The Tudors: Season 2 (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
AS THE second season of The Tudors takes us through Henry VIII’s turbulent marriage to Anne Boleyn and his subsequent courtship of Jane Seymour, the makers were faced with something of a dilemma.
Should they adhere strictly to history and show Henry’s physical decline? Or should they persist with a good-looking poster boy in the central role and remain oblivious to some of the factors that helped Henry become the enigmatic, yet ruthless monarch that he really was?
Alas, with younger viewers (and no doubt the American audience) in mind, they persisted with the latter – refusing to tarnish the blemish-free features of leading man Jonathan Rhys Meyers for fear it might be something of a turn-off.
Sadly, it’s a decision that backfires, exposing the many weaknesses that prevent The Tudors from being the richly compelling series it should have become.
Meyers lacks the gravitas needed to really deliver an imposing Henry and consistently fails to get under the skin of one of history’s most complex and intriguing figures.
Put together with the deliberate pacing of the series, which meanders rather than gallops, as well as the historical liberties it so frequently takes and The Tudors is no more than a lavish guilty pleasure. Anyone really seeking a taste of life under Henry would be better off sticking to the many novels written about his reign.
That said, the second season of The Tudors did improve upon the first and featured some notable episodes along the way (ironically, when Meyers didn’t take centre stage).
A fine example of this was episode five, which dealt – ultimately – with the execution of Sir Thomas More. As played with tremendous conviction by Jeremy Northam, More emerged as a compelling character – a staunchly loyal servant of both Henry and Catholicism, whose steadfast beliefs contributed to his downfall.
Northam enlivened the series whenever on-screen and his absence was sorely missed once More had – literally – lost his head.
Notable, too, was the penultimate episode involving the round-up, torture and execution of the men framed for sleeping with Anne Boleyn – another episode that played to the strengths of its well-rounded support cast.
As such, James Frain’s wonderfully scheming Thomas Cromwell got the chance to shine, as did David Alpay’s doomed Mark Smeaton and Padraic Delaney’s George Boleyn.
Another problem with The Tudors, however, is its lack of a sympathetic central figure. Meyers’ Henry isn’t layered enough to really provide any insight into the turmoil he must have faced in his obsessive quest to produce a male heir, while Natalie Dormer’s Anne Boleyn was also found wanting in the sympathy stakes.
Hence, the final episode involving Anne’s delayed execution was more comedic than tragic and failed to leave the lasting impression that its creators would undoubtedly have been seeking.
This isn’t to say The Tudors is a complete write-off; more a missed opportunity made more frustrating by the fact that the history itself doesn’t really need altering in the first place. It’s sexy, violent and complex enough – and attempts to spice it up still further just feel cheap and exploitative.
It remains to be seen whether lessons will be learned as a third season goes into commission.
UK DVD Release: October 13, 2008