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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.



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.
May. 10th, 2010 10:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Portrayal of a king
Well, I guess someone had to like him.
May. 11th, 2010 09:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Portrayal of a king
The Irish Film & Television Awards liked him, too. They named him Best Actor in a Lead Role (television) in 2008.


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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