I finished viewing the second season of The Tudors which ARTE is broadcasting with a delay of about two years. It’s a daring challenge for the makers of this series to enter a historical territory that was already explored in cinema so many times, from Alexander Korda‘s 1933 The Private Life of Henry VIII starring Charles Laughton to the 1966 production of A Man for All Seasons which brought an Oscar to Paul Scofield for his role as Thomas More. Yet, one can certainly understand the fascination of TV producers with the character and the story (or legend I should say). Henry VIII’s life. loves and intrigues is the ultimate material for a soap opera, his serial husbandry fits the format, and a diversity of viewers have good chances to find in a film or series inspired by his biography their preferred stuff – be it serious history, religion, court drama, love or lust.

(video source emmadaniella)

The current and more recent series combine the principal elements of the story with a mix of respect for the historical detail and contemporary approach. It is not a re-writing of the story, but a translation in a dialect that the TV viewer today understands and likes. Take the selection of the actors. Little effort was placed in fitting their physical appearance with the historical records, no beards were imposed on men, and the haircut or make-up are contemporary. Yet, the essence of the characters is reached in most of the cases, they are what the directors wanted us to understand that they were. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is as far of Charles Laughton as you can get, and yet has the will of a great king and the ferocity of a sexual predator. Natalie Dormer enters close to the very top of a selected gallery of actresses that gave memorable Anne Boleyn incarnations. Anthony Brophy, Jeremy Northam, Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill give life to historical character that fit well in the drama as living figures and not as paintings on a historical wall. Yet a serious investment was made in presenting in a credible manner the setting, the costumes, the manners of the 16th century. Over all the combination works.

(video source CBS)

How much of historical truth may be found in the drama is an open question. The second season brings up a period that decisive not only in the life of the king but also in the history of England, from the fall of cardinal Wolse, the raise and fall of Thomas More, the rupture from Catholicism and Rome and birth of the Church of England, the re-aligning of England in the permanent changing games between the European powers, up to the changes in the rules of succession that led to a different path of the monarchy chain in the centuries to come.  The evolution of the characters also takes a turn in this season, with king Henry becoming more of an isolated tyrant and egocentric male, and with Anne climbing up to the final of the season from being master of all intrigues to gaining the stature of a queen exactly at the moment when she loses the title.  Deciding to present all the historical landscape from the perspective of the royal alcoves is an approach that can be understood from a commercial point of view, but it obviously assumes the risks of positioning of the series closer to easy entertainment than to serious art. The results will be disputed by different people according to tastes and preferences – some will like them more, other less – in any case it’s certainly one of the TV productions of the latest years that will not pass ignored.