Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Henry Cavill, Sarah Bolger, Natalie Dormer, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Summary: A drama following the reign and many marriages of England’s King Henry VIII.
Genre(s): Period Drama, History, Romance
The Tudors tells the story of King Henry VIII’s reign in England in the early 1500’s. The series ran for four seasons on Showtime, from 2007 to 2010, and was a ratings smash for the US pay cable network. Its success was due in large part to the show’s focus on Henry’s many love affairs and a never ending stream of beheadings. While the show was based on historical figures and events, the details were largely fictional.
The Tudors was filmed in Ireland and had British, Irish, and Canadian backers. It was created by Michael Hirst, who also wrote the screenplay for both Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. He is currently working on the television series The Vikings and is writing a screenplay for a feature film about Mary Queen of Scots.
Michael Hirst has made a career out of bringing stories from English Royalty to the small and large screen. Certainly, King Henry VIII’s life was full of drama-worthy material. Henry VIII had multiple wives, multiple mistresses, and was involved in countless scandals during his reign. The series spends a lot of time on the various romances of Henry, as well as the intrigue present both inside and outside of the Royal Court. England’s relationships with France and the Vatican provide all kinds of dramatic intrigue, as does the rise of Protestantism in England.
The Tudors won Emmy Awards for its camera work, costume design, and cinematography. It also won several awards in Canada and Ireland.
The first season of The Tudors focuses on King Henry’s obsession with Anne Boleyn and how this affair threatens England’s relationship with the Vatican. At the beginning of the season, Henry is married to Queen Katharine of Aragon. Katherine and Henry have a daughter, Mary, but not a male heir. Henry openly seeks companionship with a string of other women. One of these women has a child, but that child soon dies.
During a trip to France to try and keep the peace, Henry becomes enchanted with Anne Boleyn. Anne’s power hungry father and uncle encourage Anne to try and seduce Henry so they can reap the benefits from her relationship to the King. Henry offers Anne an official role as his mistress at court, but Anne refuses. She wants to be Queen.
Then, Henry attempts to annul his marriage to Queen Katherine who refuses to give up her crown under false pretenses. King Henry pressures the Vatican to grant him a royal divorce, but Rome takes Queen Katherine’s side.
In season 2, King Henry is more desperate than ever to get a divorce from his Queen and marry Anne Boleyn. Anne becomes pregnant and a new archbishop annuls Henry’s marriage to Katherine. However, the damage between England and Rome has been done; and many officials in both countries refuse to recognize Henry and Anne’s new marriage.
Henry attempts to force his subjects to sign an oath of allegiance to Henry as the supreme authority as head of the English church, but several refuse to oblige. They are summarily executed and violence spreads across England, as members of Henry’s royal court hunt anyone who speaks against the King’s new religious degrees.
Anne has a daughter, Elizabeth, and two miscarriages later on. Anne and Henry’s relationship becomes strained and Henry starts to woo Lady Jane Seymour. When Henry decides he wants to get rid of Anne forever, she is accused of having several lovers, including her own brother. Anne is then executed, leaving Henry free to wed Lady Jane as season 2 concludes.
Henry and his court are actively trying to quash a variety of rebellions against his religious Reformation, which distances England from the Vatican. Henry orders that anyone who stands against him to be killed, as an example to others.
Jane Seymour tries to repair the King’s relationship with his daughters from his first two marriages, Mary and Elizabeth. Jane quickly produces a male heir, Edward, but dies during labor. Henry is despondent about Jane’s death for quite some time. When he returns to court, he agrees to a new Protestant doctrine and marries Anne of Cleves prior to seeing her, as part of a new alliance with the Protestant League.
Problems arise early in the marriage, as Henry detests Anne and refuses to consummate the marriage. Henry and Anne’s marriage is annulled.
As season 3 ends Henry starts to court teenager Catherine Howard.
King Henry marries Catherine Howard as season 4 begins, However, Catherine begins an affair with one of the King’s men, Thomas Culpepper, shortly after the wedding.
Henry continues to suffer great pain from a leg wound that occurred during a jousting contest. His relationship to Anne of Cleves has improved now that they are not in a forced marriage. Henry brings his wife Catherine and Mary (Katherine of Aragon’s daughter) on a trip north to try and repair the damage caused by earlier rebellions against Henry’s religious proclamations.
After Catherine’s affair with Thomas Culpepper is revealed, she is beheaded for adultery. Henry turns his eyes to a married woman, Catherine Parr, and arranges for her husband to be put in harms way on the battlefield so he can marry her.
Catherine Parr is in favor of England breaking away from the Pope and Catholicism and is accused of heresy by members of Henry’s court. After Catherine destroys all of her heretical belongings, she is pardoned by Henry. A war with France ends in victory, but Henry continues to struggle with his health, and starts to be haunted by ghosts of his first three wives.
As the series concludes, Henry asks his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to care for their younger brother Edward, after his demise.
Our Critic Review
The Tudors is deliciously fun for both viewers familiar with England’s history, as well as for people who couldn’t care less. The show is far more concerned with entertaining viewers with torrid love affairs and acts of betrayal than with providing an accurate history lesson. Jonathan Rhys Meyers did a fantastic job as the lead role. His Henry VIII was cruel, kind, smart, and naive, all at the time time. The one constant in King Henry’s life? His deep passion for everything he desired.
Natalie Dormer, who is currently starring in Game of Thrones, managed to stand out from all of Henry’s wives. Her portrayal of Anne Boleyn was quite memorable, and the show suffered after her departure from the series.
While the seasons with Dormer were the strongest, The Tudors greatly benefited from knowing in advance that the fourth season would be its last. The final instalment does an excellent job at wrapping things up and providing a satisfying conclusion to the series.
VIDEO: Watch the final season Behind The Scene!
I wouldn’t recommend taking every word of “The Tudors” as fact, much less citing it in a term paper, but as historical fiction, it’s proven remarkably robust. Read Full ReviewEllen Gray, Philadelphia Daily News
Its strongest suit is illustrating 1) the coexistence of powerful, conflicting forces inside the same person, and 2) the idea that absolute power corrupts. Read Full ReviewDavid Hincley, New York Daily News