The Tudors: The Complete First Season may cover the same subject matter as the 1970 BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, but in every other respect it is a different idea of historical drama. Sexy and violent, The Tudors envisions Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) as a young man of both passion and ambition, driven by boundless sexual energy and the desire to establish a legacy early in his monarchy. When he isn't sleeping with any available beauty--heedless of whose daughter or wife a lover might be--he's getting fired up about going to war with France. He is amenable, however, to alternative ideas, including the counsel of his Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Neill), who wants his king to sign a treaty of universal peace with all of Europe. Henry's fiery temperament endangers such a move, but Wolsey persists in hopes of gaining France's support for his own, possible ascendance to the papacy. His ambitions are not to be, however, and his fortunes go downhill as Henry's desire to wed Ann Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) puts Wolsey in the position of petitioning Rome for a hearing on the legitimacy of Henry's marriage to Queen Katherine.
Henry's shrewd alliance with the king of Spain is also testament to his desire to have more influence over European affairs. But his even greater desire for another woman proves an obstacle there, too. Over the course of the ten episodes on The Complete First Season, Henry's confidence grows as a monarch while his self-interest undercuts his better judgement about making a difference to Europe's progress. While the series makes the historical events rich and captivating, it also makes Henry's love life a voyeuristic delight, full of candlelit flesh and romps in the royal bed. Some of the most fascinating characters in the show are those who figure out the link between Henry's libido and his exercise of power--including Boleyn's own father (Nick Dunning), who encourages Ann to keep up the good work. Sheesh. --Tom Keogh
The Second Season
Power, sex, delusion and tragedy were hallmarks of The Tudors: The Complete First Season, and they are all the more so in The Complete Second Season. The story of Britain's King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), The Tudors is a dynamic history of a kingdom whose role on the 16th century world stage seems largely defined by Henry's narcissistic whims. Season two is very much taken up with Henry's determination to break free of papal authority in Rome and establish himself as head of England's church--all because he seeks to divorce Queen Catherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and marry Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer). Meanwhile, poor Catherine is kept locked away from court, unable to see her daughter Mary (Sarah Bolger) but refusing to relinquish her throne despite such punishment. As for Anne, she enjoys Henry's passion and commitment, but only to a point. When Henry marries her (in a union not recognized by Rome nor many British subjects) and she does not produce a male heir, his fickle attentions begin to wander, and a grand power play by Anne's father, Thomas Boleyn (Nick Dunning) begins to unravel. In time, Henry's focus shifts to soon-to-be third wife Jane Seymour (Anita Briem), whom the king sees as a symbol of his own redemption after the complications of his love life to date. Toward the end of The Complete Second Season, all the hints that Henry's lack of scruples is leading to a full-scale psychological breakdown begin to show, manifest in his many cruelties and--at the last minute--a clear sign of his notorious gluttony to come. Other stories woven into the colorful, lustful, intrigue-driven season two concern the fate of Henry's one-time mentor Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam), who refuses to cooperate with Henry's attempted separation from the Catholic faith and pays dearly for it. The pope himself (Peter O'Toole) turns up in sometimes near-comical responses to the king's intransigence, and the untimely fate of many interesting characters during Henry's wrathful sweep of his court proves a shocking development mid-season. All the actors are first-rate, even down to the smallest roles, and the show's spare but compelling use of nudity and sex scenes makes The Tudors powerful adult entertainment. --Tom Keogh