Henry VIII, Mind Of A Tyrant Review: The Psycho Formerly Known As Prince

April 6, 2009 by  
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HENRY VIII, MIND OF A TYRANT: Monday 6th April, Channel 4, 9.00PM Alert Me



Boy, David Starkey sure is an over-enthusiastic narrator. I thought Vicky Cristina Barcelona won the prize for Narration Most Comparable To Nails Down A Blackboard, but move over Woody Allen, there’s a new champ in town. Starkey even attempts to rival epic voiceover artist Don La Fontaine, famous for over 5,000 film trailers, all of which start with the phrase “In A World…(insert cheesy shtick here)”. Apparently in Starkey’s mind (and his mind only) Henry VIII is akin to The Terminator.

Preoccupied by a desire for “glory and immortality“, Big H has undeniably made his mark, he takes the crown (literally) for being the most chauvinistic historical figure of all time. Then again, what’s a couple of beheaded wives between friends eh? In this, the first episode of the four-part biography, we are given an insight into the life and times of the mini monarch, a boy never intended for the throne.

Though European scholars such as Erasmus and Thomas Moore dubbed the child Henry quick witted and charming” he sounds to me like a spoilt, cocky little brat. What kind of nine year old challenges a learned Dutchman to write him a book of latin verses? The kind of nine year old that became a knight at the age of three and a half, that’s who.

The programme focused mostly on the context preceeding Henry VIII’s accession – counterfeit claimants to the throne in the form of Perkin Warbeck; Henry’s brother Arthur’s  pre-arranged (albeit short) marriage to his future wife Catherine of Aragon; his diabolical father, Henry VII who began a financial reign of terror over Britain and it’s people; his young obsession with power and image.

I was stirred by the idea of the fourteen year old Henry, grief stricken following his mother’s death, who comes to idolise Phillip The Fair,  Archduke of Burgundy (not to be confused with the legend that is Ron Burgundy from Anchorman). Henry even wrote to Phillip asking to become penpals, but before anyone could coo “aww bless” at their mutual guy love, Phillip died of typhoid. However, for the other fourty minutes of the programme, I found myself daydreaming about lunch, a surefire sign of ennui.

I am not a history buff and never have been, as far as I’m concerned if something has happened in the past, that’s where it should stay, unless there’s a gripping story to be told. Perhaps the crux of the issue is just that, in his early years, Henry didn’t cause too much drama. Most people thought he was a pretty decent chap, which doesn’t exactly make for an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. Starkey mentions that Henry VIII was the protagonist in the “best and bloodiest royal soap opera“, but fails to mention that you have to wait for episode three for the series to deliver the gritty detail. I, for one, won’t be waiting around for that.

Sally McIlhone