The Tudors Review: Bed Her, Wed Her, Then Behead Her

August 20, 2009 by  
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THE TUDORS: Friday 21st August, BBC2, 9pm Alert Me

Remember being told at the age of 10 that Henry VIII died of an infection in his leg when we all knew it was syphilis that finished him off?

The Tudors (inadvertently) presents a strong case for the latter cause of death.

Tonight the BBC brings us series three of Michael Hirst’s oft-tagged “steamy” period drama, an embellished look at the life of Henry VIII; his exploits, his parties, and his many squeezes.

The year is 1536 and Henry is on wife number three, Jane Seymour, after having lopped Anne Boleyn’s head off for being a whore. The programme opens upon the wedding ceremony, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ tyrannical Henry smirking as the phrase “speak now, or forever hold your tongue? falls upon a silent church.

He’s a right tinker. Though totally seductive with it. Having now disposed of two wives, severing links to the papacy in doing so and proceeding in an attempt to destroy every Catholic church in the country with crony Thomas Cromwell, he’s now shunning his oldest daughter Mary on the basis of her unsuitable religion. Isn’t he naughty?

There is a revolt against the dissolution of the monasteries and Henry has to employ some 16th century PR to keep everyone under control. We witness the dialogue between Team Henry and some 30,000 pilgrims build to a climax.

It’s a proper treat is The Tudors. Not only is it nice to look at in all its splendid opulence, thrillingly descending into melodrama, it’s also a joyous learning experience. Really. To think: this (might have) all happened 500 years ago! History’s amazing!

The men were men, and the women were sassy in a time before the word sassy were ever speakest.

Those tuning in for the full-on bodice-ripping lusty romps we’ve come to expect from The Tudors may be disappointed. The steaminess is very much toned down, perhaps to make way for all the historical developments, but most likely as a way of teasing us, the voyeuristic, tongue-wagging audience.

However there is a fair bit of flesh on display in this feature length episode, and with the production of a male heir high on Henry’s list of to dos, The Tudors will almost certainly live up to its reputation somewhere down the line. Episode one is just foreplay.

The Tudors doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. It doesn’t have to be – snore – realistic, the pilgrims converging with their clean-shavenness and good strong white teeth, it’s pure entertainment. On a historical bent.

Bloody brilliant.

Leonie Mercedes

Check out our review on Desperate Romantics, another delightfully embellished take on history…