'Let's see what the critics have to say'

The Tudors

Premiere 2007 ~ US, April ~ Ireland, September ~ Canada, October ~ BBC2, October

A Collection of Article/Review Excerpts

An excellent review from Canyon News of James Frain's final appearance as Thomas Cromwell in the finale of Season 3 of The Tudors:

Cromwell awaits his fate Gold Standard, Week Of Betrayals

Posted by Tommy Garrett on May 31, 2009 - 9:32:48 PM

HOLLYWOOD—This week’s Gold Standard goes to three players on television. Two are daytime staples and one a primetime star. Katherine Kelly Lang who portrays Brooke on “B&B” is our leading lady choice this week. Peter Bergman who portrays Jack Abbott on “Y&R” is our second daytime pick. Then we round it off with British star James Frain, who portrays Lord Thomas Cromwell on Showtime’s international mega hit, “The Tudors.”

Thomas and Gregory Cromwell [skipping ahead to The Tudors content...]

And lastly, on Showtime, “The Tudors” rein as king of the ratings. For good reason too. This series which chronicles the life of Henry the VIII, maybe England’s most tyrannical and yet interesting monarch, showed us this week Henry’s true selfish ambition takes no prisoners. When Thomas Cromwell’s friends and the King’s men all betrayed him James Frain poured out an emotional performance like no other. This man has been underplaying the role intentionally, because Cromwell was not just the King’s trusted ally, but a disciplined politician who navigated the evil traps set for him by his King and his King’s friends.

Cromwell rose in the King’s favor when he helped find a way to arrest, prosecute and execute the King’s second wife Queen Ann Boelyn. But Cromwell’s future was also doomed. Frain looked in horror out of the Tower while seeing men pillaging and sacking his home and taking out every treasure. Cromwell knew that being jailed in the Tower of London was only going to end in his death.

While at the last moments of his life, like all loyal patriots, which Cromwell was, he asked the people of London to continue to honor and obey their King. While hearing the cheers of Catholics screaming, “kill him, off with his head” he looked over at his enemies, the Duke of Suffolk, The Bishop of Canterbury, Lord Thomas Seymour and Sir Francis, all the men who set him up and framed him for treason against His Majesty. But Cromwell instead of looking at them with anger stared almost saying, you may be next. He then looked past all the cheering mob screaming for him to die and saw his only son, who had just become a father himself. He lastly looked up at the executioner and prayed that he would be killed with one strike by the ax. Immediately it dawned on Cromwell that the executioner was indeed drunk. He cringed almost in horror of knowing his death would not go easy. Frain’s reactions were amazing. They were the signs of a man in distress at his final moments and he played them all to the hilt.

Fans of the show probably know that in truth, Cromwell’s execution was not only harsh, by beheading but that his head was hung on the London Bridge facing away from England as if he had been a traitor. King Henry VIII never got over this execution. It was not long before he figured out that Cromwell was perhaps his most loyal servant. Alas Frain is done with the series, but he will be missed, though Lord Cromwell will not be.

Television is struggling for viewers. These three shows seem to be the best of what television can be.


A review/blog from TV Guide.com:

Episode Recap: Season 2, Episode 5

Alas, More is no more (you knew there was going to be a groan-inducing pun sooner or later). It was a set up, I tell you, a set up! Entrapment! The whole system was against him! I joke, but it's true. Cromwell and Richard Rich played Gotcha with Sir Thomas, even though it seemed that both were sympathetic to his plight. But the fact that More, with his legal and scholarly training, fell for the "hypothetical" gives me the impression that he was, by this point, so resigned, and ready to get this all over with, that he welcomed an excuse to be a martyr sooner rather than later. Taken together with the fact that he felt slightly betrayed by his family, he was probably ready to make his final statement. He really seemed particularly distraught to hear that his daughter wanted him to just say the words without believing them. Perhaps it would have been one thing if they had a legitimate difference of opinions on Henry — he probably could have accepted that — but to find out that she swore an oath without believing it just undermined her entire ethical upbringing. In any case, More took his execution in greater stride than Fisher, who nearly cracked before his own, but one wonders whether, in that final second, he (More) had any regrets. I'm not completely convinced he did, to be honest.

Henry, on the other hand, certainly did. Here was a man that helped educate him and supported him, but whom he still felt compelled to have executed. Henry could have done whatever he wanted, including making More an example of his mercy, and not his tyranny, but like any good Machiavellian, he chose to be feared and not loved.

It wasn't a great episode for Her Majesty either, between losing her baby (could it have been (gasp!) a son?), finding out her sister had secretly married a commoner for love and was now pregnant, and being reamed out by her father for losing the King's affections. At the very least, she could point at Thomas More and go "Well, at least someone's having a worse time than I am!" Meanwhile, her husband is cheating on her (again) with someone new, and she's turned up the flirt-level with Smeaton. This is not a happy marriage, despite their mutual assurances of love. Just look at his awkward half-support of her in the face of her miscarriage. Perhaps part of his anger towards More at the end was really transference of anger towards Anne. He destroyed his relationship with More because of this woman who now can't produce the son she promised.

I'm still looking at all of this and trying to figure out Cromwell. It's easy to look at the actual history and see what he physically accomplished, but what was going on in his brain? What's the next step after wiping out dissent at the Courtly level? Obviously there are still commoners out there loyal to the Church, and taking an oath isn't going to change that. In any case, James Frain is doing a fantastic job portraying Cromwell and all of his complexities, so I have no complaints about him pushing Rhys-Meyer's Henry off of a bridge, psychologically speaking.


from Uncle Barky.com:

All lathered up anew: Showtime's The Tudors still cleans up nicely as a hot-blooded, post-medieval soap

03/27/08 02:04 PM

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are a tough matchup for Pope Paul III.

Premiering: Sunday, March 30th at 8 p.m. (central) on Showtime
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Natalie Dormer, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jeremy Northam, Peter O'Toole, Nick Dunning, James Frain, Henry Cavill, David Alpay, Hans Matheson
Created and written by: Michael Hirst

Showtime's Henry VIII remains thin and thinner-skinned in the person of Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Still, there's more weight to him in this second go-around for Showtime's The Tudors. Adding a small helping of facial hair helps somewhat. It's mostly in the bearing, though.

Henry VIII perhaps should look physically more like Paul Giamatti's pudgy John Adams in HBO's competing miniseries of the same name. But Rhys Meyers sells his svelte version of the king by virtue of his imposing screen presence. So what if his Henry could slide easily into a pair of Guess jeans? He's no less a simmering despot in his zeal to push the Catholic Church aside and reign as England's Supreme Being.

Showtime sent the first half of the 10-episode Season 2, which begins Sunday night. It's easily devoured in the manner of Henry VIII finishing off a mutton chop. Historical liberties again are taken in the interests of an overall soap opera-ish presentation. Yet The Tudors manages to have it both ways. Its excesses are offset by both powerful performances and relatively deep-thinking on matters of faith, hope and conniving.

Rhys Meyers pulls the main oar, but others excel as well. Maria Doyle Kennedy again is superb as the exiled Queen Katherine while Natalie Dormer comes to full flower in the role of throne-thirsty Anne Boleyn. Principled Sir Thomas More, the king's former chancellor, is memorable in the hands of Jeremy Northam. And James Frain takes the full measure of the pliant yet fleetingly conscience-stricken Thomas Cromwell.

There's Peter O'Toole, too. And the old Master Thespian still knows how to carry a scene in his limited appearances as Pope Paul III. Ornate outfits further bring the characters to vibrant life, and costume designer Joan Bergin again has outdone herself.

Alas, there's also a totally fabricated assassination plot, featuring a cloaked hitman taking his indirect marching orders from the Pope himself. Writer/creator Michael Hirst has gone a bit bonkers in this respect, particularly during Chapter 3.

This is when the lone gunman sets up shop in the equivalent of ye olde Texas School Book Depository. He fires a single shot at what amounts to King Henry VIII's motorcade. It's intended for Anne Boleyn, but instead hits what today would be a Secret Service agent. Oh wretched screenwriter, thou hast misfired in so many ways here.

The Tudors also includes another arguably obligatory gay character. This time it's a fictional violinist named Mark Smeaton (David Alpay). In Season One, it was a choir director. As with the assassination gambit, Hirst seems to be over-stuffing the storyline rather than working with the potent ingredients he already has.

This is mostly very good stuff, though. Visually exquisite, emotionally involving, sexually alluring and sometimes deliciously cheeky, The Tudors deserves its stature as the most popular attraction in Showtime's history. It even gets away with a Chapter 5 scene in which the increasingly roving Henry spots a maiden to his liking while out horse-riding.

"Are you really the King of England?" she asks as they frolic in the all together.

"No, I was only pulling your leg," he says while thrusting from behind.

That same chapter ends with the well-documented beheading of the steadfast More. A small silver crucifix drops from his hand as the deed is done. It's quickly bathed in an enveloping pool of his blood during a closing scene of considerable artistry and power.

So watch The Tudors with the expectation of being entertained, edified and maybe occasionally just a bit stupefied. All in all it's the Poker equivalent of four Kings, falling just a bit short of the optimum Royal Flush.

Grade: A-minus


from The Boston Herald:

The Other Boleyn Drama

Lavish ‘Tudors’ grows, gets more complex in second season

By Mark A. Perigard
Television Review | Thursday, March 27, 2008
The Tudors: B+

O Henry!: Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Henry VIII and Natalie Dormer plays Anne Boleyn in Showtime’s ‘The Tudors.’ No heads roll in the season premiere of “The Tudors.”

However, one is boiled while still attached to its very alive owner.

That gruesome moment aside, Showtime’s lavish soap about Henry VIII returns (Sunday at 9 p.m.) with juicy twists on the events that roiled the Western World in the 16th century - the Reformation and the establishment of the Church of England.

Lust provokes men to do astounding things, it seems.

In the first four episodes, under the ruse of stamping out clerical abuses, Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) brings the Catholic Church to its collective knees. Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) gets everything she ever wanted and then realizes she might as well be drawing a bucket of water with her tiara.

Still, she knows how to pillow-talk.

“Now, my love, let me conceive and we will have a son.”

Henry can’t rip off his clothes fast enough.

Papal portrayal: Peter O’Toole plays Pope Paul III in Showtime’s ’The Tudors.’ New to the cast is Peter O’Toole as a delightfully reptilian Pope Paul III.

Musing about “the king’s whore,” he asks, “Why doesn’t someone just get rid of her?”

Almost immediately, a cloaked assassin is stalking Anne.

Thomas Cromwell (James Frain) is like a spider spinning a web that threatens to strangle England. Thomas More (Jeremy Northam) treads a lonely path that he knows will end in martyrdom.

The royal family is fleshed out. Henry’s teenaged daughter Mary (Sarah Bolger) is horrified when her legitimacy is questioned. She is forced to serve as a lady-in-waiting to her half-sister, Anne’s infant Elizabeth. Thus, a far-reaching rivalry is born.

Creator, writer and executive producer Michael Hirst is guilty of too much foreshadowing for everything major and minor in the characters’ lives. Students of history will be irritated; others will find it adds nothing to the drama. Still, in contrast to the big-screen fiasco “The Other Boleyn Girl,” “The Tudors” could pass for a History Channel production.

Dormer has grown into the role of the doomed Anne and is at her best when Anne’s world begins to spin out of control. As Anne begins to realize Henry is growing bored with her, her desperation compels her to arrange for a mistress she can control.

The series’ weakest link, alas, is Rhys Meyers, who remains a pretender to the throne. His idea of showing Henry’s growing confidence as a ruler is to display a porn-star mustache.

He’s ultimately only a small part of a gripping, enthralling, ever-growing canvas. “The Tudors” remains a royal treat.

Season premiere Sunday at 9 p.m. on Showtime. Now available through Comcast On Demand.


From the Los Angeles Times:


OH, HENRY! Jonathan Rhys Meyers, signed through Season 3, makes a slim ’n’ sexy Henry VIII in Showtime’s “The Tudors.” History comes alive on 'The Tudors'

The sumptuous Showtime series, which begins Season 2 on Sunday, uses present-day touches (like a slimmer, sexier version of Henry VIII) to draw in viewers who may not be history buffs.

By Matea Gold
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer March 28, 2008

NEW YORK -- "The Tudors," the racy, richly appointed series that returns to Showtime on Sunday for its second season, has never purported to be obsessed with authenticity.

But creator and executive producer Michael Hirst admitted he took substantial liberties with a line he penned for a scene in the upcoming 10-episode arc, in which a frustrated Anne Boleyn scolds King Henry XIII for maintaining ties with his wife, Queen Katherine.

"You can't have three people in a marriage," the king's mistress beseeches him.

If that sounds familiar, perhaps it's because Princess Diana of Wales made a similar remark about her own troubled marriage in more recent times.

