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Television and the Tudors


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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 05 October 2007 - 05:14 PM

The historian Anna Whitelock has written an interesting article about the drama serial on the Tudors in today's Guardian.

http://www.guardian....2184044,00.html

Gratuitous sex and violence, nubile women, wrestling kings, royal tantrums and smouldering intrigue - this is The Tudors, the new BBC period costume drama that starts tonight. It spotlights 10 years in the life of the young twentysomething, pre-Holbein Henry VIII as he tires of his wife Catherine of Aragon, looks for European glory and lusts after Anne Boleyn. The dialogue is at times farcical, the characters absurdly glamorous, the chronology confused and the factual errors glaring, but beneath this sexy, glossy, pacy soap-opera lies a not inaccurate presentation of the court politics of Henry's early years.

Henry's was a young, exuberant court, marked by immature, laddish politics, in stark contrast to the staid, sober court of his father, Henry VII. The king was athletic and energetic. He lusted for war, for women and for fun. He wanted "pastime with good company" and surrounded himself with "new men" of his own age, royal playboys with whom he jousted, played tennis, hunted and joked and who usurped his father's grey-haired servants. While the old guard counselled caution and conciliation - Cardinal Thomas Wolsey talks of "pacifying the young lion" - Henry's virile "boon companions" shared the king's passions for sport and for glory. They made up that energetic coterie of young men, the gentlemen of the privy chamber, who attended Henry as he dressed, bathed and ate.
The Tudors, which stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers, accurately presents a spoilt, self-indulgent male court. Politics was played out in the bedchamber, on the tennis court, the tilt-yard, and in snatched conversations in the corridors of the palace. Politics was intimacy: power was personal. To lose the king's trust was to lose influence. As the brutal decapitation of the Duke of Buckingham in the second episode demonstrates, the price of lost favour and perceived treachery was high. It was a young, instinctive, physical and rapacious sort of politics, and this was true both at home and abroad. European powerplay was also deeply personal and played out between Henry and his young contemporaries, the Valois French king Francis I and the Habsburg emperor Charles V. All three were virile men in their 20s who shared a love of spectacle and an intense personal rivalry. In the first episode, the 26-year-old Henry asks Sir Thomas More of the 23-year-old French king: "What about his legs? Are his calves strong, like mine?" To which Sir Thomas responds: "Your Majesty, no one has calves like you." "Is he handsome? Is he vain?" Henry continues. "Your Majesty," quips More, "he's French."

The Field of the Cloth of Gold, the Anglo-French summit held in the spring of 1520, was a magnificent display of wealth and courtly sports. Foreign alliances, like friendships at home, were forged in the midst of jousts, feasts and entertainments. The Camp du Drap d'Or was preceded by the mutual growing of beards as a symbol of friendship between the two kings. Yet they ended up wrestling to prove their superiority and preserve national honour. Politics was a personal duel and Henry's defeat in the wrestling bout threatened the very alliance it sought to celebrate.

The king's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, is presented sympathetically and not as the dowdy figure of historical tradition - though the age gap between Henry and his older spouse is portrayed as far greater than the six years it was in reality. However, Catherine is not credited as being the savvy and accomplished political operator that she undoubtedly was. She is short-changed by the time parameters of the series: in the years immediately before, she had acted as unofficial ambassador for her father, Ferdinand of Aragon, as regent while Henry was fighting in France and oversaw a notable English victory against the Scots at Flodden Field.

In The Tudors, Catherine is too easily dismissed by Henry. When she expresses her dislike of the Anglo-French alliance, Henry snaps, "Since when are you a diplomat? You are my wife, you are not my minister." In fact, the French ambassador is recorded to have said that on making such representation "as one would not have supposed she would have dared to so, on this account she is held in greater esteem by the king and council than she ever was". Yet here, we see a chastened, politically neutered Catherine, who replies, "I should like to be your wife in every way, Henry. Will you not visit my bedchamber as you used to?" But there is a truth to this: their marriage was by now unravelling for want of a male heir.

Women are, at least in the first couple of episodes, more objects of male lust than the astute politicians that many doubtless were. As the Boleyn sisters, Anne and Mary, demonstrate, daughters were conduits of power and influence for their power-hungry fathers. First Mary, then Anne, is manoeuvred into the king's affections by the machinations of their father Thomas. This was a politics of the bedchamber, a politics that Anne learns to play well. Her long, smouldering gaze promises much for later episodes.

