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The Tudors: Season 3
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Henry Tudor must overcome his despair at the loss of Jane Seymour, the mother of his son Edward. Cromwell encourages him to marry and Anne of Cleves becomes his next wife. Neither in love or attracted to Anne, Henry searches for an out and Cromwell sees his downfall at the hands of the men he has betrayed.
Stills from Tudors: Season Three (Click for larger image)
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Top Customer Reviews
And no, it doesn't help that Henry VIII had the bad habit of beheading the most interesting, complex people in his circle one by one, so that by season three we've lost Sir Thomas More and Anne Boleyn and will, by the season's end, lose Cromwell too--a particularly fine performance by James Frain given the schizophrenically conceived part he was given to play, but of that more later.
First, though, I'd like to second Dickson's comment about how "awesomely miscast" Jonathan Rhys Meyers is as Henry. Indeed. This judgment is not a reflection on Meyers' acting talents, but rather his body type and ineradicable youthfulness, which are just plain wrong for the role. Of course, it's obvious why he was cast anyway: in this ratings-obsessed age, who wouldn't be able to predict the winner of the battle between an actor's six-pack and historical accuracy?
I wonder, though, if there isn't another reason many of us would prefer to watch a handsome, slim Henry than an aging, obese one. Could it be that we are less likely to be revolted by someone's deeds if he, or she, is good-looking? What difference does it make that, as they commit ever-more horrific crimes against humanity in this season, Henry and Suffolk are played by such stud-like actors? Here, by the way, I differ in one respect from Mr. Dickson, who says that he did not find the representation of the Pilgrimage of Grace compelling. I was riveted; I was also outraged. Watching the brutal repression of what was probably the largest populist movement in England prior to its civil war was downright agonizing at times. (I am happy to report, though, that the reality wasn't quite so horrific as portrayed; there were reprisals in villages, but as far as I can tell these targeted adult males, not women and children as depicted here.) Would we be more likely to turn off the TV in disgust if the perpetrators of such outrages were aging or unattractive?
I guess this is an inherent problem with dramatizations of the life of Henry VIII, not just with this production. If one doesn't present him as a monster--which, admittedly, is rather boring--then how does one present him? One needn't, of course, always "relate" to characters one watches, but it is harder to care about the rocky love life of tyrants than about those of more sympathetic folk. As Meyers bedded yet another mistress in the aftermath of the Pilgrimage, I found myself asking "Who cares?"
And what are we to make of Cromwell? I'm as shallow here as anyone--I found myself far more sympathetic to Frain's handsome Cromwell than to the actual historical figure, who, judging from his Holbein portrait, looked like a toad. A toad with cold little eyes. Here, too, we have a historical conundrum that extends beyond this production. Was Cromwell a heartless Machiavellian henchman or a sincere, even noble, reformer? This script tries to have it both ways, and Frain gamely gives the role his best try (and a very good try it is too). But it's hard to reconcile the contradictory evidence: in one scene, Cromwell is praying and sounding like a proto-democrat about the need of the common people to have direct access to God, and in another scene he's ordering Suffolk up north to slaughter as many common people as he can. Oh, and let's not forget that Cromwell was the master-mind behind the judicial murder of Anne Boleyn and those accused with her, and that he also circumvented jury trials to get convictions--an innovation that ended up recoiling on him, as he was condemned by the type of Act of Attainder he helped develop. So which side are we on, anyway? Or should I ask, which side of any one person are we on?
A few notes on the women. Joss Stone is a standout as Anne of Cleves, though of course much too pretty. But Stone does a wonderful job of portraying the fear and humiliation the historical woman must have felt. As for Jane Seymour: the problem is not, in my view, Annabelle Wallis's performance, but once again the conception of the role. Evidently the makers of the series had no idea how to interpret the character, so they resorted to a common stereotype by turning her into a paragon of saintly sweetness. This is hard to swallow. How do we account for Jane's behavior prior to Anne Boleyn's execution, when she was waiting in the wings for her rival's decapitation? The real Henry was said to have told Jane on the morning of Anne's trial that Anne would be condemned by afternoon--making it clear, just in case Jane had any doubts, that the whole thing was a farce. As the historian David Starkey says in his superb book _Six Wives_, Jane "showed no compunction in stepping to the throne over the headless corpse of her rival. Anne might _talk_of killing Catherine; the gentle Jane went further and was an accessory-after-the-fact to the judicial murder of her predecessor" (p. 591).
And Catherine Howard, dear heavens. I join with Mr. Dickson in fearing greatly for season four if it continues the outrageous caricature of this poor girl, historically a victim both of her families' greed and her culture's sexism. Yes, Catherine may have been, in Starkey's words, a "good-time girl," but she could not possibly have been--no one outside a porn movie could be--the airhead played by Tamzin Merchant. I was also appalled by the depiction of the Duchess of Northumberland's residence as a bawdy-house for illegitimate girls (a bawdy-house, unsurprisingly, to which the ever-annoying Sir Francis Bryan is sent as procurer). Of course none of this is accurate. Catherine did fool around, but the reason it was remembered was that not all the other girls did. And being sent away from home to a household like the Duchess's was not the plight of poor abandoned wenches but a standard part of training for boys and girls of the nobility; Anne Boleyn was sent as a young teenager to the continent for training. Finally, no one dangling Catherine before the king would do so with a known good-time girl: given the king's predilection for marrying English girls, one with a tarnished past could get into a lot of trouble after the fall of Anne Boleyn--and, moreover, take her patrons with her. As I remember, the Duke of Norfolk, Catherine's uncle and a major court player inexplicably excised from this series, was not in the king's good books after his niece's execution.