despite the Historybending they do xD (it's what I have to endure, having studied a history major xDD)

And one of the things that I also enjoyed is that this show is not as anglophile as the great majority of Tudor inspired movies/shows. I am saying this from my point of view as a spanish person xD Too often the spanish figures in that time are portrayed in an inappropiate way (ugly, bad, ridiculous etc...) The portrayal of Catherine of Aragon was impressive, as well as what Sarah Bolger is doing with Mary I.

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?

I wish that too! :( It's a pity. Elizabeth's life would make for another great show. From what I've heard, it seems that Hirst's new show would be about the Borgia family, and it will have Jeremy Irons in it.
sephen
May. 10th, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC)
Tamzin Merchant
Mr. Martin, I too find Tamzin Merchant very attractive in THE TUDORS. I thought I was the only one! I'm like, "I know the character she's playing is a teenager,and it's wrong for me to be attracted because I'm twice her age, but here I am!" Of course, that attitude has gotten me into trouble before, but still, hey, it's just a TV show! Looking forward to Merchant in the HBO series (assuming she's still on, I don't know what the word is on that).

That woman who played Anne Boleyn was amazing too, and I'd imagine that isn't an easy role.
lance_snow
May. 10th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
I haven't watched the Tudors but since your on the topic of historical shows, I wanted to mention Spartacus. I see a couple people already asked if you gave it a 2nd chance. Hopefully you have or you will. Your assessment of that first episode was spot on, it was absolute rubbish. Surprisingly, the show becomes outstanding by the 4th episode which is appropriately titled The Thing in The Pit. By the end of the season I could swear you had a hand in writing the plot twists and characters, it is that good. Batiatus kept reminding me of Petyr Baelish. Anyway, Spartacus is well worth your time if your up for giving it another chance.
cfwin
May. 10th, 2010 10:14 pm (UTC)
Portrayal of a king
I enjoyed your analysis of 'The Tudors' with the exception of your appraisal of Jonathan Rhys-Meyer's Henry. I would concede that he does have quite a few shouting scenes (although they are never gratuitous in my opinion). I have followed the series from the start mainly due to the power and presence of JRM which comes to a roaring (hehe) crescendo in the second season. Rhys-Meyers manages to personify the all-consuming ego of an autocratic king at the height of his power. It's that expectation of unquestioning obedience that is so incredibly fascinating, both the effect on the person that enjoys said power and those close to him (I would like to especially mention Henry Cavill's Charles Brandon and the aforementioned Dormer's Anne Boleyn).

Season two also shows the JRM' ability in layering the character of Henry in my two favorite scenes, firstly when he stops at a submerged fountain, silently stares at it and climbs of his saddle. He carelessly leaves his entire court looking after him in confusion as he enters the water and disappears beneath the surface. When he emerges he says: 'Behold, I am reborn'. Like Napoleon crowning himself emperor he baptizes himself by his own hand.

In the final episode as Anne Boleyn awaits her execution Henry is shown being awakened by a herd of swans in his palace gardens and is later seen contemplating them almost appreciatively. In the final scene Henry is being served an elaborate meal (not 77-courses, but still) with the king's household marching stately through opulent corridors carrying a sedan ensconced dish which is revealed to be said swan (baked into a pie). JRM's expression as he voraciously devours the graceful avian is a masterpiece of acting. His face, the applause from his entourage as beauty is consumed is a superb metaphor.

I urge everyone who have written of Jonathan Rhys-Meyer to re-visit said scenes and truly look at the face of Henry VIII.
grrm
May. 10th, 2010 10:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Portrayal of a king
Well, I guess someone had to like him.
Re: Portrayal of a king - allmenmustserve - May. 11th, 2010 09:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
swampsa
May. 10th, 2010 10:19 pm (UTC)
Pillars of the Earth
I couldn't imagine you wouldn't know the book, but are you aware of the mini series that is coming out this summer? It stars two very talented actors to my books, Ian McShane, and Matthew MacFadyen, two brilliant actors I loved the BBC series Spooks as long as Matthew was in it. And I know you loved (as did I) Deadwood in which case you must know how brilliant McShane is. And the book is one of the best reads ever. (with all due respect, even you couldn't hold me up for the whole night, but Ken Follet has succeeded to do that with both of his historical novels, you just cannot stop until you know what happens next)

While writing this, it struck me how great Greyjoy would McShane be, he could play any of them Balon, Crow's Eye. And would love to see MacFadyen in some role before or later, if later ever comes. But I shan't ramble more about this nonsense as I have very little clue about actor picking. And I surely do know that you do not have any part in the actor picking process, this is not about it.
damatianjaws
May. 10th, 2010 11:08 pm (UTC)
Rome?
I'm curious how you feel about Rome. I'm almost done with season two and I'm just stunned with how good it is. Can't speak to historical accuracy but ... as for storytelling, top notch with barely a hiccup!
grrm
May. 11th, 2010 01:56 am (UTC)
Re: Rome?
Love ROME.

They fudge the history some, but never, I think, in such flagrant ways as THE TUDORS.
carrolinne
May. 11th, 2010 01:37 am (UTC)
Regarding JRM, I don't know if I would say he's a bad actor but he's very miscast as Henry VIII. He's just so physically wrong for the part that I am unable to suspend my disbelief. TV Henry should be HEAVY. He should look something like the historial Henry. I don't believe for a minute that Showtime can't find a talented sexy actor who happens to be heavy and red-haired. It's like casting Amanda Seyfried as Cleopatra or Jackie Chan as Genghis. I mean, WHY, Showtime, WHY?!
grrm
May. 11th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC)
Of course, Hollywood once cast John Wayne as Genghis Khan.

A lot of people believe that was the role that killed him, too.
(no subject) - carrolinne - May. 11th, 2010 02:58 am (UTC) - Expand
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