Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to watch the first two Series of The Tudors, I have them on disc in the 'waiting to be viewed' pile but other things have always cropped up and they remain there gathering dust. That being said the third series popped through my door and I was asked to give this review. Bear that in mind then as I indicate my thoughts here.
I have previously enjoyed the historical works of Michael Hirst, having reviewed both Elizabeth movies; understanding of course that Hirst takes some artistic license with the actual events of history. That in the main doesn't rile me too much as long as the pertinent facts are put across and large swathes of history are not manipulated for a viewing public. Initially watching the first couple of episodes of this third series of The Tudors led me to the same conclusions I came to whilst watching Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Yes most of what should be there is left intact with some deviation for the purposes of dramatic license, however in the main there is sufficient material left in there that should satisfy the most ardent historical fan.
We start with the marriage of King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) to Jane Seymour (Annabelle Wallis) in 1536, ten days after the execution of Anne Boylen. Events progress onto the Pilgrimage of Grace at Lincoln and York with the captains of that rebellion eventually brought to task for their actions against King and country. His daughters Mary (Sarah Bolger) and Elizabeth (Claire MacCauley) are brought back into the frame to attend court and Jane gives birth to his son Edward. A King who rejoices at the birth of his son becomes heartbroken, as his wife dies shortly afterwards. After some period of solace he is forced to re-marry for the sake of the Union and to these ends he courts Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone) with a view to solidify his alliance with The Protestant League. Henry feels betrayed though with the arranged marriage and soon his affections turn elsewhere. By the end of the series he courts the very young Catherine Howard (Tazmin Merchant) and annuls the marriage to Anne.
I was enthralled watching this third series, remembering some of the events from old History classes with some others spurring me on to do a little more research and before watching the second half of the series, there are eight episodes in total, was thinking that this would probably end with a score of eight. That score though has to drop back to a seven because of its latter half. After the birth of his son and death of Jane there is an excellent episode where he tries to find solace, courts only the opinion of his fool and searches internally whilst locked away from the rest of the world. After that though events seems a little too rushed. Characters seem a little too wooden, the depiction of the German Duke William, Anne's brother, being far too stereotypical and the scene in which he appears at the top of some steps, and the dialogue which then flows between himself and King Henry's messengers quite ludicrous in nature. In all honesty it reminded me somewhat of Adrian Edmondson as Baron Von Richthoven in Blackadder Goes Forth. There are other scenes after that which grate a little also. Anne was not supposed to be the prettiest of women however the casting department saw fit to place Joss Stone into her role. Now if I was going to cast a woman who was reported to be somewhat of a dog's dinner then Joss Stone would not have been at the top of my list. Stone plays her part relatively well enough but her German accent is a little forced at times, and again somewhat comedic. It is for these few occurrences in the latter half of this series that I decided on my final mark.
Now that's off my chest I can get onto the more pleasant aspects of this production. The first half of the series, essentially covering the Pilgrimage of Grace and then the fall of the instigators really captured my own imagination; enough to do some brief research into it. The performances by Gerard McSorely and Kevin Doyle as Robert Aske and Sir John Constable bear special mention as they portray their characters well, with feeling and depth. Of all the events within this third series I was most interested in this aspect, their rise, complaints against the State and their final fall from grace. There is excellent drama to be found here as Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk (Henry Cavill) is tormented by the actions his master commands him to undertake, eventually becoming yet another person at court who only has their own aims to please as he oversees Thomas Cromwell's demise. Cromwell (James Frain) produces a good enough performance as the right hand of the throne and at times almost becoming a Grima Wormtongue figure as he manipulates the ear of King Henry.
That only leaves Jonathan Meyers as the King. Meyers doesn't immediately strike as an actor who would be worthy of the title role, he's toned but somewhat slight of figure and doesn't resemble the images we all have of a more burly, brutish Henry. This may be the case but, as has been pointed out before, these episodes cover the earlier part of his reign when he was athletic and before he grew in stature because of his injury which meant he was unable to exercise as he once did. I don't have a problem with his stature, and his persona is quite demanding but at times I felt it was a little too forced, a little too overly played.
There's nothing amiss about the production values you see here with the sets, the costumes and some fine CGI work on display to fully immerse the viewer in the 16th century. The costumes by Joan Bergin are a wonderful sight and lovingly reproduced on this high definition disc. Her earlier works include Reign of Fire and The Prestige and her and her team have won Emmy awards for the incredible work they have produced here. She cannot only be commended for the costume's attention to detail but the sheer number that would have been required for a production on this scale. The castles and courts look pleasing and draughty enough and the digital effects by CORE Digital Pictures is sublime, making these now old castles look pristine in nature, the cityscape of London stretching into the distance is details and effective and only once, in a thunderstorm, did I find the CGI look out of place.
On the whole The Tudors is an engaging watch which can be difficult to put down. Yes it has its flaws but not so many that the whole production should be dismissed. An excellent cast backed up with a dedicated production team allow us to enjoy those turbulent times from the comfort of our own home. At times it's like a 16th Century version of Dynasty, with allegiances being made and squandered; ultimately though a more than worthwhile production. Those earlier episodes gathering dust have now been moved to the top of the viewing pile.
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