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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.



( 110 comments — Leave a comment )
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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.
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.
(no subject) - neurona_muerta - May. 11th, 2010 12:40 am (UTC) - Expand
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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.
May. 10th, 2010 12:39 pm (UTC)
Jonathan Rhys Meyers played Steerpike in the BBC Gormenghast miniseries. That still makes me sad.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
May. 10th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers first came to notice for me playing Steerpike in the BBC's interesting adaptation of GORMENGHAST, and was excellent in the role. The only problem is that he's played pretty much every single role I've seen him in since in exactly the same mode, which hasn't worked very well, especially as Henry VIII. He also suffered hugely since ITV ran a Henry VIII drama starring Ray Winstone, who was brilliant in the role (and led to me favouring Ray for the role of Robert in GAME OF THRONES for some time, which was sadly not to be), a year or two before THE TUDORS began. Meyers wilted in comparison.
May. 10th, 2010 04:16 pm (UTC)
Speaking of Steerpike...
I always wondered to what extent Petyr Baelish was influenced by Steerpike.
(no subject) - peacey - May. 10th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spaceoperadiva - May. 10th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 10th, 2010 02:30 pm (UTC)
The thing that The Tudors has been able to do is to make me extremely sympathetic to Mary Tudor's cause.

Also, Natalie Dormer made me like Anne Boleyn.
May. 10th, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)
I agree with much of your assessment, although I thought initially Rhys-Meyers portrayed the young Henry well. Early on they incorporated his multi-faceted intelligence and charisma, so my initial reaction (to the character as well as the eye-candy) was positive. My problem is that they didn't build on that and the character doesn't age or grow in complexity (or in size), or truly display his life of egregious excess on all fronts. He now comes across as shallow and one-dimensional and downright boring. I don't get that since, for both writers and the actor, staying true to the reality of the man would be much more interesting dramatically.

I have to add, though that Sarah Bolger as Mary has delighted me from the beginning and continues to do so. I wish she got more screen time, but in her relatively short scenes she has managed to pack in a truly three-dimensional character.
May. 10th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
I have to respectfully disagree about Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Henry. We've seen him go from a younger and more playful king to a man obsessed with his age and fading virility, and he has been directed well. He's shown moments of humanity -- the moment that especially sticks with me is when Thomas More was executed, and the beautiful montage they made of that. He is changeable, stormy-tempered, and everything I could want in a Henry.

ETA: Also, studmuffiny? In earlier seasons, sure. But he is playing older and looking much, much worse than he could. (That, and putting him next to healthy, vibrant Henry Cavill and all these beautiful young women makes him look old and tired and probably sicker as season four goes on -- I've been busy getting my first year of graduate school done so I haven't had a chance to watch the last three eps or so.) They are not idealizing him to the point that I think you think they are.

And of course they're fudging the history. But I find it much less an egregious offender than say, The Other Boleyn Girl.

But I agree totally about Tamzin Merchant. I love her as Katherine and am so disappointed she's not going to be Dany anymore.

Edited at 2010-05-10 03:16 pm (UTC)
May. 11th, 2010 02:41 am (UTC)
But I find it much less an egregious offender than say, The Other Boleyn Girl.

In my opinion, this book (as well as the movie) is to the Tudor era what Twilight is to vampires.
May. 10th, 2010 03:37 pm (UTC)
Perhaps it doesn't help that I don't have cable but I refused to watch the series anyway. As soon as I saw the actor playing Henry, I was put-off. I grew up for a time in England and studied the different eras in monarchical history so I dislike the inability to just stick with the actual events!

Grumble grumble grumble....I feel like a stick in the mud.
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.
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.
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