Written by: Michael Hirst
Premise: A Showtime television series about King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and his relationship with Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer).
What Works: The Tudors is great television and an excellent example of adapting history to film. Although it plays fast and loose with specific elements of historical fact, writer Michael Hirst (who also wrote Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age) adapts the subject well, getting the larger picture right while using dramatic license to create some terrific storylines both within individual episodes and across the series. The Tudors is able to use the format of a television series to its advantage in portraying Henry’s courtship with Anne Boleyn and his disintegrating marriage to Lady Katherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy). It’s incremental and detailed in portraying Henry’s psychological state and linking intimate, interpersonal relationships with the larger political and cultural context, especially the Reformation and the burgeoning Renaissance movement. The cast of the series is wonderful. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is great as King Henry, playing him as a rock-star king; he is a spoiled brat put on the British throne and his lust and intemperance fuel the series. Natalie Dormer captures the ambition of Anne Boleyn but her involvement with the king grows more complicated as her feelings start to match her actions. A pair of performances that really separate The Tudors from other dramatizations of these events are Maria Doyle Kennedy as Katherine of Aragon and Sam Neil as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Both are given more time and more depth than many other adaptations allow these figures. Katherine is not just a passive victim of Henry’s impatience; she takes him on and raises the citizenry against her husband. Wolsey is portrayed as a man caught between two masters and his tragedy parallels Katherine’s in some surprising ways.
What Doesn’t: The Tudors may alienate some viewers in its frank portrayal of sexuality and violence. This is a mature dramatization of history and it fits with the tone of the series, but it may shock viewers accustomed to the more reserved portrayals of British royalty.
DVD extras: Featurettes and episodes of other Showtime series.
Bottom Line: Aside from being a great example of smart television, The Tudors is also an example of audacious cable television. Like Rome, The Sopranos, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Tudors shows how narrative television programming may produce relevant, intelligent, and mature programming if creative people are given the tools and the freedom to do so.
Episode: #182 (March 16, 2008)