"I was very naughty," Hirst said. "I had Anne Boleyn say it because it was an extraordinarily similar situation. I like the fact that I can put in these contemporary references, just to point out that things don't change that much."

For Showtime, the lavish drama's resonance with a 21st century audience has been at the center of its appeal. For all of its ornate costumes and elaborate court customs, the show's sensibilities -- and sexual obsessions -- feel remarkably current day.

"There's a romantic nature to the period and the clothes and the glamour that's historical," said Robert Greenblatt, Showtime's entertainment president. "But we've also positioned it in a way that feels very modern.. . . . We unabashedly call this a soap."

This season's pathos may be compounded by the fact that many American viewers are apparently unaware of Boleyn's dark fate, something the network discovered when it held focus groups to test the series' marketing campaign.

"They're not hooked into every detail, which is a good thing for us, because we can tell the story the way we need to tell it and much of it is fresh to people," Greenblatt said.

For the most part, the story line hews to historical record. When "The Tudors" resumes, Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is still locked in a tense conflict with the Catholic Church over his demand for an annulment so he can marry the bewitching Boleyn, played by Natalie Dormer. The ensuing power struggle leads to Henry's break with the church and the English Reformation, only to have the king order his new queen beheaded after she fails to produce a male heir.

This season, veteran Irish actor Peter O'Toole joined the cast as Pope Paul III, who excommunicates Henry after he marries Anne without the church's permission.

In fact, it was Pope Clement VII, who preceded Paul, who rejected Henry's request for an annulment. (Hirst sped up the succession to create a new role for O'Toole.)

The longtime actor said he wasn't bothered that the series deviates from history.

"Give me a sense of antiquity, by all means," O'Toole said. "Give me a whiff of the period. But I worked with too many boring designers and boring directors who say, 'But we didn't have horseshoes in those days.' Come on! As long as you don't walk around in a pair of Bermuda shorts."

Rhys Meyers, whose Henry is far more lithe than the iconic images of the rotund king, said, "You have to make Henry for an audience today, otherwise they're going to be bored."

Still, unlike other actors who have assumed the role, "I have to work harder internally, because I'm not 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, where you immediately go, 'Henry!' " he noted. "I have to be a king inside out."

Channeling the intensity of a young royal coming into his own made the second season more taxing than the first, said the 30-year-old actor.

"He takes on a hell of a lot more power than he had," said Rhys Meyers. "I think I'm probably the first actor to play Henry so young. Most actors don't come to Henry till they're 40 years old, so they don't have to go through the impetuous mistakes that Henry made. They only ever see the all-powerful, all-great Henry. But he has to get to that place, and I took him there."

The king comes across as "a very, very flawed, greedy, selfish man" in Season 2, added Rhys Meyers, who is unconcerned that the unsympathetic portrait will turn off viewers.

"I don't care," he said flatly.

For her part, Dormer said she hopes her portrayal of Boleyn will help shift perceptions about Henry's second wife, who spent most of the first season scheming to supplant Katherine.

"I very much hope that in the arc of the second season, surreptitiously, without the audience realizing it, they're increasingly empathetic for Anne," said the 26-year-old. "She becomes a maternal, loving human being, and as the walls close in on her, I'd very much like to think that the audience comes around to being with her, so by the time you see her death, everyone is moved by it."

Dormer, who read four biographies about Boleyn before taking the part, said she felt a powerful emotional connection to the character. On a visit to the Tower of London, where Boleyn was executed, the actress said she was overcome and began weeping.

"I find it a heartbreaking story," she said. "I really do feel that this role is one for the sisterhood."

Dormer lobbied Hirst to add more references in the series to Boleyn's influence on the Reformation, based on her research about the doomed queen.

"She truly was an evangelical," she said. "There's a faith there. I get quite upset when people just label her as an opportunist."

In Season 2, Boleyn contends with an abrupt loss of the king's affections when Henry moves on to new paramours, including queen-to-be Jane Seymour.

Despite his avid libido, the much-remarked-upon steaminess of the first season has been somewhat toned down.

"That was one of hooks to get people in the door," Greenblatt admitted.

But the new episodes don't lose any of the show's rich gloss. Costume designers created around 1,500 pieces for the sumptuous production. It's the most costly series undertaken by Showtime, with episodes running about $4 million each, a tab split among the show's Irish and Canadian co-producers.

The network believes the investment is worth it. Last season's premiere episode averaged nearly 1.48 million viewers, Showtime's highest debut of a new series. If this season fares well, executives hope to produce two more installments covering the last four of Henry's wives. (So far, Rhys Meyers is only signed on for one more season.)

If the series goes that long, "we do need to see a physical change in Henry," Hirst acknowledged, but he promised that "we're not going for the fat look. We're going to do it in different ways."


from the blog Critically Sassy:

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Tudors was a hit last season, I have a feeling it's going to be a bigger hit this season.

Who knew there was so much drama in the 1500's?

Tremendous acting from Jonathan Rhys Meyers who plays King Henry VIII.

He portrays King Henry VIII with such great dedication, anyone could believe he really was King Henry.

Anne Boleyn played by Natalie Dormer, is a very exquisite actress and she's able to play a mysterious women. When she's portraying Anne Boleyn she has some what of a sweet and loving demeanor for the King, but your still able to see the power hunger in her eyes. Which makes her a mystery. Does she really have feeling for the King?

The whole cast is quite incredible, and very believable.

And one of my already favorite actors Jeremy Northam who plays Sir Thomas More. He's known for his roles in The Net, and Enigma, he's a very accomplished actor who is doing a wonderful job portraying Sir. Thomas More and I wouldn't expect anything less of him.

Another favorite of mine is James Frain who's also known for his roles in Where the Heart Is and Elizabeth, he's perfect for the role of Thomas Cromwell, to think of it I couldn't see anyone else playing Thomas Cromwell.

Maria Doyle Kennedy who plays Queen Katherine of Aragon, does a splendid job, she's great for the role of Queen Katherine. She's able to make the character her own. She's known for her role in The Commitments.

Henry Cavill who plays Charles Brandon is a talented actor no doubt and is on his way to big things, and there's a plus, he's good looking.

We learned a lot last season, what will we learn this season?
Find out Season 2 premieres Sunday, March 30th @ 9PM ON SHOWTIME

Love, Critically Sassy


from Washington Post.com:

Deconstructing Henry

By Becky Krystal

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 30, 2008

The past is always more interesting than it seems. That's the premise Michael Hirst adheres to whenever he sits down to write "The Tudors."

The Showtime series traces the reign of the oft-married King Henry VIII of England, and as the second season begins Sunday, the monarch continues his quest to wed mistress Anne Boleyn and gain supremacy over the Roman Catholic Church in England.

"It may be dry in a history book, but if you think about it, it involves people's beliefs and passions and their whole way of life being destroyed and challenged," said Hirst, who previously wrote the Oscar-nominated 1998 film "Elizabeth" about Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.

As this season unfolds, the king realizes the extent of his power and uses it against two people close to him: his wife Anne (Natalie Dormer) and Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam).

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays Henry, said the history makes for good drama.

"People will die, and people will live," he said. "And people will become very wealthy and very powerful, and other people will be destroyed."

Rhys Meyers said he can sympathize with Henry despite the monarch's reputation as a tyrant.

"Henry's only a king because he was anointed such . . . but you have [to] go right through the crown, go right through the jewelry, go right through the clothes, go right through the doors of the apartment, go right through into the naked human. And you realize how vulnerable he actually is."

Hirst, also the show's creator and an executive producer, said the scope of a 10-episode season allows him to delve into the characters' nuances, including Henry's more admirable traits and some of the negative aspects of More, who was canonized in the 20th century.

In doing historical research, Hirst said he looks for "oddball moments" that people might not have seen before, such as in the first season when Henry wrestles the king of France -- shirtless.

When he's more fully dressed in the Emmy-winning costumes designed by Joan Bergin, Rhys Meyers said the wardrobe is just one of the ways he feels transformed into Henry.

"You've got to learn to allow the clothes to wear you as well as you wearing the clothes. And you have to walk differently. You stand differently," he said. "It's quite extraordinary."

The Tudors
Sundays, 9 p.m., Showtime

Players in Season 2 of 'The Tudors'

Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer): Henry's young mistress; queen-to-be; gives birth to future Queen Elizabeth I

Thomas Boleyn (Nick Dunning): Anne's power-hungry father; enemy of the Roman Catholic Church

Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill): Henry's longtime, loyal friend

Thomas Cromwell (James Frain): A Protestant influence on Henry

Queen Catherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy): Henry's first (current) wife

Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam): King's adviser; devout Catholic opposed to Reformation

Pope Paul III (Peter O'Toole): Opponent of church split with England


from Newsday.com:

Sexy Henry VIII in 'The Tudors' needs no codpiece


March 30, 2008

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger History tells us that, later in his life, England's King Henry VIII became extremely fond of extremely large codpieces - decorative covers for a man's, er, vital area - such as the one he's wearing in the portrait of him by Hans Holbein the Younger.

But while the Henry of Showtime's historical melodrama "The Tudors," which returns for a second season Sunday at 9 p.m., wears many fabulous outfits, they're missing this particular adornment.

"I never wore a codpiece, love," says star Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays Henry. "Henry was famous for wearing extravagant metal ones. We really didn't go that route. It could very easily have turned into 'Ye Olde Spinal Tap.'"

Written and executive-produced by Michael Hirst ("Elizabeth," "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"), "The Tudors" has made bold choices in its oft-told tale of the six wives of Henry VIII. Chief among these is casting the lithe, brown-haired, blue-eyed Rhys Meyers to play the sturdy (eventually corpulent), ginger-haired, brown-eyed monarch.

"I had your rudimentary view of him when I first started playing him," Rhys Meyers says. "I was a little bit more nervous, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to portray the authentic physicality of the man. The physicality of someone, how they move and how they react to situations, certainly reflects how they're portrayed in history.

The leaner, lighter, sexier Showtime Henry VIII "So, from a physical point of view, I'm a helluva lot leaner and lighter than Henry would have been, and I move a helluva lot quicker, I suppose, than Henry would have.

"But I think, psychologically, in some places I'm quite close - in other places, not so much."

Time is on their side

Also, in contrast to previous film and miniseries adaptations of the saga, Hirst and Showtime have chosen to take their time over a multi-season series.

Season one began with Henry happily philandering but still locked into his long-standing marriage with Spain's Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy).

Along the way, Henry met the bewitching Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), whose social-climbing father (Nick Dunning) had high hopes that the king's attraction could take his daughter - and thereby her family - to the very seat of power.

The father of a sole legitimate child, a daughter, Henry was desperate for a male heir. Enamored of Anne, and chafing under the Roman Catholic Church's reluctance to grant him a divorce from the now-barren Katherine on theological grounds - and her stubborn refusal to voluntarily give up her God-given wifely rights - he inched closer to a complete break from Rome.

This was not yet accomplished when the season ended.

As season two opens, Henry is still struggling to free himself of both wife and pope (played by Peter O'Toole), publicly dallying with Anne and fending off expressions of concern from his Lord Chancellor, the devoutly Catholic Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam).

Meanwhile, Katherine is insisting on her rights - and still making Henry's linen shirts.

"Who would have thought that someone like Katherine of Aragon, a middle-aged woman, would be a feminist icon?" Hirst says. "Hopefully, in the second season, we do much the same for Anne Boleyn, who herself has not had particularly good press."

An ax to grind

Season two poster Those who know the story (and if for some reason you don't, stop reading now) are well aware that Anne winds up under the headsman's ax after a reign of about 1,000 days. Again, Hirst is in no hurry to get there, and that suits Dormer just fine.

"You see the complexity of Anne's motivations," she says. "She fully is in it. A higher calling has definitely arisen in her. There's this absolute faith that she is destined to be the mother of the next king of England.

"There's absolutely, 100 percent love there for Henry, that's grown. She found herself in a situation that she wasn't expecting. Obviously, as her intellect, her power, grows, she effectively, powerwise, becomes the head of the family."

Rhys Meyers sees Henry's situation in quite contemporary terms. "He used to be quite a handsome young man, but that changes, so he wasn't anymore. So he meets this gorgeous young Anne Boleyn, and for the time, she was that beautiful girl who could take a man's soul.

"You can imagine a man in a midlife crisis. Anne Boleyn was the Ferrari. He's got the midlife crisis. He needs someone to make him feel young and handsome and virile again, somebody that will give him kids.

"He has this Utopian idea of what their marriage and their love would be like and how her body would feel, stuff like that. She was creamy, juicy youth, and he wanted to take that and devour it. That's what he felt for Anne Boleyn. She gave him all of that.... She was the trophy."

But to win his prize, Henry has to pit his kingship against the authority of the Church in England. Turmoil and bloodshed follow in the wake of this upheaval, the reverberations of which echoed through the reigns of Henry's daughters, Queens Mary and Elizabeth I, and down to the present day.

