07 April 2009

The Year of Our Lord 1536

Yorkshire (Northern England). The year of Our Lord, 1536. It was pretty grim up north in 1536. Corruption was rife among the very people who were supposed to instill order and discipline and--worse--certain poxy southern upstarts (mentioning no names, Thomas Cromwell) have got way too big for their boots and started foisting their heathen, Protestant beliefs upon the king and forcing him to close down the monasteries, plundering their wealth. He even wanted to ban holy days! What a cad! 

No, it's not a prequel to the David Peace Red Riding quartet; it's the first episode of the new season of The Tudors and the producers have realised that having invested the entire first two seasons in the dramatic rise and spectacular fall of Anne Boleyn, and Henry tended to move through his wives more quickly after number two, they are going to need to find some additional plot points this season. As there hasn't been much history so far, they decided to go all out and introduce the Pilgrimage of Grace--a 1536 uprising in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire with many disgruntled northerners protesting against the dissolution of the monasteries. Incidentally, although every scene depicting Naughty Northern Rebels is prefixed with the subtitle, "Yorkshire--Northern England," you don't really need to be told because the sun never shines, the people look depressed and the buildings look decrepit. The same happened in The O.C. whenever any of the characters left the glorious sunshine of the "perfect" Newport Beach to go visit some hellhole like Chino, the sun always disappeared and no one ever smiled.

Not only have C.J. Sansome's Shardlake books been very popular recently, but April 2009 also marks the 500th anniversary of Henry's accession and so it's naturally the perfect time to start the new season (it also means there are plenty of Tudor-themed events in London, including the Man and Monarch exhibition at the British Library).

Anyway, after the charisma and freaky blue eyes of Anne Boleyn (they could at least have made the actress wear contacts; everyone knows Anne was famous for her dark, "witchy" Boleyn eyes), Jane Seymour (played by a girl my age who is also from Oxford--grrr) is a little bland, although this episode, which probably covers about half of her reign as queen, does show Henry's initial frustrations of son-lack even towards his Jane. Henry was always as fickle to his favourite advisors as he was to his wives and women, in The Tudors, at least, with the rise and fall of Wolesey occupying much of season one and poor Thomas More's decline from favour in season two while Cromwell just rose and rose. In the new series, Cromwell goes from being knighted and made Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal one minute (having told Henry he's dumped one billion (or even several million) pounds into the crown's coffers following the ransacking of an assortment of monasteries) to being bitch slapped and told he was an idiot by the king about four minutes later after Henry found out there was something rotten in the state of Yorkshire.

And of course, Charles Brandon, Duke of Phwoar is still around, happily married to his second wife. He is, however, sent to Coventry--well, to Lincoln--to go and put down the rebels/pilgrims. It seems like a futile effort--the north of England remained a problem for monarchs throughout the sixteenth century; it was just too far away from London and the court for the monarch to have any proper control, especially when the local gentry and nobles themselves rebelled as in the Rising of the Northern Earls of 1569. Such troublemakers. I hope they don't kill off Charles, though, as he's the main talent on the show (Jonathan Rhys-Meyer's intrusive Irish accent is totally off-putting). 

There is also Max Brown (AKA Danny from Grange Hill) who plays Edward Seymour, brother of Jane and also of Thomas who later marries Henry's sixth wife before frolicking around with a young and impressionable Princess Elizabeth in a most unfitting manner. Seymour eventually becomes the self-styled Duke of Somerset (hence Somerset House) and ran England as the regent/dictator of Edward VI until he was ousted (and executed) for being too powerful and replaced by the (self-styled) Duke of Northumberland who I like less as a dictator but who is at least father to Robert Dudley, who looks like Joseph Fiennes and so can be forgiven a lot.

It must be tricky to make a historical TV series--more so than in a film--because you can't always tell which actors and characters will be the most successful or the most popular in advance and it's always unfortunate if an old favourite gets the chop (often quite literally). Wildly inaccurate though The Tudors may be, it does at least pretend to stick to the truth occasionally and certainly wouldn't stoop to changing the ending of season two (i.e. not executing Anne Boleyn) just because the producers had invested so much time and energy into building her up and striking her down. I wonder whether they will stop when they reach the end of Henry's reign (this season, even though he still has three and a half wives to get through) or whether they will carry on to Edward and his pimps, LJG, Bloody Mary and Good Queen Bess.

It's also amusing watching The Tudors in conjunction with David Starkey's Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant, which also started on Monday (oh, and did you know his latest Henry-fest came out in paperback a couple of weeks ago too?). The acting's probably better in Starkey's show--certainly, there are fewer North American northerners and Irish kings of England. Also, Starkey's lust for Henry is even greater than that of any would-be queen consort and her posse...

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