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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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flippyfrog
May. 13th, 2010 01:55 pm (UTC)
I would argue, though, that you have to look at the very premise of the series. They're not trying to be historically accurate, they're just trying to tell a story that involves a lot of sex, violence and period clothing.

If I was watching a docu-drama I would be very upset if they didn't bring in the weight issue. But as it is, they want to keep the cast pretty and perfect so people don't turn away. And I'm very sorry, but watching an old grossly overweight man with a septic ulcer on his leg and potentially syphilitic brain have sex with a 15 year-old girl makes me feel physically ill just writing it down.

You're right, maybe they could have gone that way, and found ways around showing it. But I do think the appeal of the show to anyone who isn't a mad history buff would suffer. They need to get their ratings, after all, and I think they've made their target audience pretty clear.

Also there's is the whole thing of the stereotyping of the male lead and how he needs to be eyecandy (for this type of drama), being true to Henry VIII's physical form would go against that. Then there's the whole potential of unsettling people's values and making the show a fringe show, as if they were out to make a point. I don't know if it would have lasted as long, and I doubt it would have been mainstream. (It might have had more chance than if the lead was a fat woman of an ethnicity other than anglo/kelt and the damn show wasn't about her being ugly because she had braces).

So, basically, I think the show definitely needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It's not there to break barriers, or be historically accurate. It's there to show us a story with a lot of sex and a lot of violence and some pretty clothing. And Henry better stay a studmuffin, even a shouting one.

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