"He may have done terrible, terrible things," Rhys Meyers says, "but great things. He may have been flawed, but all great, great men are. The nature of being great is being flawed. You learn through your failures as much as your successes.

"Who's going to remember a life of contentment? Nobody. You've got to rock the boat a little; otherwise they forget you in 200 years. How appalling! How appalling would it be for people to not be talking about you in 250 years? I mean, what else would they certainly have to talk about?

"Henry kept them talking for half a millennium."

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.


from The San Francisco Chronicle:

Review: 'Tudors': Henry sheds frat boy crown

Tim Goodman
Thursday, March 27, 2008

WILD APPLAUSEThe Tudors: Drama. 9 p.m. Sundays on Showtime.

The evolution of Showtime's grand costume drama, "The Tudors," has taken a remarkable turn in Season 2: It gets a whole lot better when it was already very good.

The familiar story of England's King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and his all-encompassing, dangerous lust for Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) was the jumping-off point for Season 1 of "The Tudors." It allowed screenwriter Michael Hirst to create a series based on the early years of Henry, much the way he did for both of his feature films, "Elizabeth" and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."

By catching Henry in his formative years, Hirst was able to make him virile and emotionally vibrant, breaking from the stereotype of the older, fatter, more vicious king. But it also allowed Hirst to deliver unto Showtime a mostly meaty, and deliciously sexy costume drama. And it worked. The series was a huge audience draw for Showtime and it emboldened the channel to ask for more. Once Rhys Meyers was onboard, despite a thriving film career, everything took off for Season 2.

Of course, there were still some critical snickers that "The Tudors" in Season 1 lacked gravitas, that it was devoted to the fashion and sexuality of the period and less to the dramatic heft and historical details. Not that there's anything wrong with that - Rhys Meyers was absolutely riveting in every scene, and Joan Bergin won an Emmy for costume design (a feat she's likely to repeat, given the magnificent, leap-off-the-screen costumes in Season 2).

Perhaps some revisionist criticism will come Hirst's way after Season 2, because his efforts in the freshman season now have more clarity. Henry essentially stumbled into the crown when his brother died, which Hirst played up with sex and scandals, aptly using Rhys Meyers and Co. But it spoke to a less-serious Henry. In the early part of Season 1, the king is easily shaped by those in the court, particularly Cardinal Wolsey. The emphasis then was on Henry's much freer spirit. He and best friend Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) are like two good-looking rich kids having the party of a lifetime: booze, food and girls everywhere, with some jousting and other sports thrown in. And when things get a little slow, some rabble-rousing with neighboring countries.

Credit Rhys Meyers for holding down the middle of Season 1, growing his character into a man confronting enormous change and rising to meet his increasing power. By the end of Season 1, Henry had trouble - of his own making - at every turn.

Oh, that Anne Boleyn

Much of this, of course, comes from his pursuit of Anne Boleyn. On Sunday, Season 2 of "The Tudors" kicks off with renewed, more focused attention on "the King's great matter," which is securing a divorce from Katherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and marrying Anne, all with the approval of the Catholic Church and, specifically, the Vatican.

Of course, what all that wrought - the end of Katherine and the Catholic faith in England, plus Anne, down the road - is a headier, more dramatic mix anyway. If Season 1 was Henry Lite, then Season 2 is Henry Dark.

In a strange way, you can glimpse the creative parallels between the two seasons of "The Tudors" and the two "Elizabeth" films that Hirst wrote. The first film is like the second season: focused, energized, committed to a clear story, well told, with plenty of opportunity to let great actors and wonderful costumes have the day. The film and actress Cate Blanchett were both nominated for an Academy Award.

The second film is like the first season: more artificial and unfocused, a better idea on paper than in execution (though to be fair to Hirst, that had something to do with the second film playing like a music video).

Right out of the gates on Sunday, the new season of "The Tudors" shows a tautness that's welcome and a maturing of all involved, echoing Henry's power grab and the quick succession of events that changed history. Cardinal Wolsey dies in 1530 and Anne Boleyn is beheaded six years later, as queen. In the meantime, the Reformation has begun as Henry's consolidation of power tears England away from Catholicism and the long arms of Pope Paul III (Peter O'Toole).

Spoiled brat

The tease that was Anne Boleyn last season is only kept in that state for a few episodes this season, as Henry presses the matter in Rome and at home. He wants his great matter dealt with, and done with. What works so well in Season 2 is the more serious and irritable Henry, making bigger decisions with almost no input other than Thomas Cromwell's (James Frain) throwing gas on the fire, and his mercurial, impetuous personality. Once he got Anne, his interest waned. Not that you could ever forget it, but after the birth of Elizabeth and Henry's rather sudden disinterest in her, you remember - oh, right, he's a spoiled child.

The religious angle is kept keen in Season 2 even without Wolsey (played by Sam Neill in Season 1), because Jeremy Northam, as Sir Thomas More, spearheads the movement to keep Henry accountable to God, not the clergy accountable to Henry. It's a nice counterbalance to the lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn.

If Season 1 sometimes veered from considered drama to guilty pleasure, Hirst, Rhys Meyers and the rest of the cast (and Bergin's costumes) make it all somehow meatier but no less entertaining in Season 2. It's as if the series matured along with the characters and capitalized on the chaotic, eventful period between Anne Boleyn's most fervent wish and the tragedy of what happens when it comes true.

E-mail Tim Goodman at tgoodman@sfchronicle.com.


From Monsters and Critics.com:

Smallscreen Reviews Review:
'The Tudors' season two continues the rich Tudor tapestry
By April MacIntyre
Mar 23, 2008, 19:52 GMT

Season two of “The Tudors” exceeds the first with more compelling storylines and building court drama.

03/19/2008 - Natalie Dormer - The season is defined by the unraveling of the Catholic Church and rise of Thomas Cromwell’s (James Frain) power and influence; it was Cromwell, a cunning self-educated man, who was an architect of the Reformation movement in England with the introduction of religious leader Thomas Cranmer to King Henry VIII's (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) court.

These actions are the frame for Henry’s courtside politics and affairs of love in season two, and like season one, are a clever blend of actual history and creative commissioned entertainment at the hand of show creator and writer, Michael Hirst.

The cast and crew worked their magic at Ardmore Studios, near Dublin. The crew remains the same - and this season you will again truly appreciate the outstanding achievements of Emmy award winning costume designer Joan Bergin, who took the honor in 2007 for her exemplary work on “The Tudors.”

the King and Queen of Season Two Her craftsmanship abounds in the gowns and adornments for Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) which are breathtaking. Boleyn had 17 major costumes along with jewels, shoes and headpieces and all these were handmade from scratch.

Bergin’s eye captured the smallest details of the commoners and various court denizens. “I did a lot of research into Spanish and Italian fashion from the period. I’ve amalgamated Tudor style with more European influences, so overall the look is softer. ..This season we’ve created in the region of 1500 costume pieces,” revealed Bergin.

This season we note the absence of Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Neill) and the waning of Sir Thomas More’s (Jeremy Northam) favor by his once dutiful friend, Henry.

More steels himself the first four episodes for his inevitable fate of martyrdom; he does not waver in his allegiance to Rome. Henry’s childhood friend and now brother-in-law Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) walks a fine line with his open hatred for the Boleyns, his empathy for Katherine and maintaining his court standing with Henry.

Thomas Boleyn (Nick Dunning) is also given a great deal of rope to possibly hang himself with; he is the Olympic champion of Machiavellian court maneuverings.

James Frain as Cromwell Cromwell’s construction of a new religious order with Henry as ordained King and leader of the Church has drained all the once powerful Bishops and Cardinals dry, even the Pope’s (Peter O’Toole) terse edicts of excommunication are to no avail. OToole’s callous and smug portrayal of Pope Paul III, a historically noted morally challenged leader, gives insight to the brewing resentments over the Catholic Church’s critical mass of corruption thus bearing the rise of Protestant leaders and the Reformation itself.

Also missing this season is Henry’s sister Margaret (Gabrielle Anwar), who in season one was married off to the decrepit King of Portugal against her will. In reality, Henry’s sister Margaret was married off to the King of Scotland. This season is too busy with the rise and fall of the Catholic Church and the conniving Boleyn clan to be distracted by any of Henry’s siblings.

Maria Doyle Kennedy plays the part of Katherine of Aragon with the perfect amount of regalness and humility. The people love her, yet the indignities of being cast aside by the King are worn on her face; Hirst makes us feel for her. Their daughter Mary also feels the sting of her Father's indifference and is essentially abandoned by the Monarch as Anne Boleyn’s baby, Elizabeth I, takes center stage for the moment.

It is the polarizing character of Anne Boleyn that unites the sub-plots and overall driving action of season two. Henry’s lust gives way to his will, the Church is broken. Boleyn is now the wife and the scorn of the people who still regard Katherine as the rightful Queen.

Boleyn’s seductress charms are crushed by the Karma wheel that sees the married siren become victim to her own well-played arsenal of feminine wiles; the court beauties still seduce her willing King of enormous appetites.

Anne has come full circle, bears the scars and pays an ultimate price. “She’s on the knife’s edge through the season,” explains Natalie Dormer. “The stakes just get higher and higher, there is no Plan B for Anne. ..it’s like ‘be careful what you wish for.”

the immensely talented Mr. Rhys Meyers There is much to savor for season two of “The Tudors”; the performances are all keenly delivered and nearly upstage the immensely talented Irish star of the series, Rhys Meyers, with their well-written and enacted ensemble work. Notable moments are made by Natalie Dormer, Nick Dunning, Jeremy Northam, James Frain and Peter O'Toole in pivotal scenes.

The series also features stunning camera work by cinematographer Ousama Rawi and production design by Tom Conroy, who opened up the sets in this season and updated the interiors to reflect the ten years that supposedly passes between the seasons.

"There is more of a Renaissance feel to the decor and, of course, more shields and war mementos on the wall," shared Conroy. "I've also been over to England looking at the details of various National Trust Houses. For instance, I saw a basement window in Devon which I used as a tower dungeon window."

In one of the more visually arresting scenes, Conroy had to recreate a giant copper boiling pot where one unlucky cast member meets his fate. "We were looking for a large pot, but there wasn't any of a sufficient size around so we had to commission it," revealed Conroy.

"It's copper, but cleverly done to reduce the weight. We lit a fire under it and set up an elaborate pulley system for the actor to be lowered into the boiling oil, which of course was water with starch in it to create air bubbles. It was very effective."

Showtime has presented the finest period epic series since the short-lived, “Rome,” but unlike that abbreviated effort, "The Tudors" will live on for a third season.

According to a Multichannel News’ report - Showtime president Bob Greenlblatt has green lit the writing for third season episodes of "The Tudors." We look forward to the official Showtime announcement.

The Tudors debuts on Showtime March 30 at 10 p.m. Grade: A

© Copyright 2007 by monstersandcritics.com. This notice cannot be removed without permission.


from Tim Stretton's British blog - Acquired Taste:

On the Small Screen...
The Tudors

author Tim Stretton I am not, in general, a great TV watcher. Well, how else do you think I get time to read all these books?

Nonetheless, The Tudors¸ the first season of which is currently running on BBC2, has been capturing my attention ever since I caught the second episode. It has a kind of trashy grandeur I am finding utterly compelling. It focuses on what it describes as the early years of Henry VIII’s reign (although given the liberties with the chronology, it’s really more about his middle-age).

For anyone who knows anything about the real-life Tudors, there are plenty of historical inaccuracies. Most of these are conscious, designed for artistic effect, particularly the relative ages of the characters. Not content with conflating two of Henry VIII’s sisters into character, the series has her marrying the King of Portugal rather than the King of France (and then indeed murdering him). Shakespeare did the same in his history plays , so it’s rather anal to get sniffy about this kind of thing. But if you find meticulous historical accuracy important, The Tudors is probably not the programme for you.

You won't be surprised that I relish a programme which enacts all manner of bloody palace intrigues every week. Sam Neill’s surprisingly sympathetic Cardinal Wolsey would be at home in The Dog of the North and the shifting alliances, the betrayals and machinations are all the stuff of my own fiction. Visually, the series is sumptuous, and the casting is consistently excellent. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is magnificent as King Henry, played with mad energy as a psychotic egotist with almost no redeeming features (this is probably one of the more historically accurate aspects of the show). It’s a commendable risk to make the central character so utterly malignant (albeit highly charismatic). Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn is simultaneously luminous and sly, and you feel that when she and Henry get together, they will deserve each other. The supporting cast is equally well-judged, particularly Sam Neill as Wolsey, Maria Doyle Kennedy as Katherine of Aragon, and Jeremy Northam as Thomas More. James Frain has hardly appeared as Thomas Cromwell but is already promising much.