The Tudors, already screened in America to critical acclaim, is not intended to be an authentic, documentary piece and there is little respect for historical fact. Henry's two sisters, Mary and Margaret, are conflated as one character to avoid confusion with the king's daughter, the princess Mary. And refreshingly endearing as the portrayal of the princess is, in fact Mary and the French dauphin never met and she never attended the Field of the Cloth of Gold as is presented in the drama. The appearance of the great Tudor composer Thomas Tallis at the court is some 20 years too early and Elizabeth Blount, the king's first mistress, was not married until after the affair.

Though Henry was described as "the handsomest prince in Christendom", this is a 21st-century, Hollywood-style Henry whose undoubted sexual prowess is not matched by intellectual credibility. Although Henry was reasonably intelligent, the attempts in episode one to portray him as a scholarly monarch are weak: on a visit to see his lord chancellor, Thomas More, he describes having received a gift from the Duke of Urbino. "It's a book called The Prince, by a Florentine, Niccolo Machiavelli. It's not like your book, Utopia. It's less ... utopian."

In its portrayal of the details of court life there is a lack of period authenticity. The costumes are inaccurate - apparently intentionally. Joan Bergin, the Emmy-winning designer, sought to present a "deconstructed Tudor" so that the "clothes wouldn't be too purist and odd for a contemporary audience", but perhaps she underestimates the historical sensibilities of the viewer. The king's traditional cloak, doublet and hose is replaced by leather trousers and there is a preponderance of plunging necklines and tight bodices. While The Tudors gives us a clear idea of the informality of court life, we lose a sense of the formalised rituals of dining (Henry is improbably seen snacking on apples), of dressing, of dancing. The series is all the poorer for such oversights.

This is doubtless history sexed up, and dumbed down. But beyond the bodice-ripping, the furtive looks and whispered asides, there is a version, though heavily glamorised, of political reality; a sense of the fragility of royal favour, the sexual powerplay of court life. Alliances, personal and political, were made by the whims, passions and impulses of the monarch. Amid the magnificence and spectacle there is a raw physicality that rings true.


#2 Kathy Beckett

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 01:15 AM

The season repeats on Cable in the US this March.

Also, coming out in US theatres February 29th, "The Other Boleyn Girl"

http://www.sonypictu...therboleyngirl/


I wish someone would do a movie on Anne of Cleves.

#3 John Geraghty

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 05:31 PM

The Tudors is filmed in Ardmore studies, County Wicklow, Ireland. We also have a link to the forum, as it features my father as the Kings physician.
How many of you can claim that your father cured Anne Boleyn of the plague!

John

#4 Kathy Beckett

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Posted 05 March 2008 - 05:23 AM

Season One is currently on Entertainment on Demand, and it is absolutely wonderful, even if not historically accurate!!!

#5 John Simkin

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Posted 05 March 2008 - 07:43 AM

The Tudors is filmed in Ardmore studies, County Wicklow, Ireland. We also have a link to the forum, as it features my father as the Kings physician.
How many of you can claim that your father cured Anne Boleyn of the plague!

John


What is his name?

#6 Kathy Beckett

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Posted 06 March 2008 - 06:19 PM

Clive Geraghty

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0313869/


That is really neat John.


Oh, I see he was in a FATHER TED episode. That was such a funny show!!!

Edited by Kathy Beckett, 07 March 2008 - 12:09 AM.


#7 John Geraghty

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 03:16 AM

Yes Kathy,
That is he. He is primarily a stage actor, but he has done several movie, radio and television productions.
Yes, in the christmas episode of father ted my father played the man on a boat who Ted hit with a skimming stone- a nice piece of forum trivia!

Forgot about this topic, sorry for the late reply.

John

#8 John Simkin

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 07:32 AM

Yes Kathy,
That is he. He is primarily a stage actor, but he has done several movie, radio and television productions.
Yes, in the christmas episode of father ted my father played the man on a boat who Ted hit with a skimming stone- a nice piece of forum trivia!

Forgot about this topic, sorry for the late reply.

John


Maybe you should create a Wikipedia entry for him?

#9 John Geraghty

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Posted 13 March 2008 - 02:08 AM

Indeed maybe I should.
Both he and my mother both worked in the Abbey theatre, Ireland's natinal theatre for 30/40 years until recently. It is my eventual intention to write a book about them, but that it some years down the line, unless someone would care to give me a cash advance when I finish my masters!

John



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