Monday, April 2, 2007

THE TUDORS Episode 1 (Review)

Opening with the brutal assassination of a British ambassador (Sean Pertwee, seen recently in Wilderness; review in Archive: April 2007), Showtime’s latest offering, the ten-episode The Tudors, is one of those modern re-tellings of history which can turn a subject usually perceived as dead boring into a matter of interest by making the players identifiable as real men and women. Not unlike you and me, except they don’t have cell phones, and we don’t have crowns.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers (the scheming twat in Woody Allen’s Match Point; and one of Tom Cruise’s lackies in Mission: Impossible III) plays King Henry VIII in his days before all the fat just snuck up on him. His Henry is a young monarch hungry for sex, a male heir, and immortality.
He addresses the first hunger by sleeping with everyone except his wife, Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy), and by doing so, ends up marrying five more times, sating the second (so history tells). The rest of this episode serves to appease the third craving, as Henry spoils for a fight with France, responsible for the death of the ambassador, who happens to have been Henry’s uncle.
But the scheming Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Neill, perhaps most widely seen in the first and third Jurassic Park films) has other things on his mind…

The first impression The Tudors makes is that it looks authentic: the costumes, the suits of armor, the foppish tennis clothes. The show looks the part.
That, then, is supported by an able cast that brings Henry VIII’s court to life, a court which includes young loyalist Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill, who was one of the chosen few on McG’s Superman shortlist before Bryan Singer came on board and handed the cape and tights to Brandon Routh; Cavill’s also in the upcoming adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust)*, who’s just randy for Anna (Anna Brewster), and Lord Buckingham (Steven Waddington), who’s hungry himself, for the throne, which is actually his by blood, and who also happens to be Anna‘s father, none too happy with Brandon shtooping his daughter.

So the first episode is pretty much a set-up for all the conflicts and machinations that will, presumably, be the stuff of the nine subsequent episodes, and the dominoes are arranged with determined ease and skill.
For all its prettiness though, and the confidence with which the story is being told, there seems to be a certain something that’s lacking, some vital spark that is needed to achieve that alchemy that all great narratives possess.
Or perhaps it’s simply that this is the first episode, where some introductions are decidedly brief: among them, Thomas Tallis (a court composer and organist, played by Joe van Moyland) and Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer of Casanova). Tallis, I have no idea what role he played in Henry’s court, and Anne…
Anne, after all, is the woman who’s gonna get Henry into all sorts of trouble, and all we see of her in the first episode is the quickest glimpse (and a convenient intro from her da, should we happen to have missed his last name in a previous scene).

The Tudors is written by Michael Hirst, who also wrote Shekhar Kapur‘s Elizabeth, which got Cate Blanchett an Oscar nom that she really should have won (sorry, Gwynie, but Blanchett just truly kicked a$$ in that one). Apparently, Hirst has got a thing for the house of Tudor, as he’s also written the sequel to Elizabeth, this year’s The Golden Age, with Blanchett returning. (Oscar, take note.)
Perhaps I’m not entirely enchanted by The Tudors since I wasn’t entirely enchanted by Elizabeth either. Blanchett rocked, no doubt (she nearly always does, actually), but Elizabeth was the sort of film that you watched—and recommended—primarily for the performance.**
The Tudors though, does not have a central performance with the power of Blanchett’s Elizabeth. Rhys Meyers is good, but he’s no Blanchett, at least, not in the first episode. So it all falls down to the court intrigue and the politicking, and if the ensemble can keep things interesting.
I’m willing to take on the second episode and see how things develop. If I like what I see enough, maybe I’ll see this all the way through.

* Interestingly enough, Cavill was also in the running for Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, as well as being the other actor considered for Casino Royale’s James Bond. Director Martin Campbell ultimately passed on Cavill since the then-22-year-old was considered too young for the role, which of course, eventually went to Daniel Craig. That’s three pop culture icons Cavill came this close to portraying.

** I am still entirely convinced that the nomination Elizabeth got for Best Picture was delivered on the coat tails of John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love, which made Oscar ga-ga over all things Elizabethan that year.

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