The Tudors has been described as soap opera, and to a degree that’s understandable. But the insane melodrama which routinely strains credulity when deployed in Eastenders or Coronation Street is entirely appropriate here. This, after all, is the story of a man who executed two wives and numerous counsellors as well as disestablishing his country’s religion for the past thousand years. The Tudors is costume drama delivered with verve and brio. Ignore the details, settle back, and enjoy.

Notwithstanding my willingness to accept artistic licence with the facts, as a writer of fantasy I occasionally feel a sense of frustration. This is a series which would have worked equally well—if not better—as a fantasy of an imaginary land, where chronology and characters could have been manipulated without offending the pedants. In the same way, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire is a deliberately a historical take on the Wars of the Roses. But written as a fantasy, The Tudors would never have secured the budget for a lavish production, or a prime-time slot on BBC2. Viewers would rather watch fantasy version of real history—a fantasy which dare not speak its name—rather than accept a fantasy in its own right.

But that’s not a criticism of The Tudors. It’s just the way of the world. And you can be damn sure I will be watching tonight’s episode.

Posted by Tim Stretton Friday, November 02, 2007


From the Canadian Press September 29, 2007:

Rhys Meyers says he can relate to Henry VIII's wild younger years in 'The Tudors'

By Lee-Anne Goodman

TORONTO - Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers knows a thing or two about wild behaviour, something he drew upon when taking on the role of a young Henry VIII in the acclaimed show "The Tudors," premiering next week on CBC.

"I was an alleged bad boy - alleged," says the 30-year-old actor on the line from Ireland, emphasizing the word as he takes a break from filming the second season of the show about the early years of the notorious British monarch.

Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII in The Tudors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Showtime-Jonathan Hession "I think people sort of have this fantastical idea that I was this crazy wild young Irishman. The reality wasn't as fantastical nor was it as bad."

Nonetheless, Rhys Meyers, who's had a couple of stints in rehab for drug and alcohol problems, says his own tumultuous youth and early fame certainly helped him understand the temptations that Henry faced as a young ruler with the world - and lots of women - at his beck and call.

"I can relate to being in your 20s and thinking you're too fabulous and at the same time thinking you're not worth a bucket of piss," Rhys Meyers says.

"My Henry is a spoiled, egotistical alpha male, but when you're in your early 20s and you have absolutely everything that you've ever desired, by birthright, well then you're certainly going to misbehave. But Henry also had a lot of insecurities, as we all do at that age. Everybody wanted something from him."

The 10-part first season of "The Tudors," a Canada-Ireland co-production written and created by Michael Hirst ("Elizabeth" and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"), premieres Tuesday night on CBC-TV. The Emmy-nominated series debuted on the U.S. pay channel Showtime in April to big ratings, and the BBC will start airing it next year.

While "The Tudors" takes some artistic liberties - it condenses some years, and amalgamates some characters into one, for example - the series is a lusty and largely accurate look at the scheming and seduction that went on in the court of the king who would change the course of history.

The show features not just a litany of steamy sex scenes, but an impressive international cast that includes Australia's Sam Neill and two Canadian actors, Henry Czerny as the Duke of Norfolk and Kris Holden-Reid as Henry's best friend, William Compton.

But Rhys Meyers is the true standout, lending an energetic passion to Henry despite his initial fears that critics might not like him in the role since he bears such little resemblance to the monarch, either in his youth or in his later years ("Thank God for that," the actor says in an aside.)

He was also concerned some might suggest he took too many liberties as he humanized the character.

"But the more I thought about it, who's to say that the way I play Henry isn't really what Henry was like?" Rhys Meyers muses. "He's human. Henry might be a king and be treated as a god, but he's still only a man - flesh and blood, regardless of whether the blood was blue."

Czerny had nothing but praise for Rhys Meyers' performance when he promoted the show during CBC's fall launch last spring.

"Michael Hirst says there are actors who are bleeders and there are actors who are performers, and Jonathan's a bleeder," Czerny said with a laugh. "He's trying to offer up every last bit of Jonathan Rhys Meyers for every single take - he's a real bleeder."

Rhys Meyers is also sympathetic to Henry, a man known mostly for being an overweight tyrant who did away with wives when they became inconvenient.

"I mean, Henry historically was quite well-behaved for a king of his time. He was quite moralistic. Some kings of Europe had these harems of a thousand women," Rhys Meyers says.

"As an Irishman in school, you always thought of Henry VIII as this big, slovenly, repulsive character. But there were a lot of pretty cool things about him as well. He was a great musician and had his own band and played with them as the lead singer. Throughout his reign the hyenas were around him the whole time waiting to get their paws on his throne, and it can't have been easy."

Copyright © 2007 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.


7th September 2007

Lie back and think of Olde England! Is this TV's sexiest historical romp?


Sexier than Rome, more sinister than The Sopranos: now TV goes to town on the life and times of Henry VIII:

The year is 1520 and as the British ambassador to Italy makes his way to a hastily convened meeting with the Duke in Urbino, he is set upon by a group of French assassins and murdered in the palace courtyard.

His nephew, King Henry VIII, learns of the news and calls a meeting to discuss his plan of action.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Henry VIII) and Natalie Dormer (Anne Boleyn) in the historical romp The Tudors King Henry has been in power for just over a decade yet, despite the reservations of his trusted adviser Cardinal Wolsey, declares war on France to avenge the death of his uncle.

The King, we are told, is 'mad with grief, almost inconsolable' and after his declaration of war, addresses his courtiers. He looks up, regards them with all the solemnity he can muster and then announces to the packed chambers 'Now I can go play!' before, he disappears to his bedchamber to romp noisily with his wife's lady-in-waiting.

So begins The Tudors, the lavish new BBC series detailing the early years of the reign of Henry VIII.

The first season aired in the States earlier this year on the Showtime channel and with each episode costing a reported $3.5 million, the series has already given the station its highest viewing figures for three years.

But if anyone should labour under the impression that this Henry VIII is the portly, drumstickwielding megalomaniac we all love to hate, then think again. For The Tudors gives us the Hollywoodisation of Henry - a preening rock starfigure, with a dysfunctional family to end them all.

Critics may have rushed to query the historical accuracy of the series but all are in agreement that it's good entertainment nonetheless.

Taking centre stage as King Henry is Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who imbues the monarch with a sinewy charisma. At first glance, it seems a bizarre casting to say the least - Rhys Meyers is approximately the width of one of King Henry's calf muscles - but the intention of the show's creators was to deliberately stay away from previously mannered film interpretations of the era.

'We have to be attractive to the audience,' Rhys Meyers has said, 'because otherwise, if you get too into the period it gets stiff.'

Although stiffness, it must be said, is not a problem for the protagonists of the series. Like that other recent historical TV success story, Rome, The Tudors features a kaleidoscopic range of sexual activity and the naked bottom/breast count is substantial — another reason, no doubt, for the series' popularity.

The blood flow within the show is surprisingly weak given King Henry's predilection for behead- ing (in the first six episodes there is just one beheading and even then, the camera averts its eyes at the moment of impact), but of sexual shenanigans there are plenty.

The men, particularly King Henry, appear to suffer from a case of 'whoops!-there-goes-my-shirt-again' syndrome, and as he and his posse of male friends swagger about the countryside in their tight-fitting doublet and hose, it's almost a case of Entourage Goes Historical. As one critic says of Rhys Meyer's portrayal of King Henry: 'He's an athlete. He's a scholar. He's a sex machine.'

The rest of the cast is impressive too. Jeremy Northam (Gosford Park, Enigma) plays the humanist Sir Thomas More with a gentle charm, while Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Omen III) is great fun as the slippery Cardinal Wolsey, roughing up enemies in dark alleyways a la Phil Mitchell and even finding the time himself to disrobe.

As Neill says about the series: 'It's part history, part soap, part romance. Above all, it's about sex, I think. Sex drives everything. ' Certainly King Henry thought so and the series certainly doesn't shy away from conveying the monarch's considerable appetites.

As the show progresses we see how his boredom with first wife, the Catholic Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and his growing infatuation with the Protestant Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) leads him to dump the former for the latter, effectively ensuring that the future faith of the country hangs on Henry's personal lusts.

'Sex was very important,' says Rhys Meyers. 'It's what you did when the sun went down...I mean, they were much more sexually gregarious in the 16th century than they are today.'

But while much has been made of the series' sexual content, there has also been concern about the show's historical inaccuracies. Michael Hirst, the series scriptwriter, claims that, artistic licence and a contemporised dialogue notwithstanding, around 85per cent of the series is accurate, but there are inconsistencies nonetheless.

There is the exaggerated age difference between Henry and first wife Catherine of Aragon (she was six years older than him; the show suggests she was 78,000 - the Henry VIII during 4 - diseases to have died syphilis, obesity scurvy by NUMBERS older still); the amalgamation of characters (Henry's two sisters, Princess Mary and Princess Margaret, are conflated into just one sister in the show) and the fiddling around with timescales (the show depicts an illegitimate son of King Henry dying as a young child when in fact he lived to the age of 17).

Retha Warnicke, a professor of history and author of books such as The Rise And Fall Of Anne Boleyn, has her reservations about the tinkering with history for dramatic purposes, even if it does make it more accessible to modern audiences.

'It's just a matter of what that 15 per cent of inaccuracies contains,' she says. 'If, as you say, Princesses Mary and Margaret are conflated into just one person, then that's truly dreadful,' she shudders.

'Margaret married the King of Scotland and Mary became Queen of France, so it's not as if these sisters were insignificant.' Of the rampant shirtlessness of the male protagonists, Professor Warnicke says: 'Well, it was pretty cold in the 16th century, so running around with no shirts on would have been uncomfortable, so to be in the nude with each other would probably be inaccurate.

I'm not saying Henry wasn't a sexy man, but I'm sure the sex scenes are a deliberate ploy to get viewers.'

Scriptwriter Michael Hirst is unapologetic however. 'It's not like any of the historians were actually there. So what you read in history books, is that historically accurate? Not necessarily. And in any case I'm not writing a documentary.

You can't exaggerate the violence and the beauty (of the period). This is the moment when Henry - because he falls in love with a younger woman - destroys English history.'

'Well, Henry didn't destroy history,' argues Professor Warnicke, 'he destroyed the Catholic church, or rather he kicked the Pope out. I understand artistic licence but the problem arises when things get badly skewed. I just can't watch these things because I know the truth.'

But, it seems, plenty of people can and do watch these things, judging by the current vogue for all things historical. Hirst has also co-written the screenplay for the forthcoming film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age (starring Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen) - the sequel to the 1998 film Elizabeth.

And an adaptation of the Philippa Gregory novel The Other Boleyn Girl is also in production with Scarlett Johansson playing Mary Boleyn and Natalie Portman her sister Anne, and Johannson will also next year play the title role in the film, Mary Queen of Scots.

There is another reason why historical dramas like The Tudors have been enjoyed by a Stateside audience - the series comes across as terribly modern. From the earthy dialogue (yes, 'f ' words are employed) to the hangers-on at Henry's court, he could, to all intents and purposes, be a modern-day celebrity. As Rhys Meyers, who admits to doing minimal research for the role, concurs: 'Henry's court at the time was the fastest court in the world.

If you weren't in Henry's court, you were nobody. It was the Mecca of entertainment.'

Suddenly, Rhys Meyers as the king is not so strange at all. Apart from his good looks (and despite our lasting impression of him being somewhat on the unattractive side, King Henry was quoted by a number of sources as being 'the handsomest prince in Christendom'), Rhys Meyers is well-acquainted with the stardom thing himself.

'King Henry was the ultimate star and everyone wanted a piece of him,' says Brian Kirk, one of the show's directors.

'Jonny has done the Hollywood thing and he's able to bring his knowledge of the star system to bear on the court. He has a parallel experience to draw on.' The entire series of The Tudors was filmed in Ireland, at the famous Ardmore Studios in Bray, County Wicklow, and a great deal of attention was paid to period detail. And the costumes - some 2,500 of them - are wonderful.

One of the show's designers, Joan Bergin, says that she opted for a 'sexy, modern Tudor look', complete with tight-fitting corsets and lower necklines. 'We're all conditioned to think of Victorian morality where women couldn't show their ankles,' says Bergin. 'But in Tudor times, it was a lot more open. Ladies went to court to find a husband and you tried out quite a few before you decided.' It's no surprise then that The Tudors has been nominated for four gongs at the forthcoming Emmy Awards.

Kate O'Toole, the daughter of actors Peter O'Toole and Sian Phillips, stars in the first series as Lady Salisbury - a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. Of the show's success, Kate, whose father Peter O'Toole, will be making an appearance in the second series as Pope Paul III, says 'Is its success partly to do with the rumpy? Probably!' she laughs. 'But the appeal also is that it's like a soap opera.

