It’s Good to Be the King
“The Tudors” on Showtime
Henry VIII: Fat dude, marriage addict, star of that maddening ’60s pop tune. Yeah, we all know him. But Showtime is determined to showcase a different side to the infamous English leader. “The Tudors,” premiering this Sunday, gives us a 10-part glimpse into the political backstabbing and naughty backstage antics of the early Tudor court. It’s sort of like “The Sopranos” but with fancier clothes and an easier-to-understand accent.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Velvet Goldmine, Mission: Impossible III, Match Point) is our King Henry, a scowling young stud who’s married to Catherine of Aragorn, but is furiously boffing any female who crosses his royal gaze. As the series gets underway (sometime around 1520), King H. is all hot to go to war with the French. (Partially because they assassinated his uncle, partially because they’re French.)
Although Henry is eager to play Commander in Chief with all those cool, shiny knights at his disposal, the king is continuously manipulated by those around him. There’s the humanist philosopher Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam, Gosford Park), who campaigns against war. There’s the Duke of Norfolk (Henry Czerny, The Pink Panther), who’s trying to grab whatever power he can behind the scenes. And, lest we forget, the Church (represented by Aussie Sam Neill’s smarmy Cardinal Woolsey) has its own particular agenda. (Spoiler alert: This particular bit of history didn’t work out so well for the Roman Catholic Church.)
All puffy shoulders and haughty declarations, “The Tudors” races along on its sumptuous visuals, fiery drama and attractive cast (on both sides of the sexual equation). The pacing is brisk and the occasional dose of nudity and bloodshed doesn’t hurt any. Like HBO’s pricey “Rome” (the series’ most obvious inspiration), “The Tudors” looks fantastic. (It cost something in the neighborhood of $30 million.) Exquisite costumes and the occasional CGI assist on backgrounds provide a colorful and quite visual glimpse into English history. A detailed knowledge of European royal lineage isn’t strictly necessary, but it does help grease the wheels when confronted with dialogue like, “the king of England has an ancient and historic right to the throne of France which the Valois have usurped!”
Despite its setting, no one could mistake this series for some tame PBS documentary. Genteel Anglophiles may find themselves shocked by the non-broadcast-TV-approved blood and breasts. But, if you like your history served up by good-looking young Brits who frequently take off their clothes and occasionally kill one another, “The Tudors” is one history lesson you aren’t likely to sleep through.
“The Tudors” premieres Sunday, April 1, at 8 p.m.