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.