People love soap operas, only with The Tudors this one happens to be true.' But for all the hoo-hah about historical inconsistencies and artistic licence, The Tudors is still enormous fun. The cast are currently in Ireland filming season two and with talk of a third season in the offing, we'll no doubt all be King Henry crazy before too long.

In the first episode our monarch undresses a young lady-in-waiting before turning to her and enquiring: 'Do you consent?' Well, quite frankly, how could she - or we, for that matter - resist his dubious charms?

The Tudors will be screened on BBC2 this autumn.

content, concern historical Michael exaggerated between Catherine six years older suggests she was are conflated sister the timescales depicts professor and such Fall her reservations tinkering purposes, even more accessible to 78,000 - the number Henry VIII executed during his reign 4 - diseases he is said to have died from: syphilis, gangrene, obesity and scurvy by NUMBERS.


July 26, 2007

Papal Robes, and Deference, Fit O'Toole Snugly


DUBLIN - On a typically drizzly Irish day Peter O’Toole crossed a movie studio lot, protected by a huge green umbrella. He was elegant in white papal robes and red cape, with a characteristic glint in his world-famous eyes.

Spotting a new acquaintance, he called out, "Did you see Page 8 of The Irish Times?" He proceeded to read aloud the report about the Protestant leader Ian Paisley’s criticism of Pope Benedict XVI for the “excommunication of all Christendom by endorsing a Vatican declaration that Roman Catholicism was the only true church.

Mr. O’Toole, 74, had just completed filming his portrayal of the 16th-century pope Paul III in Showtime’s much-talked-about series “The Tudors,” which returns for its second season next spring. Even out of character he seemed happy to discuss religion.

“I am a retired Christian,” he announced playfully, relaxing in his trailer at the end of a hard workday. His costume had been replaced by sweater, jacket, pants and an ascot.

Six decades after his altar-boy childhood and subsequent loss of faith, Mr. O’Toole said he looked elsewhere for life guidance. “I suggest that an education and reading and facts aren’t bad things on which to ponder a few notions,” he said. But he acknowledged a “very strong and very real” spiritual side to his nature.

“No one can take Jesus away from me,” he said, having just expressed an affection for the Sermon on the Mount (“Blessed are the meek,” etc.). “There’s no doubt there was a historical figure of tremendous importance, with enormous notions. Such as peace.”

Mr. O’Toole’s character will spend most of next season in an epistolary battle with Henry VIII (the equally blue-eyed Jonathan Rhys Meyers) over the king’s insistence on a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he can marry Anne Boleyn. The real pope at the time was Clement VII, but in last season’s brief papal scenes Clement was played by Ian McElhinney. So when Mr. O’Toole came on board, the series made him Clement’s successor, Paul III, instead. (Actually, by Paul III’s time, Anne was already in her grave. But what’s a little dramatic license among friends?

The “Tudors” set can look a bit like the Island of Lost Handsome British Actors. Besides Mr. Rhys Meyers (who turns 30 on July 27 and plays a particularly young, fit Henry), there are, among others, Jeremy Northam as Thomas More, James Frain as Thomas Cromwell and the newcomer Henry Cavill as Henry’s hunky brother-in-law Charles Brandon.

But the presence of Mr. O’Toole caused a stir. Few of the actors have scenes with him because the pope is in Rome, but several managed to be on the set to be photographed with him or simply shake his hand.

“He’s the only poster I’ve ever had on my wall,” Mr. Rhys Meyers said, recalling his youthful adulation after seeing “Lawrence of Arabia” for the first time. “I just hope that I can hold up against him.”

But Mr. Rhys Meyers quickly regained his kingly attitude. “I’d love to have had a scene with Peter,” he said over tea in his own trailer. “It would have been war. It’s war anyway.”

Michael Hirst, who has written every episode of the series so far, said he was delighted to have Mr. O’Toole speaking his dialogue. “The pope was extremely cynical, so what I wanted was to hear the character of a man who is spiritual but also worldly,” Mr. Hirst said. “He says something about, ‘The French king has guns and soldiers, whereas we must make do with truth and beauty.’ ”

Mr. Hirst mentioned another cherished line. It was part of a discussion of Henry’s infatuation with the cunning Anne Boleyn, and it reflected the past of Paul III, who had mistresses and children.

“You and I have done well to escape the craft of women,” the pope tells Cardinal Campeggio (John Kavanagh). “Celibacy is an immense relief.”

Mr. O’Toole, who was married to the British actress Sian Phillips for 20 years (they divorced in 1979), recited the same line during his interview, which ended with a couple of glasses of red wine (a Margaux), one of his current drinks of choice. (The other is whisky.)

He chatted about other subjects: his lifelong avoidance of physical exercise but enjoyment of sports (he professed to be taking up archery), his background (born in Connemara, reared in Leeds, England, the son of a racetrack bookmaker), training (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London) and past roles, which have included a cardinal in a television “Joan of Arc,” angels in “The Bible” and a British lord convinced he is Jesus in “The Ruling Class.”

He recalled having played a pope before, onstage when he was 24 and filled in at the last minute for an older actor. (In “Becket” he was on the other side, playing a king, Henry II, who ordered the murder of the archbishop.)

Ultimately the subject of the Oscar was broached. Although he reluctantly accepted an honorary one in 2003, Mr. O’Toole has never won an American Academy Award and has surpassed the record of his old friend Richard Burton as the actor nominated most often (eight times, most recently for the 2006 film “Venus”) without ever winning.

Mr. O’Toole smiled, got up to retrieve a small spiral notebook and revealed inside a tiny, Oscar-shaped piece of golden paper: a bit of confetti, he said, from a party after this year’s ceremony.

“So,” he said pleasantly, “I’ve got my own, thank you very much indeed.”


From the New York Post:



June 10, 2007

Here's an unsung heroine for you: Joan Bergin, costume designer on "The Tudors."

It is she who we presumably must credit for the tightness of the corset worn by Natalie Dormer for the role of Anne Boleyn.

Ireland's own acclaimed stage and film costume designer Joan Bergin By the looks of it, this undergarment is so restrictive that Ms. Dormer cannot utter one word or draw a single breath without her partially exposed bosom heaving up or down by at least half a foot.

Hers is easily the heavingest bosom ever seen in the history of royal romances. And it is a wonder to behold in every scene in which she participates in this "historical" drama that often seems about as historical as a romance paperback with a painting of a shirtless Fabio on the cover.

The truth is: The history depicted in this Showtime series about the early years in the reign of King Henry VIII, who ruled England from 1509 to 1547, is accurate, at least in its broad strokes.

Understandably, however, the details have been conjured by the writers and producers of "The Tudors," which ends its first season this week.

It's been a great ride - an over-the-top, bodice-ripping TV series with modern-day actors costumed as 16th century English courtiers who all look like they just came from a rejuvenating afternoon at a day spa.

Dormer, Neill, Northam, Rhys Meyers and Kennedy Super-tight corsets aside, the wardrobes created for this series are among its best assets, as are the locations in which it is shot, in and around the ancient castles of Ireland.

Another asset is its cast. The lion's share of the critics' praises have been directed rightfully at Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the young, restless, mercurial king; Jeremy Northam as the self-righteous Thomas More; and Sam Neill as the conspiratorial Cardinal Wolsey.

But for my money, no one has dominated his or her scenes like Maria Doyle Kennedy in the role of the tragic Queen Katherine, the aunt of the emperor of Spain whose marriage to Henry was arranged (she was formerly married to his late brother) and which Henry now seeks to have annulled by the Pope.

She manages the neat trick of portraying Katherine's emotional pain along with her immense pride and strength. When she straightens her back and raises her chin to begin a defiant speech in a perfectly theatrical Spanish accent, the effect is so great that you find yourself backing up into your chair.

Watching her has been one of the many pleasures of following "The Tudors" this season.

Long live this king.

THE TUDORS Sunday, 10 p.m., Showtime


From the New York Post:


By Linda Stasi
June 11, 2007

DESPITE the big finale on that other station last night, the first explosively terrific season of "The Tudors" also ended with a bang - a big, big bang.

Hey, clearly the 16th century didn't need Viagra, it had Anne Boleyn - the smartest tart that ever hooked a king. No wonder poor Queen Katherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy), in her simple wimple, didn't stand a chance.

"The Tudors," which follows the life of Henry the Eighth (wonder of the world), has been one of the wonders of this past television season - and the finale delivered more than fans could have even hoped for too.

This praise, by the way, is coming from possibly the only person on the planet who actually bought the VHS set of the olde PBS series, "The Six Wives of Henry VIII."

Last night's finale had it all - sex, death, conspiracies galore, glamour and oh yes, did I mention sex? In spades - or more accurately in "glades."

While alternating being denied sex with Anne and having the hottest sex ever with her (and with himself), the finale showed us how Henry (the gorgeous Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was beginning to crystallize his plans to destroy Catholism in England by introducing an entire new religion that would allow him to marry Anne (Natalie Dormer).

Let's face it, the woman just wasn't going to keep giving it up without a ring. Or make that, crown.

Last night also saw the bitter end of one of the most powerful religious bureaucrats in history, Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Neill), who did himself in. But then again, between not having servants anymore and the constant nagging of his mistress, could you blame him?

some of the studly cast - Frain, Rhys Meyers + Cavill Now that it's wrapped for the season, I think there were two things that made this series so much better than that other elaborately expensive series, "Rome."

One, "Tudors" stuck to the story. I mean, really, who cares about the lives of fictional foot soldiers when history in both cases provides us such riches in the real lives of the rich and famous?

And two, has there ever, ever been a better looking bunch of humans in one show - ever? Dear Lord! Call me a sucker for a man in a giant ermine robe, but damn, between the Duke of Suffolk, (Henry Cavill), Thomas Cromwell, (James Frain) and Henry, I was in a near coma.


Can't wait 'til next season when Peter O'Toole comes on board as Henry's nemesis, Pope Paul III.

Let the burnings begin!


from ABC news:

16th Century Sex, Politics and Power Thrill Modern Audiences

King Henry VIII's Licentiousness Has Become a Compelling TV Show

April 24, 2007

Forget the petticoats, silk skirts, embroidered jackets and ornate jewels, the royals of the 16th century seemed to take greater joy in scampering out of their heavy costumes than parading around in them.

At least that's what the "The Tudors," Showtime's sexy and lavish historical drama, leads you to believe about the life and times of King Henry VIII, the notorious English monarch who broke from the Roman Catholic Church and worked his way through six wives in the pursuit of a male heir.

A chiseled Jonathan Rhys Meyers, playing a young King Henry VIII, spends as much time striding through court making royal decrees as he spends bare-chested, unbuttoning his pants to bed a retinue of sixteenth century beauties.

Filled with the explosive energy of a tightly coiled spring, Meyers' King Henry VIII chases after immortality and women, willing to sacrifice his wife, his daughter and even his religion.

"Tudors" creator Michael Hirst has written about the Henry that history has overlooked: the rambunctious, athletic, arrogant young man who accidentally came to power when he was only 18 years old, and who, as the series so aptly portrays, was more interested in the perks that came with monarchy than the business of ruling a kingdom.

Henry + Anne, a history changing affair "He had ultimate power. He could do anything he wanted. He was called the handsomest young king of Christiandom," Hirst told ABC News, "but at the same time he has a very human situation. He's married to an older woman who can't give him a son, and he falls in love with a younger woman. It's the dilemma of a king, but it's also the dilemma of a guy."

Confused? Titillated? Intrigued? If only history class could have been so much fun.

Showtime's Crown Jewel

With a splashy marketing campaign, an eye-catching cast and a plot scripted by the writer of the Oscar-nominated "Elizabeth," industry watchers say "The Tudors" has the potential to create the sort of iconic drama that could expand Showtime's viewer base and brand the channel as a must-have in the way its premium cable rival HBO has done with "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "Entourage."

"This is a modernized version of a costume drama or period piece," Matt Blank, Showtime's chairman and CEO told ABC News. "You take an extremely appealing actor like Johnny and make him your Henry VIII, and you get a beautiful Anne Boleyn, you have the makings of a very sexy show."

So far, audiences are lapping the show up. More than 1 million viewers previewed the show online or through on-demand before it premiered, and more than 1.2 million viewers caught the official series premiere on April 1, the largest debut for the network in the last three years. Viewership has grown every week, according to Showtime.

The show is set to be the most successful in Showtime's 30-year history, according to Stuart Zakim, Showtime's vice president of corporate affairs. Showtime has already renewed the show for a second season with production set to start in June.

But the show also banks on the star power of Meyers, who checked into rehab today for alcohol addiction. A statement from his representative, Meredith O'Sullivan, said, "After a non-stop succession of filming Jonathan Rhys Meyers has entered an alcohol treatment program. He felt a break was needed to maintain his recovery."

