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The Tudors, Season One

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

YOU THINK you know a story but you only know how it ends. To get to the heart of a story, you have to go back to the beginning”. And that is exactly what The Tudors has done with the story of one of England’s most enigmatic kings – Henry VIII.

The series does, in fact, take an in-depth look at the early years of Henry’s reign, in particular, at the breakdown of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy), his infatuation with Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) and his increasing obsession with providing a son and heir for England.

The Tudors is undoubtedly a lavish production, a costume drama par excellence and, for the most part, Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a highly commendable Henry – self-indulgent, arrogant, insecure, bewitched. Yet something is missing – the stature I’ve always associated with the great Henry Tudor. And I use the word ‘stature’ advisedly, meaning as it does both bodily height and greatness. Moreover, didn’t he have red hair?

Sam Neill also gives a creditable performance as the wily Cardinal Wolsey. In fact, so convincing is his portrayal of Wolsey’s eventual downfall that I actually felt sorry for him. But why mess with fact and have Wolsey commit suicide; and a particularly bloody one at that? I think we know the answer – for dramatic effect.

A pity really but that isn’t the only historical inaccuracy. For example, Henry’s sister Mary (here known as Margaret) married the French King Louis XII and not the Portuguese king whom, The Tudors would have us believe, she cold-bloodedly murdered. It does, however, make great television.

Similarly, it would appear that sexually explicit scenes (and there are a considerable number) add a notoriety that is every bit as effective as an expensive ad’ campaign. But believe me, I’m no Mary Whitehouse and I find that such scenes, far from being offensive, very often come across as simply amusing.

That said, The Tudors is well cast. Maria Doyle Kennedy, in particular, imbues Catherine with humility, charm and dignity; while Natalie Dormer perfectly captures the spirit and allure of Anne Boleyn. Jeremy Northam too, as Thomas More, is exemplary as a man so possessed by his religious ideals that he is intolerant of those of others.

And finally, the whole series is well filmed. Particularly effective is the interplay between vastly contrasting scenes – of life and death, for example; while graphic scenes of violence have been kept to a minimum. Others take on an almost magical quality as when, five minutes from the final credits, Henry and Anne are riding together in the forest. It’s a scene that could have come straight out of a fairy tale.

In a nutshell then, The Tudors is highly watchable and equally entertaining. Just don’t expect an A in history if you believe all you see.


Jonathan Rhys Myers – King Henry VIII
Sam Neill – Cardinal Wolsey
Callum Blue – Anthony Knivert
Henry Cavill – Charles Brandon
Henry Czerny – Duke of Norfolk
Natalie Dormer – Anne Boleyn
Maria Doyle Kennedy – Catherine of Aragon
Nick Dunning – Thomas Boleyn
James Frain – Thomas Cromwell
Jeremy Northam – Thomas More
Kristen Holden-Reid – William Compton
Gabrielle Anwar – Margaret Tudor