Written by Caballero Oscuro
It turns out your high school teacher was right: history can be fun! Showtime’s take on The Tudors ratchets up the sex and violence of jolly old England and features a preening pretty boy king seemingly more at home on the catwalk than the throne. As played by Jonathan Rhys Mayers, young King Henry VIII pouts and sashays his way through his duties, determined to build a glorious legacy for his kingdom rather than resting on the laurels of his forebears. He’d much rather fight than negotiate, even when it risks the possibility of sending his country into war. He’d also much rather have his pick of subjects for his bed, in spite of his existing marriage to his queen. He’s an intriguing character and surprisingly athletic for a royal, albeit somewhat one-dimensional in early stages.
As his foils, the young king initially tees off against the Duke of Buckingham before eventually discovering his greatest Season 1 nemesis, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Sam Neill). The Cardinal is his closest adviser, but is also a sneaky, conniving bastard perfectly content to undermine Henry’s power at the same time he’s trying to become the next Pope. Neill’s delicious performance gives Rhys Mayers his only real acting competition in early stages of the season, creating a powerful love-hate relationship that forms much of the show’s intrigue.
Henry has some domestic strife with his wife as well, but he’s mostly an international playboy in love with finding his next romantic conquest. He’s shown happily jumping from bed to bed until he falls under the spell of Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), a winsome lass put in his path for the express purpose of seducing him to curry favor for her father. Their relationship sets off monumental changes for the country’s religion, as the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to allow divorce leads Henry to establish the Church of England. This also leads him to eventually marry a total of six times, but those are stories for future seasons.
The show’s sets and costumes look fairly realistic to this layman, although clearly emphasizing the glam rather than the mundane. Rather than eating bon-bons on his throne, Henry is constantly shown to be a virile jock: mounting up for jousting, facing off in wrestling, and getting his puffy shirt sweaty in tennis. As for the stories, the creators seem to be playing fast and loose with actual historical events to milk the maximum sensationalism out of them, but that’s just fine considering that the production is paid for by Showtime, not The History Channel. True history buffs might get their doublets in a twist, but as pure entertainment the show works great.
The Season 1 box set has all 10 episodes, but does some odd distribution with them by cramming all but 1 onto the first 3 DVDs, then using the 4th DVD to pimp full episodes of other Showtime series Californication, Penn & Teller's Bullshit, and This American Life. None of the episodes feature audio commentary, and other bonus features are fairly limited and uninspired. I have no problem with Showtime promoting their other shows, but this really should have been a three-DVD box set with a limited pack-on bonus disc of the other shows if they really wanted to take that route. As it stands, the box set is a moderately priced collection that really doesn’t offer much more than what was available during the show’s original broadcast. It’s fine if you want to complete your collection, just don’t expect to gain much additional insight into the production of the show.