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STUDIO: Showtime Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 542 minutes
• The Tower of London featurette
• Descendants of Henry mini-doc
• Showtime previews
• Cast bios
It’s like Masterpiece Theater, only way longer, more interesting and with more sex.
Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Natalie Dormer, Peter O’Toole, Henry Cavill, Jeremy Northam and Maria Doyle Kennedy
Created by Michael Hirst
The second season of Showtime’s sumptuous historical soap/drama gives us more, more, more. More violence, it’s the start of the Reformation and the continuing of Thomas Cromwell’s witch hunts. More sex, it’s King Henry VIII; and more intrigue, double dealing and hell, even Peter O’Toole shows up to give us a more global perspective on the world changing events transpiring in England. Everything that made the first season great (Rhys Myers, Henry Cavill) returns and while some of the bad remains (Natalie Dormer’s Anne). ‘The Tudors’ finally feels like history is happening within its narrative, and you’ve never seen history quite like this.
I am positive that in English history, there were quite a few kings and queens. However, I am equally as positive that none of them were as much of a rock star as King Henry VIII. Oh sure, Henry V had his huge victory and a fancy speech at Agincourt. Richard III was a manipulative, hunchbacked scumbag, but Henry VIII got married a bunch of times, brought about the Reformation and even had a song written about him. Few monarchs in history can boast such a claim, and so the fascination with he and the entire Tudor dynasty continues nearly 500 years after his reign.
The show picks up several months after the end of the first season. Henry’s divorce to Queen Anne (Maria Doyle Kennedy) isn’t going so well and Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) is none too pleased. By the end of the first episode, England has broken with Rome and we have ourselves a story to be excited about. Though the bulk of the show is focused on Henry’s ridiculous personal life and shenanigans, it’s during the episodes where the focus shifts to religion, nationalism and authority that elevates ‘The Tudors’ from being just a soap opera with tits.
But there are some fine racks on display here. If you learn anything about history from the show, which cleverly blends both historical truths and Hollywood plotting, then learn this: every woman was very attractive during the Middle Ages. Every. Single. Woman. Even the lone ‘chubby’ girl they tossed in for a bit of humor was still quite attractive. Natalie Dormer, unafraid to bare all, improves slightly, she is no longer the manipulative young maiden, but the manipulative young queen with all the responsibilities and stresses that brings, but she is still the weak link. Of all the acting on display, hers is the most wooden and she tries to make the dialogue Shakespeare’s ‘Henry VIII’ when it’s more like ‘Days of our Lives: Middle Ages’. The show is better when focused on the other events affecting Christendom.
Though he is not the corpulent figure we know from pictures, Jonathan Rhys Meyers is perfect for Henry. He’s handsome, razor smart, charming, but you know he’s a womanizer at his core. But he is still king and Meyers, along with the writers, explore every facet of his personality; he is all those things I listed above and so much more. Even through all the cheating, the betrayals and temper flares, we still root for him, never villify him and even cheer when he sticks it to those bastards in Rome.
Peter O’Toole dominates in every scene he’s in as Pope Paul III. He’s sitting down for the majority of the performance, hardly moving, but like the Pope himself, you simply cannot look away. He more than equals Sam Neill’s Wolsey from last season. Everyone else handles themselves admirably, and none are given the short shrift; everyone has a story worth watching, something lesser shows have often neglected to create.
The heart of the show rests upon Henry and his inner circle, specifically Sir Thomas More, played with a pious, sometimes scary, righteousness by Jeremy Northam. Their relationship somewhat mirrors the path taken by Henry and Wolsey in the first season, but when Wolsey turned out to be a horrible person, we rejoiced. There is no better man in ‘The Tudors’ than Thomas More, so to watch him slowly lose his good graces with the king is heartbreaking, and how Northam plays him, rarely getting angry, you clamor for a stay of execution, even though you know it will never come.
History fans will find fault with the liberties taken, such as the character of Margaret, who is a composite of two of Henry’s real sisters and other minor points to nitpick. I cannot accurately assess what is truth, fiction, and how they could have done this or should have done this, but the story will undoubtedly get people interested in the real history of Henry VIII, and sometimes, that’s worth all the small changes to reality.
Bigger, bolder, bloodier. With only ten episodes, there is a lot of ground to cover and ‘The Tudors’ never wastes a second. Everything is part of the grand picture, whether it’s a character secret or some earth shattering decree, the show balances the small moments with the big, creating tension, drama and humor almost effortlessly. As with any historical drama, we know the ending, but season 2 of ‘The Tudors’ reminds us that it’s never about the destination, it’s all about the journey.
Showtime has spared absolutely no expense in the production of this show. It’s like a Renn Fairgoers wettest dream: the costumes are sumptuous, the sets are intricately crafted and the picture is crisp, deep and glorious. Filmed in Ireland, both on stages and sets, it feels like a European production from the drab grey clouds to the emerald greens that lay on the horizon. The colors pop, and if ever there is a Blu Ray tv release, I would suggest picking it up because the detail poured into the show elevates it above even other subscription channel original programming.
The bonus features are not worth your time. The Tower of London featurette is a brief history lesson of the events in the final episode, Natalie Dormer accompanies a historian and she seems even more out of place when she doesn’t have any pre-written lines. There is nothing here that a quick google search would not produce, but fans of the Tudor age may enjoy it.
Descendants of Henry is a great idea executed poorly. It’s a quick documentary showing off three of the known (and verifiable) descendants of Henry VIII. It’s too brief to be enlightening and the tone is off, it insists upon speed and wit when it should aim for knowledge.
Several Showtime premiere episodes are included: This American Life and Californication; and additionally, on the PC bonus features you can also get episode 1 of Dexter S2 and the premiere of The United States of Tara.
Don’t bother with the biography section. Why? Because nearly every other cast member gets a bio longer than Peter O’Toole, that’s why.
8.3 OUT OF 10