BothO'Sullivan and a Showtime spokesperson tell ABC News that the actor's entrance into rehab will have no effect on the show's shooting schedule.

Eighty-Five Percent True

Mining history for drama is not a novel task, but the idea of televised period dramas with their expensive sets and long story lines often seems more the domain of PBS' "Masterpiece Theater" than a network known for groundbreaking shows like "Queer as Folk."

Showetime's modern take on ancient history But "The Tudors" breaks the mold. The House of Tudor, which included Henry VII, Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I, was one of the shortest but most explosive dynasties to rule England and included some of British history's most famous monarchs.

That era of history is ripe with the sex, power and violence that are the fruit of today's dramas. It's "The Sopranos" and "The West Wing" meeting in the 16th century, creating a story line of which Hollywood could only dream.

Hirst told ABC News that Showtime had only one question when it called him about the script. "They asked, is any of it true?" Hirst said, "and I said, 'Oh about 85 percent of it."

Freed from the constraints of network television, which Hirst had originally scripted the drama for, Showtime told Hirst he could push the drama further if he wanted to.

And push he did.

"We have a very polite Jane Austen-ish view of history," Hirst told ABC News. "It's not true that people were very polite. They were hungry for power. Their life expectancy wasn't great. They wanted the good things in life. By showing it in a more extreme form, I believe we actually get closer to the truth."

"The Tudors" references the questions of that day -- humanism, the rise of Protestantism, Europe on the cusp of the Renaissance -- and Hirst promises that the politics of the period will play a greater role in future episodes.

But what intrigues and confounds the 21st century viewer is how the series portrays notions of 16th century sexuality, literally turning our modern-day notions of morality on its head.

The lusty young king need only cast a lingering glance at a young woman before she is in his bedroom, willingly shedding her robes. One of history's most notorious temptresses, Anne Boelyn lands in the king's bed at her father's bidding.

Anne, played by Natalie Dormer, is told by her father, "The king has tired of your sister. … I'm sure you can find a way to keep his interest more prolonged." According to Northwestern University historian Ethan Shagan, these events ring true with the period.

"The sexuality of the male monarch is a very important symbol of the potency of the nation as a whole," Shagan said. "His sexuality represented the qualities of the nation, so it was important to have a son, and it was expected that the king would have several mistresses."

Shagan also says that 16th century women were more than just costumed dolls, waiting for marriage.

"There's always a sexual double standard," Shagan said. "A father would not be amused by his daughter's sexual escapades, but in a court culture where power involved physical access to the monarch, it was custom for fathers to trot out their daughters as a pathway to power."

Why We Just Can't Get Enough

The fascination with "The Tudors," according to Shagan, is that it lets people today talk about their own sexuality and how it might connect to power because sexual politics played such a crucial role in that period.

The period has proven to be a perennial favorite of the big screen, with such iconic films as "Anne of the Thousand Days" with Richard Burton to the more recent post-modern "Elizabeth," which recast the virgin queen as a sexual young woman.

Two more films on the Tudors are set to be released late this year: "The Other Boleyn Girl," with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, and "The Golden Age," also written by Hirst and once again starring Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth.

"All of these movies are about 21st century America," Shagan said. "Queen Elizabeth and her refusal to marry, Anne Boleyn and Henry the VIII -- these figures represent our outward political face and our inner desires in ways that are historically defensible. It's about real historical events that shaped the world, and it's about the sordid details that shape our lives."

It is the truths of that period, the volatile mix of sex and politics, which are considered so taboo today, that makes the drama of "The Tudors" compelling. "Sex gets into bed with politics in that period. It's all connected," Hirst said. "Why did we break with the Catholic faith? Because Henry wanted to sleep with Anne Boleyn."

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures


The Tudors: Drama. 10 p.m. Sundays, Showtime 'The Tudors': Showtime's sexy new Henry VIII

The Tudors: Drama. 10 p.m. Sundays, Showtime

We all know the fat, old King Henry VIII, but the one who's been staring down from billboards for Showtime's entertaining new series "The Tudors" is anything but. Sleek and sexy, he's a Henry for a new day — our day.

This is Henry VIII, rock star. Henry VIII, all-powerful but still clinging to a brat pack of pals. Henry VIII in his 20s.

Created by Michael Hirst, who previously brought Tudor England to the screen in the Cate Blanchett film "Elizabeth," "The Tudors" is a 10-episode series covering just 10 years in the life of the young Henry, captured "in his prime and at the height of his power and sexuality."

Hirst wanted Henry's story "to resonate with contemporary audiences and to have themes which would be relevant to their own lives," he wrote in an essay for Showtime.

"Everyone has an image of Henry as old, fat, ugly and vicious. But he wasn't always like that. When he came to the throne at the age of 18, he was called the handsomest prince in Christendom. He was also a progressive thinker and a humanist, determined to be a just and far-sighted ruler."

Historians describe a Henry schooled for a life in the church; a Henry who was widely read, spoke four languages, sang and played musical instruments; a Henry who, according to a Venetian diplomat writing in 1515, had a face "so very beautiful that it would become a pretty woman."

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as young stud Henry Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("Elvis," "Bend It Like Beckham") would seem almost typecast if only his face were a little rounder and his hair were auburn — and possibly cut in a pageboy. There will surely be nit-picking over the men's short, choppy haircuts in "The Tudors," although portraits of Henry do seem to show him with crisp sideburns and short hair under his fancy headwear.

Historical nit-pickers won't stop with the hairstyles or the spelling of the name of Henry's first queen. Showtime went with Katherine; historians also favor Catherine or Katharine. And then there are Joan Bergin's gorgeous, "deconstructed" Tudor costumes, designed, she says, to prompt viewers to say either, "How sexy!" or "How magnificent!"

But by positioning itself as a juicy drama of political and sexual intrigue, "The Tudors" lowers expectations of absolute authenticity enough to come off as respectably accurate (Hirst puts the truth quotient at 85 percent), even at times historically insightful.

At its core, this classy bodice-ripper creates a fresh and unusually well-rounded portrait of a young king obsessed by his legacy, both on the battlefield (he wants to emulate Henry V, whose victory over the French at Agincourt "made him famous … it made him immortal"), and as the father of a son and heir, so the Tudor dynasty won't die with him.

The tragic inability of Queen Katherine of Aragon, sympathetically played by Maria Doyle Kennedy, to give him a living son — their healthy daughter doesn't count — is at the crux of Henry's frustration throughout the 10 hours of "The Tudors."

That frustration bursts out all over as Henry jousts, wrestles shirtless, declares wars and beds ladies-in-waiting. This is Showtime, after all, with violence, strong language, and lots and lots of nudity and graphic sex.

For a long time, however, there's no sex with Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), whose relationship with Henry is framed as a cat-and-mouse game of politics and power. If only, "The Tudors" suggests, Anne — as coached by her ambitious father and uncle — had slept with Henry sooner, rather than demanding marriage, he might never have clashed with the Catholic Church over the issue of divorce.

Dormer is a bit of a weak link in the early going, although she gets stronger as Anne does. The most fascinating characters, as always in this saga, are Cardinal Wolsey, played with nuance by Sam Neill, and the complex Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam, looking comfortable in another British costume drama).

By scheduling "The Tudors" on Sunday nights, where "The Sopranos" will return next week, Showtime clearly intends to challenge HBO on its own turf. The historical epic will air an hour later than the mob drama, however, and both will also be available in multiple repeats and on demand.

In fact, Showtime on Demand offered the first two episodes of "The Tudors" before its debut as part of a huge publicity push for the series. Luckily, if the show does take off, there's plenty more material. When the 10th episode concludes, Henry VIII still counts only one wife.


Henry VIII: portrait of a serial schemer

Tim Goodman
Friday, March 30, 2007

One historical drama, "Rome," is off the air for good just as another, "The Tudors," rises on a rival network. Is this a good time to be watching TV, or what? If viewers learned anything from "Rome" (well, other than historical dramas are often a slow build), it's that taking a few liberties with history might annoy historians, but as long as the result is compelling drama, who really suffers?

Henry and Anne In that vein, "The Tudors" is a wonderful romp. Not only is the pilot, which airs Sunday -- the first of 10 episodes -- glossier, sexier and more triumphantly colorful than anything, say, "Masterpiece Theatre" could deliver, it's also hugely entertaining, thanks in large part to Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who just flat-out exudes sexiness and virility as the young King Henry VIII.

By documenting the early years of his reign, "The Tudors" is able to catch Henry -- given the throne at 18 -- at his most compellingly modern. Everyone knows about the fat, bearded, dangerously misogynistic Henry, but in his youthful years he was not only more physically agile and sexually adventurous (or so say the producers) but also a tad more forward thinking. Of course, a lot of events didn't go his way, and his petulance and anger would soon rise (as would his voracious appetite, one would assume) to cause woe. But woe is interesting.

Michael Hirst, the creator, executive producer and writer of "The Tudors," gained a lot of notoriety for writing the feature film "Elizabeth," starring Cate Blanchett as the young Elizabeth I. He's mining early territory here as well, and just when you think there's more style than substance, he slams back with subsequent episodes that firmly establish the heady costume-drama conceits the audience demands.

"The Tudors" doesn't shrink from telling the essential story. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, became King Henry VII at age 28 after defeating Richard III and later marrying Elizabeth of York. His rise was complicated and bloody, but his reign led to peace, and he eventually started the transition to his oldest son, Prince Arthur.

But Arthur was ill. He was engaged to Catherine of Aragon, who was the powerful daughter of Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabel. Arthur died about a year after they were married, and Catherine swore that the marriage was never consummated.

Wolsey lying to, er - advising Henry That opened the door for the king to allow his youngest son, Henry, to become engaged to Catherine. When his father dies, Henry becomes King Henry VIII and marries Catherine, but they don't produce a son. Henry's philandering and desire for a divorce are crucial to the history of England. Hirst is able, in "The Tudors," to use this royal drama as grist for his story.

Hirst seizes on the young-Henry angle, and Showtime certainly glories in the passionate (desire, anger, testosterone, etc.) tendencies of virile, not-fat Henry. With glorious, form-fitting costumes -- and the Emmy goes to designer Joan Bergin, no doubt -- the show delivers a fresh retelling of the stale Henry VIII saga, and the result is something tremendously entertaining, smart and richly detailed. Hirst lines up the major historical figures and lets them loose, much as "Rome" did.

If anything, "The Tudors" might be a quicker entry for viewers because Rhys Meyers is riveting from the moment he walks into the frame. All youthful aggression and ill-advised delegating (to Cardinal Wolsey, played by Sam Neill), he's got an eye for the ladies -- many ladies -- while shrinking from his marriage to Queen Catherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who was previously married to his older brother. With all the intrigue of a Shakespearean drama and all the coiled intensity of youthful power-brokering and rampant sexuality, it's hard to not like this version of Henry VIII.

Also, you'd be hard-pressed to find a TV drama anywhere in the past five years where the costumes stand out as characters in themselves. In the press material for "The Tudors," Bergin says, "Henry was the rock star of his time ... with garments cut close to the body to accentuate his physique. He was the Mick Jagger of his day." She's crafted an eye-catching array of clothes, and Rhys Meyers wears the hell out of pretty much anything he's given, as do many of the sumptuous ladies he meets.

Though Rhys Meyers dominates "The Tudors," the surrounding cast is able to make good use of Hirst's focus on a youthful court. Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn has a mesmerizing, temptress smile; Jeremy Northam as pious Sir Thomas More lends some gravitas, as does Neill. Henry Cavill and Callum Blue play Henry's almost-loyal friends. Nick Dunning plays Sir Thomas Boleyn, who pimps out his daughters for power. And Henry Czerny is the Duke of Norfolk, another actor who lends ballast to Rhys Meyers and Co.'s shirtless antics.

What makes "The Tudors" so engaging and thrilling is this sense that, in those early days, Henry was a young man with only a partial lock on the importance of being king. He wants to play -- with his friends and with the many women he eyed in his court. But just when you think this series is one fun romp, Hirsh cleverly steers it back to history and lends it enough import to keep you from thinking it's all too light, letting Rhys Meyers run with the conceit, in the process destroying the cliched depiction of fat and angry VIII making everybody miserable.

"The Tudors" seems intent on checking itself periodically, so as not to have too much froth, even though the froth evaporates the hours in no time. It's as if Hirst is worried that viewers will gorge on the costumes and the Showtime-sanctioned nudity, so he interrupts periodically to make the viewers eat their vegetables. Well, the same thing went on in HBO's "Rome," and that ended up leaving quite an impression. And though comparisons don't do justice to either offering, there's nothing wrong in rejoicing over the fact that exactly seven days after an enormous costume drama shuts its history books, another opens. It certainly beats another crime-scene procedural.

E-mail Tim Goodman at tgoodman@sfchronicle.com. You can read his blog, the Bastard Machine, at www.thebastardmachine.com. His TV Talk Machine podcasts can be found at SFGate.com and the iTunes Music Store.

