The Tudors season one (a late review)

20 February 2011

Now, I know that I’ve absolutely and totally missed the party with this one, but if you recall, I promised to come back and tell you all what I thought about The Tudors once I’d finished watching season one so here I am.

I also promised to eat my bejeweled coif if I enjoyed it so here it is, with a bit of sweet chilli sauce to help it down.

I did actually try to watch The Tudors when it was first shown in the UK but a combination of things put me off it completely – the swift demise of my beloved Sean Pertwee in the first three minutes; the embarrassing sex scenes (I can be slightly prudish at times); the wanton playing fast and free with historical facts (I can be more than a little bit precious about these things); the carriage (I don’t need to say anything more about this do I?); the stilted script (‘My daughter Anne Boleyn’) and the uneasy sensation that I was being patronised (‘Paris, France’).

Anyway, all of this combined to make me switch off completely and vow never to return. I am weak though – hearing other people, some of whom really know their Tudor history, praising it made me curious and of course all the photographs that I have seen of the lavish costumes and sets was pretty enticing too. It was only a matter of time before I gave in and watched it again.

Now, I have to say that the first episode of season one was pretty weak in comparison to the rest of the series and is basically just a vehicle for introducing the character of Hot King Henry, Pious Queen Catherine and er a lot of other good looking people in nice clothes. As the season unfolded though, I found myself gripped by the whole thing and eventually the odd anachronisms and deviations from fact stopped bothering me.

I actually originally approached The Tudors with the conceit that it wasn’t about the actual Tudors at all, but a Dynasty style series about their nouveau riche, drug crazed Irish cousins, the O’Tudors. This worked quite well actually.

However, and I am going to get a flaming for saying this, the thing is that The Tudors isn’t actually as inauthentic as people make it out to be. I am probably showing myself up as a total ignoramus about Tudor history now (I’ve only studied it up to undergraduate level but have a lovely A Level in Early Modern History thanks to Pete Statham and John M at Colchester Sixth Form College – sorry if this is covering you both with shame!) but I was actually pretty surprised by how much of The Tudors was based on fact – I watched season one with my husband (who really enjoyed it) and was constantly having to say that ‘Oh yes, Henry was a terrible hypochondriac’ and ‘Oh yes, he and Francois I had this weird bromance going on’ and so on.

Yes, some things weren’t right at all – most notably the character of Henry’s sister but I think I can see why they did that now. Firstly there was another Princess Mary in the series (Henry’s daughter) and although in real life we all know several people all with the same name, this is something that doesn’t happen in um fiction, which is fundamentally what The Tudors is. Secondly, they juggled the chronology around a bit so the elderly King of France that Mary went off to marry in real life had already died by the time The Tudors opened and had been succeeded by Francois, who had a hot wife of his own (actually, the characterisation of Queen Claude is the thing that bugged me the most about it).

I’m a bit annoyed though that the jumbling up of Margaret’s story means no Jane Grey and no Mary, Queen of Scots. I’ve grasped that by The Tudors, they actually just mean Henry VIII but I was actually kind of hoping they carry on a bit.

It’s all hogwash though, isn’t it? The thing that amused me the most though is that I kept recognising little bits and pieces from novels about the reign of Henry VIII and eventually began to wonder if the writers had bypassed actual biographies and history books in favour of the works of Margaret George, Margaret Irwin, Jean Plaidy, Susan Kay and Philippa Gregory instead. In fact I am almost certain that this is what happened.

Actually, no the thing that amused me most was the fact that my husband knows nothing at all about Tudor history so I could have fun ‘spoiling’ it for him by sighing and saying things like ‘Oh, I will miss Wolsey when he isn’t in it any more’ then later on ‘I’ll miss Thomas More too’. He went to school, don’t worry. In fact he went to the same school as Jeremy Northam, who plays Thomas More so there you go. I wonder if More’s demise came as a surprise to Mr Northam too when he read the script?

There were things that I really loved about The Tudors – I adored Cardinal Wolsey and felt really miserable when he er didn’t die in the appropriate manner, but then that was explained by Henry trying to hush it all up. I also love Natalie Dormer, who plays Anne Boleyn – would the real Anne have tried to hug a maid who was complaining of a headache though? I like to think so. Others may disagree and probably will.

I liked Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Henry too. I didn’t really expect to, although I have previously often admired his pouty beauty in other films but I really liked him in this. I don’t know if it was intentional but there was something comedic about his portrayal of Henry. Well, we found ourselves laughing several times – likening Henry’s life to the first series of Blackadder and also, at times, Frasier as he seemed to stagger from one embarrassing incident to the next. I believed in him though – this petulant, arrogant King who is gradually beginning to realise his own power.

The costumes were just as fabulous as expected but they’d clearly RANSACKED every costume store on the planet for the production and come away with some Elizabethan style pieces as well. The other thing that took some getting used to was the unbound, flowing hair that was everywhere – with barely a coif to be seen. It jarred at first that all the ladies seemed to be wearing tiara like things on their heads but after a while I started to like that too. I am totally sucked in, aren’t I? Oh dear.

Anyway, I bought a boxed set of the first three seasons so will report back after season two. I have great hopes of this although it won’t be the same without Wolsey.

Okay, I’m done. You can all berate me now.

Wait! No, I’m not done –  what on earth was the deal with Thomas Tallis’ hair? Did he not possess a comb? Could not one of those sisters he was involved with have sorted him out a bit?