The Tudors returns for a rather triumphant second season. The series attempts to modernize the story more than a little. Henry’s attire is more akin to a rock star than a 16th century ruler. The language is also more updated, often filled with modern colloquialisms and the like. The story of Henry VIII is well known, but this is not the Henry your history teachers told you about. This Henry is a slim, energetic man. There are only hints in regard to his famous lust for food. His appetites for women are not so subtly portrayed. The series follows Henry’s alliances and break-ups with France and his growing disfavor of members of his own court. If the series is to be believed, Anne Boleyn was placed in his path by her scheming father. In any case, by the third episode his growing infatuation with Boleyn takes center stage in the series. Henry grows weary of the Church after he is constantly blocked from divorcing his Queen Catherine to marry Boleyn. This is also the story of his own rise and fall along with the Church’s influence on England’s culture. There is an almost soap opera aspect to the storytelling, which is admitted by the show’s writer, who credits shows like Dallas and Dynasty as well as Rome and The Sopranos as inspiration. Side stories like a gay musician’s coming of age populate the background, but serve merely as distractions. When The Tudors works best is when we are with Henry and his court engaging in matters of global importance.
Let’s talk about the cast. At first I must say I completely hated Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry. But that was last year, and by the third episode I absolutely loved his performance. He commands the screen whenever he is on it. Natalie Dormer is a relative newcomer, and she has wonderful skills. When we first meet her as Anne, she appears the naïve, lazy daughter of privilege. As her seduction of Henry takes its course, she develops many faces and emotions along the way. Now she is the doomed Queen, and she is extremely hard to read, and then all at once an open book. While she might not possess the beauty her character is said to inhabit, she more than makes up for it in a single stare. She acts wonderfully with her eyes, as so many of the great ones do. You will be seeing more from Dormer, I suspect, over the years. Nick Dunning is quite a surprise as Sir Thomas Boleyn. It is Sir Thomas who masterminds his daughter’s seduction of the King in order to destroy the influence of Cardinal Wolsey. His quiet yet assertive manner works perfectly for the character. Wolsey had his downfall in the first season, and Boleyn will show his true character in the end as well. Jeremy Northam was also a very bright spot in the second season. His character of Sir Thomas Moore has far more to do this time. Moore must consider the path of martyrdom as he finds himself in disagreement over his friend and King’s alienation of the Roman Church. His was a character I hardly noticed in the first year, but he really pops from the television screen this time around.
The show was filmed not in England, but in neighboring Ireland. There are some pretty vistas to enjoy here, to be sure. The locations add a sense of reality to the show and are always a welcome balance from the dreary interiors. The episodes are paced well, and for the most part the hour passes with alarming speed. But it is the soap opera approach that brings the series down at each turn. There is so much here that the show could have been great but must settle for being pretty good.
This second season picked up literally where the first left off. Cardinal Wolsey is now gone, and it’s a regrettable loss, indeed. The Roman Church attempts to compromise with Henry by declaring him the head of the Church in England, so long as he does not attempt to usurp the authority of Christ himself. This isn’t going to be enough for Henry, but he uses this new authority to further push his subjects away from their loyalties at Rome. He forces anyone asked to take an oath of allegiance to Henry and acknowledge that his marriage to Anne is legitimate, as are their heirs the only true successors to the throne. This will create a crisis of conscience for Sir Thomas Moore, who promised not to directly speak against the King, but will not take the required oath. There is a plot on Anne’s life. When Henry finds the hearts and minds of his subjects difficult to conquer, he attempts to spread his message through the arts and plays.
Each episode of The Tudors is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1 Overall this is a very nice transfer. I found color reproduction to be stunning at times, allowing the richness of greens to take advantage of the nice locations. Black levels are often superb, allowing a fine level of detail. Still, there is a nearly fatal flaw to contend with. It was a mistake to cram three episodes on one disc. There is far too much of a compression artifact problem. Unfortunately, a fine transfer and a beautiful example of cinematography are too often tainted by unforgivable levels of artifact and pixilation.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is not terribly aggressive, but there are times when it opens up a bit and allows you to feel some space in the audio. It appears that horses, both galloping and whinnying, are the most common features left to the rear speakers. Dialog is very important and is handled well here. You will have no trouble hearing the sometimes flowery speech. The score comes through often grandly, but there’s not much happening out of the sub woofers.
Tower Of London: Actress Natalie Dormer is given a tour of some of the actual locations where Anne spent her final days. She and her guide explore the historical accuracy of the series. It’s a nice touch at just 6 minutes in length.
The Descendants Of Henry: This short feature starts with a very erratic narrative that leads us to some folks living today who claim to be descendants of Henry.
There are season premiers for the second season of This American Life and Californication.
Forget any historical accuracy here. This is really high drama and little more. HBO continues to lead the way in exceptional series. You have to give the writers credit for weaving enough of the events of the time into the story that it maintains at least a surface accuracy. It’s almost impossible to tell these kinds of stories without some dramatic effect. But HBO appears to at least embrace the idea that you don’t have to completely butcher the truth to have good fiction. The axiom of “If you can’t be good, be the least bad you can be”.
Showtime has given us a cool little net feature to check out. Here you can find out “What kind of a Tudor” you are. Just click HERE and check it out for yourself.