Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Tudors

Anne Boleyn, the Queen of England, was a beauty. Her life as seen through the eyes of her even more popular husband, King Henry VIII is the centerpiece in The Tudors the latest Hollywood attempt to bring to life one of the most well known couples in history. Helen of Troy may have launched a thousand ships, but Anne was the catalyst that eventually brought down the monopoly of the Catholic Church already softened by a rising Martin Luther.

This drama series, produced by Showtime, is not a love story as implied by having husband and wife as characters but it is in fact a political story wrapped in the pretense of love.

For those uninitiated with this part of English history Anne Boleyn is but a second wife. Her rise is shown in the first season (the series is already 2 seasons old) of The Tudors.

Before Anne, Henry was married to Katherine Aragon of Spain and in this time of 16th century Europe a royal marriage was more political than love. As if dealing with fellow kings is not difficult enough - Katherine is related to Spanish royals after all - to make things even trickier for Henry this period was also a time when the power of the Vatican was absolute and divorce is unthinkable. Henry wants separation from Katherine and to wed Anne in the hopes of having a son.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Henry, the young son-starved king of England. His portrayal is of an ill-tempered, confident, and arrogant king. Too unnatural it seems, as if King Henry is always making a point that he is above everyone else. Of the entire cast, Henry feels like the odd man out which could be intentional being a king after all. Nevertheless he should have had a more human side at least when alone in trusted company. Natalie Dormer plays the infamous beauty Anne Boleyn. She played a cool and calculating gold digger very well.

With regards to its plot The Tudors is surprisingly easy to understand. The only characters I have heard or read about in history are Anne and Henry, but I did not think much of the historical context with regards to the others. I never found myself asking who they were. The script was well crafted enough that anyone can understand who is friend or foe.

And friend and foe is something the story has in abundance. 16th century Europe was full of religious turmoil brought about by the rising Protestant movement; countries were divided between catholic and protestant. The transformation of characters between friend or foe and vice versa provides the story with a healthy amount of intrigue.

A king’s life would normally have people jockeying for position but Henry’s situation is even more difficult by the religious fervor of the time. Whatever the side, the name of the game is to win the king’s bed and right influence the world: to make it catholic or to make it protestant. Anne was the seductress who won it all…at least for a time.

The Tudors is showcase of religion mixed with government in its extreme. Henry’s challenge to the Church though self serving has its fair points. Is it right to be dictated to by people not of your country and living thousands of miles away? How can a sovereign rule his subjects when said subjects bow to another crown? While Henry is hopping from one bed to another, it was these questions that occupied the political back drop of the story.

Another interesting point in the show is its take on power. In 16th century Europe the divine right to rule was very much in season. Henry in fact brought it to a higher extent in going over the authority of the pope. But is a King really god on earth? If anything the show presented the self proclaimed God’s representative to the English throne to be vulnerable as well as all powerful. There doesn’t seem to be anyone he can trust; everyone looks up to Henry the King but never Henry the man.

Overall, The Tudors is an acquired taste, I would not recommend it for everybody. The script may be easy to understand but its characters are not endearing. Not many would want to see the lives of dead kings and queens no matter how much sex scenes you add in between (which was distracting I might add). But if you are looking for a drama of a different sort with issues that can still be relevant (love, power, religion, relationships) then The Tudors is one such show worthy of a try.