25 May 2009

Time Flies When You're Watching the Tudors

Oh noes! Last night was the season finale of The Tudors, which means that other than the odd bit of HIGNFY, I'm fairly TV-free until next year. Actually, The Tudors was beginning to drive me nuts for several reasons:

1. I can't take the Irish accents any more. King Henry has an Irish accent. Princess Mary has an Irish accent. The Northern rebels on the Pilgrimage of Grace have Irish accents (it's hard to take Robert Aske seriously when it feels as though he could crack out some dialogue from Father Ted at a moment's notice). A few characters don't have Irish accents: Anne of Cleves (played by Joss Stone--too pretty to be a convincing Mare of Cleves (assuming, of course, that Anne really was ugly and that that wasn't just something Henry made up because of his failure to get it up)) sounds pretty German, Charles Brandon, Duke of Phwoar has a lovely RP accent and James Frain, playing Thomas Cromwell, sounds (and even looks) more and more like Clive Owen as the season progressed, which means it is a shame he's now gone to the chop.

2. The timeline of the series is pretty warped. Not that events happen out of order but the scale seems to be in terms of number of wives Henry has got through rather than years. Season one lasts from about 1520, around the time of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, to about 1530 (ending dramatically with Wolsey's execution while Henry and Anne screw in a wood). Season two begins in about 1532 when Anne and Henry marry and ends four years later with her execution. The latest season, meanwhile, starts in late 1536 with Henry happy with the Wife Wot He Luvved the Most, Jane Seymour, cruises through the birth of his son and the death of Jane and then ends up with the doomed marriage to Anne of Cleves and the beginnings of his infatuation with Katherine Howard as Henry allows Anne to "become his sister" (as Joss Stone probably wrote a decent song about this) in 1540; however, two whole queens were covered this season.

Actually, it's not just that it feels like the seasons are passing more quickly--this season only had eight episodes when I was expecting ten like the other seasons. Too much time was spent faffing around with the Pilgrimage of Grace (probably because Jane's reign as queen, good wife that she was, was not hugely exciting. As for Anne of Cleves, more time was spent over the negotiations of the king and his men with Anne's family for her hand in marriage than the marriage itself. This was setting up for the fall of Thomas Cromwell, the king's key advisor since the fall of Wolsey. Given that Cromwell has played a part in the series since the beginning, I was expecting his downfall to last longer but while the Duke of Phwoar and the Duke of Somerset have both been plotting against him for several episodes (i.e. about two years), the downfall itelf lasted 20 minutes from the moment when the king said, "it's OK, Cromwell. I know everyone hates you but you're my mate and I trust you...oh wait, the Duke of Phwoar just told me I can ally myself with France if I get rid of you...bye now!" to his bloody execution (one of the king's cronies got the executioner drunk the night before his beheading so that it took about five blows for him to die, although this is probably fictional). In an interview I read, Frain explained that this season saw Cromwell's fall but that the audience would see a more "human" side to Cromwell (seen as cold, grasping and a social climber) this season through the presence of his son. Well, his son appeared about 30 minutes before the end of the final episode to announce the birth of his own son, although the death scene was quite sad as Cromwell had always done his best to serve the king well--the king just didn't share the same taste in women as Cromwell, clearly...

3. OK, so yes, Katherine Howard was young and she did grow up at the house of her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, who "looked after" a large collection of vaguely aristocratic enfants terribles, yes, she liked to flirt and laugh and yes, after failing to be aroused by Anne of Cleves, a young, fun little girl was just what Henry needed but still! In The Tudors Katherine Howard looks about 13, although the actress playing her is at Cambridge at the moment so she must be at least 18 and the character is supposed to be 17. As the Henry of The Tudors is Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, he is only 30-ish and quite attractive (rather than the 50-something, obese, gout-ridden man Henry really was at this time), this isn't quite so weird though still has Lolita-esque tendencies. Katherine is seen more often naked and giggling than not (sitting on a swing as she spins around excitedly, reading aloud Cromwell's last plea to Henry for mercy, taking Henry's ring and running it..all..the...way...up...her...leg, and so on). 

They also make out the Dowager Duchess's house to be some kind of high-class brothel rather than the boarding house for young aristocrats, generally related to the Dukes of Norfolk, that it really was. There hasn't been a Duke of Norfolk in The Tudors since season one (even though in real life, one of them played a starring role in the Pilgrimage of Grace along with the Duke of Phwoar) but as Katherine was grand-daughter of the same D of N who was grandfather to Anne Boleyn (and who schemed to get her to the top and then abandoned her in a flash when the tide changed), perhaps he will be reincarnated. Or maybe they'll have the Duke of Phwoar be her grandfather (unconvincing as that would be).

There are other problems with the series, of course, one of the main ones being that there haven't been any worthwhile female characters since Anne Boleyn went to the block. This is the problem of the (vaguely) historical TV series--you can't just not kill off a character who was really executed because they are popular with the viewers (perhaps this is why the latest season introduced some fictional characters who were "inspired by" real people). I guess the producers figure that as long as they have some totty left (Duke of Phwoar et al.; the guy playing Francis Bryan--"the vicar of hell"--is also quite hot if you ignore his eye patch) and a revolving cast of attractive and preferably naked females and as long as Philippa Gregory keeps churning out Tudor-based novels, people will continue to watch. 

Katherine Howard's "reign" is at least more conventional in terms of TV soap plot lines: girl meets king, King loves girl, king marries girl, girl fucks another guy and--worse--girl fucked several guys before the king met her when she was as young as 12 (even though the king knew she "had a history")--girl gets executed. If they have sense, they will spin out Katherine H's episodes to cover most of next season as I don't think Katherine Parr will make such good TV given that she didn't really do much (at least, not when married to Henry; afterwards, she raised the future Queen Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey, and did various other interesting things). Assuming, that is, that The Tudors does stop at the end of Henry's reign, which would make sense or else the turnover of characters would just be ridiculously high. Not that that's stopped them so far. 

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