Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Tudors, Season 1 (2007)

Despite using the name of the dynasty as a whole, The Tudors is really the story of the reign of Henry VIII - he of the infamous six wives.  It thus fits neatly into the period of history immediately prior to that covered by Elizabeth R, with this season for instance focusing very much on Henry's efforts to divorce his first wife and marry the woman who would eventually give birth to Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn.

This is a very different show to the much older BBC production, however.  Elizabeth R was, to use a polite term, produced very 'economically'.  It was also faithful to our best understanding of what actually occurred in those times, to the point that period-appropriate curses were used, and character dialogue was often taken directly from primary sources.  The Tudors, on the other hand, is far more opulent in production.  It is also far less concerned about fidelity to the details.  As long as the broad strokes are right, the creative team here are more than willing to exercise some dramatic license.  Several characters are composites of multiple people, for instance.  I suspect this is done to make things easier to follow - there are already two people named Mary so having a third might be over the top, let's merge some details of her life into that of her sister Margaret - and to keep the cast from growing too much.  The broad strokes are correct, but this is a show much more concerned about being entertainment than about being accurate.

The big question of course, is whether is actually is good entertainment, and I am pleased to say that it is.  Sometimes the dramatic licenses are more than a bit on the soap opera side, and of course everyone is ridiculously beautiful - unless their ugliness is a plot point - and there's a great deal of "we're on premium cable!" raunchiness going on, but the basic narrative is a compelling one.

Some credit for this must go to the performances of the cast.  In particular Natalie Dormer, who is excellent as Anne Boleyn; and Sam Neill, who I generally don't much care for but who really delivers in the role of Henry VIII's chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey.  But the writing also is effective: the show does a fine job of making Anne a likable character whom we want to see succeed while at the same time making us feel sympathy for the plight of Henry's first wife Catherine - whose only fault was to not bear him a living son.

As long as you're happy to watch it as entertainment, not history, and you don't mind the sometimes soapy and salacious content, The Tudors is a fine show.

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