This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle


From Monsters and Critics.com
Smallscreen Features
By April MacIntyre
Apr 14, 2007, 20:54 GMT

Review: 'The Tudors' a triumph

Replacing the void left by "Rome" is the excellent series "The Tudors," on Showtime.

The talented Michael Hirst, who wrote my favorite film rendition of “Elizabeth” starring Cate Blanchett, created and wrote “The Tudors,” and is molding history and dramatizing events from the rich Middle Ages period of Tudor England.

Henry and long-suffering wife #1 Catherine So far, I have seen six episodes, and I am thoroughly smitten. The production value shows money well spent, and the talented crew that includes Alan Gilmore and Irene O’Brien have provided superb art direction with incredibly opulent set decoration and overall production design, with Joan Bergin’s fantastic costume design complementing the actor’s performances and the set locations showing off the best exterior shots of the United Kingdom.

The casting director team of Frank and Nuala Moiselle found just the right actors to inhabit the regal roles of Henry and his scheming and seductive court.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers breathes life into this ensemble period piece as lusty young King Henry VIII, the same way James Gandolfini made the Sopranos with his perfectly flawed character, Tony.

Hirst paints this young Henry, who took the throne at age 18, as a bit of a show off and emotional reactionary, lover of wine, women and song with a sense of noblesse oblige with his eye on the welfare of a future England.

Quick bit of historical background: Henry VIII's father, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, became King Henry VII after defeating Richard III marrying Elizabeth of York. His rise was violent, but his reign ultimately led to a stretch of peace, with the intent of passing the throne to his oldest son, Prince Arthur.

Arthur, however, was not physically well. He was married to Catherine of Aragon, Spain’s Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand’s daughter. Arthur soon died about a year after they were married, and Catherine claimed their marriage was never consummated.

Enter Henry, now positioned to wed his dead brother’s wife, Catherine. When Henry VII passes, Henry becomes King Henry VIII and marries Catherine, and they have a daughter, Mary.

Henry's veteran advisors Wolsey and More It is this point in the history of Henry VIII that writer Hirst takes off in the political and personal machinations of the King’s immediate court, painting parallel stories of his closest advisor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Sam Neill), his impulsive and high strung sister Margaret (Gabriele Anwar), and the entire conniving Boleyn clan, headed by pimping papa Thomas Boleyn (Nick Dunning), his opportunistic drunk of a son George and his cunning daughters Mary and Anne (Perdita Weeks and Natalie Dormer), all combined with Henry’s growing appetite for a legitimate male heir and new conquests for his bed.

This is no fat man in a hat tale. Henry is fit, as they say, in sumptuous close-to-the-body costuming, and he owns the frame of every shot he is in. Rhys Meyers is delicious, even when he is acting vile.

Henry's closest advisor, Cardinal Wolsey is played by Neill, who is one of those great actors whose film performances often alternate between playing an academic or a villain, as in “Event Horizon”, “The Piano” and even “Jurassic Park.” Neill shines as the complicated, disliked and feared Cardinal who excelled at all political maneuverings in court.

Natalie Dormer who plays Anne Boleyn has eyes that stop men cold in their tracks. Her resignation to her calculating father and Uncle Norfolk's plans for Wolsey's demise and Boleyn family domination is well played, and her mental seduction of Henry is fun to watch.

Court schemers Norfolk and Boleyn Maria Doyle Kennedy plays the part of Catherine of Aragon with the perfect amount of regalness. The people love her, yet the indignities of not being preferred by the King is worn on her face; we feel for her. Their young daughter Mary feels the sting of her Father's indifference too, and after being betrothed to the Dauphin of France, then King of Spain,(who rejects her for a Portuguese princess), then back to the Dauphin again, is finally torn from her doting Mother and sent packing to a far-away castle, the very idea of her ever ruling England is rejected by King Henry vociferously.

Jeremy Northam plays the Catholic martyr, Sir Thomas More, who for a while acts as friend, confidant and conscience for Henry. In reality, More was a humanist scholar, lawyer, author, and statesman. He was Lord Chancellor from 1529 to 1532. More coined the term "utopia," a name he gave to an ideal, imaginary island nation whose political system he described in a book published in 1516. Things do not end well for the pious More, especially when the restless and smitten Henry wants out of his calcified marriage.

Henry Czerny plays the elitist Duke of Norfolk, another court schemer and confidant to lascivious climber Thomas Boleyn, the two plotting and commiserating courtside over Wolsey’s hold on Henry.

Hirst has scored a big hit with “The Tudors” and is masterful at this clever balancing act of eye candy opulence, Machiavellian plotting and nudity with just a hint of soap opera drama balanced with a healthy injection of historical veracity.

Grade: “A”


Television Reviews Showtime’s "The Tudors"

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Boston Contributor Tuesday Apr 17, 2007

Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Showtime's The Tudors Henry VIII’s six marriages and his reputation as a licentious, conquering king quick to send one to the Tower has been the stuff of many a classy biopic. British succession being the riveting subtext with no shortage of political intrigue and historical hubris- But murder, sex, betrayal, plots and a few beheadings are all just the backdrop to the buff Anglosexual in the designer crown, in Showtime’s 10- part series The Tudors.

Begone Shakepearean verbal battlements and dusty Masterpiece Theater forensics, replacing the jowly, lecherous old monarch is a prime beef king played with winking authority by Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

The Tudors is more than a costume drama or clever twist to well-trod history. Series creator and writer Michael Hirst dramatizes the king’s mostly untold earlier life starting in his 20s, before he caused a chasm in the Catholic Church by defying papal edicts to divorce his first wife Katharine of Aragon.

Hirst’s script is as lean and elegant as Myers’ often undraped figure. Even if The Tudors in often undetailed with historical accuracy, Hirst, avoids building soap opera around already dramatic events. His father, Henry VII, had to seize the crown during a civil war and Henry VIII still fends off plots to unseat him amidst political and religious empires.

Myers is commanding enough to make Henry as unruly, sensual and explosive in his private life as he is ballsy enough to create a mighty fleet, outwit the French, bed every maiden in site and dispatch the odd wife or two. Not everybody can wear a vented aubergine vest breeches and still look naturally butch.

Henry was a great sportsman in early life any phallic symbolism on the jousting field is just coincidental while he wields the steeliest lance and proclaims, "I was born ready." At a wrestling exhibition for heads of state, Henry challenges Francis I, King of France, becoming so enraged that he declares that he will not sign a treaty between the counties.

Henry’s brutish side can also make him toxic, he banishes his sister Margaret (an electric and gorgeous Gabrielle Anwar) from court on learning of her secret marriage to his former guy pal Charles Brandon (a static and gorgeous Henry Cavill). He hatefully tells her "I am not your brother, I am your king...I have yet to decide to make your bedmate a head shorter." Strong writing builds authenticity to scenes such as Katherine crushed over the fact that she has not borne a son and Henry speaking that he is living God’s wrath because he married his dead brother’s wife. Aside from the general history, Hirst claims The Tudors is largely based on actual events (he also wrote the 1998 film ’Elizabeth’ starring Cate Blanchett).

Solid supporting players all round headed by Sam Neill as Cardinal Wolsey, acquiring wealth and political influence as he claws his way to the papacy. His performance is a mercurial cross between Machiavelli and James Mason. He is riveting is such dense scenes as trying to negotiate a treaties and frame diplomacy so Henry can be the ’architect of a new and modern world." Later, naked and facedown while being punch massaged he plays it hilariously straight. Natalie Dormer also makes Anne Boleyn a labyrinth of calculated emotions, meanwhile she is beguilingly the headstrong Lady that Henry needs to possess. "Those eyes of yours are like dark hooks for the soul." Boleyn’s father creepily tells her.

Maria Doyle Kennedy as Katherine of Aragon makes her not the cloying barren wife of a younger man, but a woman of purpose and love who knows she is being cast aside. Her rivalry with Lady Blount, who gives Henry a bastard son and Boleyn, may seethe within her, but she is not going to show her hand. Jeremy Northam is a dead ringer as Sir Thomas More headed for a showdown with Henry over his demand for a divorce from Katherine. Wolsey’s ascending crony, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex is given intriguing dark dimensions by James Frain. There’s even some ’third-sex’ storyline with William Compton (Kris Holden-Reid) cruises court composer (and organist) Thomas Tallies (Joe van Moyland) along the castle corridors.

Charles McDougall, Steve Shill and Brian Kirk share direction of the $40 million production featuring top-drawer art direction by Tom Conroy (with lush locales filmed mostly in Ireland) and vibrant cinematography by Ousama Rawi. Gorgeously authentic costume design by Joan Bergin that continue to pop with beautiful fabrics, form and Renaissance allure. The designs are so detailed that there are actually distressed velvet bodices, custom armor, pelt accessories, dirty-frayed undergarments, tarnished metal buttons. In contrast, and equally impressive, are touches like unadorned court dancing and brutish sports displays which built crucial foundations of period authenticity.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


Meyers a natural king on bloody 'Tudors'
By: Caitlin Cowan, Daily Arts Writer
Posted: 4/16/07

A lady unlaces the front of her dress, a crown lies still on the throne and a body lies motionless on a marble floor, to which Jonathan Rhys Meyers intones is his gentle British tenor: "You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends. To get to the heart of the story, you have to go back to the beginning." Welcome to "The Tudors."

In 'The Tudors,' Meyers beheads unfortunate women with due flair. (Courtesy of Showtime) A lush, bloodthirsty rendering of Henry VIII's reign, "The Tudors" is Showtime's answer to HBO's popular period dramas ("Rome," "Deadwood," "Carnivale") with Meyers ("Match Point") well-cast as King Henry VIII, the most notorious in England's history.

Some critics have already dismissed Meyers's "phoned-in" performance, but the confident, sexy star does evil remarkably well. While scheming and ranting with his advisers, something dark and malicious sparkles in his eyes. He speaks forcefully, with a biting, self-important tone that makes him a perfect fit for the role of a king with an insatiable appetite for power, prestige and sex.

The show's unchecked jolt of hyper masculinity is undeniable. In just the second episode, Henry challenges the King of France to a wrestling match after the latter claims that France boasts Europe's best wrestlers - and the two of them immediately strip to the waist.

Needless to say, if the real Henry VIII had taken on the King of France, it would have been more like a sumo match than a hot-body contest. In fact, this King Henry's pretty face and ripped physique are the only obvious problems with the show, since the real monarch was a large man with facial hair and a famously imposing belly - nothing like the model-esque Meyers. Doubtless the decision to avoid starring a fat brute with a turkey leg was based on the ultimate TV king: ratings.

But if you can forgive this and some of the other superficially miscast roles, there are plenty of redeeming qualities. In addition to the visual feast provided by the show's gorgeous set design, rich costuming and opulent jewelry, you get to watch Mary Boleyn, sister of the infamous Anne, go down on King Henry.

It might not be as saucy as non-fiction orgy "Rome," but there's plenty of sex in "The Tudors," and enough intrigue to keep each episode moving nicely. In the pilot, Henry wastes no time impregnating one of the Queen's ladies in waiting in his furious quest for a male heir to the throne - a necessity his barren wife could never provide.

After reading Machiavelli's "The Prince," Henry remarks the author asks an important question: whether it is better for a king to be feared or loved. In Meyers's case, evil is made more palatable (and marketable) via great abs and an overcharged sex drive. Let the heads roll.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The Tudors
Sundays at 10 p.m.

© Copyright 2007 Michigan Daily


From The Sunday Times
April 8, 2007

He's Henry the Eighth, he is

A new US series, The Tudors, aims to show a sexier side to the ruthless king. Kristin Hohenadel reports from the set of the '16th-century soap opera' Forget the red wig and the fat suit. When American television producers went in search of Henry VIII for the new Showtime series The Tudors, whichhas just started airing in the United States, they cast Jonathan Rhys Meyers, complete with cropped brown hair, sculpted silhouette and Hollywood teeth.

"Listen," says the pillow-lipped Irish actor on a chilly summer afternoon on set, outside Dublin. He’s wearing loud green sweats and a pale-grey sleeveless shirt, smoking Marl-boros, drinking tea, enunciating like a thespian and bouncing his leg up and down so hard that his trailer is shaking. "You’re trying to sell a historical period drama to a country like America -- you do not want a big, fat, 250lb, red-haired guy with a beard. It doesn’t let people embrace the fantastic monarch he was, because they’re not attracted to the package. Heroes do not look like Henry VIII. That is just the world we live in."

Although the king’s image has been immortalised in the surviving portraiture as a bloated, middle-aged tyrant, the makers of The Tudors insist Rhys Meyers, 29, is not mere Hollywood casting, but a fitting choice to play the young and apparently once sexy king of 16th-century Tudor England. "A number of sources testify that as a young man, Henry was the handsomest prince in Christendom," says Brian Kirk, the Irish director who is shooting episodes five and six. "Jonny utterly epitomises the chivalric ideal."

The pretty cast of the new Tudors reign The producers urged the British screenwriter Michael Hirst -- who scripted the film Elizabeth, but had never written for television -- to study episodes of The West Wing and to think of The Tudors as a kind of 16th-century Sopranos, with Henry as the kingpin. "Usually, you see these kinds of stories depicted in a safe and, you know, ‘BBC’ way," says Showtime’s Robert Greenblatt. "We just wanted to bring a more sensual reality to it. The characters were human beings. They had personal lives. The surviving record of them is the staid paintings, but we wanted to go behind that."

Hirst says his aim was to make the audience relate to the characters in The Tudors, not observe them from afar. "This idea that history happened to Martians, and that as soon as people dress up, they start speaking this sub-Shakespearian language, is alienating," he says. "We’ve encouraged people to speak as naturally as possible " although we didn’t want them to speak in a completely contemporary way, unless it amused me." Hirst pooh-poohs past productions about the Tudors as old-fashioned and clichéd, and claims he didn’t even bother to watch the award-winning miniseries Elizabeth I, despite his fondness for Helen Mirren. "I’m so fed up with the way history is presented on TV," he says. "We really wanted something fresh. We just wanted a lot of energy, a lot of youth. And although there’s no doubt I shall be attacked rather savagely, especially in England, the funny thing is that many of the scenes people will take exception to are based on historical things."

Hirst recalls a conference call with the network after having turned in several episodes, in which Greenblatt said: "We really only have one question. Is any of this true?" About 85%, Hirst replied, apart from a few name changes and a bit of chronological fudging and filling-in of dramatic blanks in the name of artistic licence. "When people ask, ‘Is it historically accurate?’ . . . Well, it’s not like any of the historians were actually there," Hirst says. "So, what you read in history books, is that historically accurate? Not necessarily. I’m not writing a documentary. From Showtime’s point of view, the crime would not be that it wasn’t historically accurate, but that it wasn’t entertaining."

"Well, you know, I have big ambitions, but I hope this will change the way people think of historical drama on TV. If Americans don’t have any preconceptions about what they’re seeing, I want them to be astonished to think that this king they might have heard of was actually young once, and in love, and brave and foolish."

Hirst wasn’t the only member of the cast and crew who seemed eager to stress that this wasn’t a history lesson, but an entertainment based on a true story so juicy and surprising that you couldn’t have made it up. "It’s part history, part soap, part romance," says the tall, shy, slow-talking Sam Neill in his trailer, having slipped out of the gleaming red robes of Cardinal Wolsey and into a black wool sweater and cream-coloured cords. "Above all, it’s about sex, I think. Sex drives everything, including Wolsey, who had a mistress. The vow of celibacy didn’t mean a lot to the good cardinal." He chuckles softly. "Yes, sex drives everything. That’s what makes it such fun."

The production’s Irish costume designer, Joan Bergin, says she went for "a sexy modern Tudor look", with faithful silhouettes and slightly lowered necklines. "We’re all conditioned to think of Victorian morality, where women couldn’t show their ankles. But in Tudor times, ladies went to court to find a husband, and you tried out quite a few before you decided." Henry got a lot of action, and The Tudors promises plenty of steamy but American-cable-appropriate glimpses of flesh. "Seeing somebody screw on screen is not interesting," Rhys Meyers says. "But seeing somebody chase somebody — that’s so much sexier. There’s not much sex in The Sopranos, but it’s always there -- the wife at home in her high heels, or Lorraine Bracco sitting like that . . ." He trails off and coquettishly crosses his legs. "The reality of the situation is that we’re not making a production to be shown at Sundance. We’re making a production to be shown to a mass audience in America. I think they’ll love it. It has everything that’s required for a really meaty show."

The Tudors begins in 1520, a little more than a decade into Henry’s reign, with the meeting between the English king and Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Much of season one focuses on the love triangle that changed British history, as Henry seeks to divorce Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy) for failing to give him a surviving male heir, and falls for Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), eventually leading to the break with the Roman Catholic church over his divorce. This Henry VIII is a cultured and worldly fellow whose interests, when he isn’t out hunting and jousting with the guys, include designing his many royal palaces and gardens. With help from his inner circle of advisers -- notably the humanist philosopher Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam) and the avaricious Wolsey -- Henry juggles his competing desires to be a just ruler and to ensure his own legacy.

Tax incentives lured the American makers of this very English story to Ireland, so the production designer, Tom Conroy, had to work around the lack of native Tudor architecture by building sets and choosing "period neutral" locations. The 11th-century Christ Church Cathedral, a busy Dublin tourist site and working house of worship, was converted into a "mini studio;" at Ardmore Studios, royal chambers were built, plaster was painted and stained to look like ornate wood, period beds were carved, working fireplaces glowed and thousands of pounds were lavished on handmade double-wicked beeswax candles to provide authentic lighting for the interior spaces.

Conroy said he tried to make the production as Tudor-looking as possible. But the straw that would have covered the floors tripped the Steadicam and looked so odd, it was deemed distracting; for the most part, it was removed. The rooms were less bare than they would have been, with more furniture, and character-revealing objects such as Henry’s spheres and maps were not locked away in cupboards, but scattered around his chambers. "We’re editing history, in a sense," Conroy says, "creating a parallel universe."

But the real parallel universe mirroring proceedings is Hollywood. Showtime is banking on The Tudors to work as a US-style soap, it seems; it is selling the Tudor court as a 16th-century Tinseltown, with Henry as an Alist celebrity. "Henry was the ultimate star," Kirk says. "Everyone was flocking to get a piece of him. In Hollywood, every single person in every single bar is an actor, a musician or a model; go to the loo and you hear people talking about the scripts they’re writing. The court was the same; the closer you got to the centre, the more powerful you were. People ran around for years trying to get in there and never made it. It was vicious."


Love, sex, secession, and succession
'The Tudors' puts a real-life dynasty on display

By Suzanne C. Ryan
Globe Staff | March 25, 2007

King Henry VIII of England is famous for his six tumultuous marriages, his break with the Roman Catholic Church, and his fondness for the ax man. But chubby Henry as a sex symbol? History has skipped that part -- until now.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Henry Cavill, Gabrielle Anwar, and Natalie Dormer star in 'The Tudors.' (Jonathan Hession/Showtime) Under pressure from the pending return of HBO's "The Sopranos," Showtime has cooked up its own Sunday night family drama, "The Tudors," which follows a powerful boss (the king), his extramarital affairs, his whackings (beheadings), counseling sessions (with a church cardinal), and pending war with neighbors (France). There's also an unhappy but pampered wife (Queen Katherine of Aragon) and a scheming underling (the Duke of Buckingham).

The similarities end there. "The Tudors," a period drama that debuts next Sunday at 10 p.m., follows the early reign of King Henry when he is a slim and athletic teenager (Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as the king). Each episode of the 10-part program will cover one year, from 1520 to 1530, when Henry is smitten with Lady Anne Boleyn and tries to divorce Queen Katherine.

Starting April 8, "The Tudors" will air one hour after "The Sopranos" opposite HBO's "Entourage" -- another series about party boys. Showtime insists it doesn't care about the competition. "It just so happened the final episodes of 'The Sopranos' are coming on. We can't hang up the 'Gone Fishing' sign," said Bob Greenblatt , Showtime's president of entertainment. "Our dramas are always on Sunday nights and we've had great success at that time."

"The Tudors" was created and written by Michael Hirst, who also wrote the screenplay for Cate Blanchett's "Elizabeth" and "The Golden Age." Hirst had never written a series for television but agreed to write a pilot for CBS. It was rejected.

Then sister network Showtime picked it up with just one question: Is any of this true?

"I plucked a figure out of the air: 85 percent ," said Hirst. "I never altered anything maliciously. It's based on historical material, if you can believe historians." Hirst adjusted timelines, created some fictional characters, used more modern language and more body-hugging costumes from the Renaissance period rather than the "boring" Tudor period, he said. Hirst's king also has brown hair , not red . The executive producer's mission was to dispel the "unjust" image of Henry VIII as an unattractive overeater.

"When he first came to the throne, he was called the handsomest king in Christendom. He was very proud of his physique," Hirst said. "Henry's essential dilemma was that he was married to an older woman, in love with a younger one, and wanted a divorce. That's happening every day. "My passion is to make the past real and make it resonate with people today. Traditionally, historical dramas are very wooden," he said.

The program, on a budget of $3.5 million per episode, was shot in Ireland on more than 43 sets and with 100 actors with speaking parts, including Sam Neill ("Jurassic Park") as chief adviser Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Maria Doyle Kennedy ("The Commitments") as Queen Katherine. The producers rented about 4,000 costumes from a Spanish opera company and Warner Brothers.

"Katherine of Aragon can't wear the same thing twice," said Hirst.

Historians aren't ready to take issue with a sexed - up Tudor court, yet. "It's an interesting story to look at," said Erik Goldstein, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. "In his youth, Henry was an elegant Renaissance man. A docu drama like this can be educational and bring history to life," he said.

"Of course, it's always best if you can stay as authentic as possible," Goldstein added.

Lara Eakins , a history buff who runs the website Tudorhistory.org, doesn't care about any discrepancies, as long as the Tudor family is honored. "I have a problem with people who watch this and take it as literal history. That's not the producer's fault," she said. "Hopefully this will get people to study the real history."

Television has generally shied away from serialized period dramas (HBO's "Rome" is one exception , but it lasted just two seasons). "Anything pre-19th century immediately has a strike against it," said Alex McNeil , author of "Total Television: The Comprehensive Guide to Programming from 1948 to the Present." "Perhaps programmers assume that people think they will have to know too much history to appreciate it."

Natalie Dormer, who portrays future queen Anne Boleyn, is very familiar with the Tudor story since she grew up in England. "As soon as I got the part, the first thing I did was go to Hampton Court Palace," Dormer said, referring to the king and queen's former residence. "The waiting chamber and the great hall are still there."

"It's such an honor to play her," she added. "Henry and Anne were really the beginning of incredible religious turbulence in this country. She had strong Protestant tendencies. She stood up and challenged Henry. She was a power player, within the restraints of women being possessions."

Dormer has tried not to think about the inevitable: Anne's beheading next season, assuming the series is renewed. "I stay in the moment," she says, " and think about the next hour."

Suzanne Ryan can be reached at sryan@globe.com.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.


Here's the fun one - a little bit review, a little bit ancient pastry

TV Dinners: The Tudors - Birds Baked In a Pie
Wed, 04/11/2007 - 5:57am by YumSugar

Francois and Henry share 4 and 20 blackbirds in The Tudors This week's TV Dinner is a little bit spectacular, and unfortunately one that you're not going to be able to make at home (at least not easily and not without getting the health board, peta and animal control upset at you).

I have a thing for older cookbooks, and recently I came across one by food historian Esther B. Aresty called The Delectable Past (1964). In it, Aresty shares several recipes from her collection of rare and collectable books - including recipes dating back to the middle ages. While reading it, I came across a recipe for a pie that would have birds fly out of it (just like the nursery rhyme). I thought it was pretty interesting, but didn't think I'd ever have any reason to bring it up. I was wrong.

This week I was watching the second episode of The Tudors and during the episode Jonathan Rhys-Meyers presents the king of France with a large tart. The king doesn't seem that amused until he begins to cut it open and PWHOOSH! out flies a bunch of birds. When I saw it I honestly flipped out and got really excited, I honestly had to rewind it and then squeal, "Wah! I just found the next TV dinner!"

To check out the ye olde recipe for live birds in a pie, and get a link to a video clip, Sorry no clip this time, but you can find it at Showtime's website - click videos then choose episode 2, "A Surprising Gift").

Francois about to meet his little friends To make Pies that the Birds may be alive in them, and flie out when it is cut up.
From Epulario, 1598

Make the coffin of a great pie or pastry, in the bottome thereof make a hole as big as your fist, or bigger if you will, let the sides of the coffin bee somewhat higher then ordinary pies, which done put it full of flower and bake it, and being baked, open the hole in the bottome, and take out the flower. Then having a pie of the bigness of the hole in the bottome of the coffin aforesaid, you shal put it into the coffin, withall put into the said coffin round about the aforesaid pie as many small live birds as the empty coffin will hold, besides the pie aforesaid. And this is to be done at such time as you send the pie to the table, and set before the guests: where uncovering or cutting up the lid of the great pie, all the birds will flie out, which is to delight and pleasure shew to the company. And because they shall not bee altogether mocked, you shall cut open the small pie, and in this sort you may make many others, the like you may do with a tart.


Official Showtime site for The Tudors.

IMDb webpage for The Tudors.

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