Compressing Time with The Tudors
The Tudors is that recently-ended show from Showtime known for egregiously miscasting Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the notorious King Henry VIII of England. As noted in the show’s corny intro line (that was wisely cut from the show’s second season onward) we know how the story ends as soon as we hear its premise. It’s true but I was able to lul myself into not caring. I went along for the ride. That was until, midway through season 2, I realised the show was still mired in the king’s first ‘Great Matter’ – the legal validity of his divorce from Catherine and marriage to his mistress Anne. Picking The Tudors up after its conclusion, I know it is to run only four seasons in total. How then will it attempt to resolve this issue and then properly address Henry’s four remaining wives – none of whom have yet appeared on screen – in anything but a rushed and illogical manner? As reviews of later seasons seem to indicate, that is exactly what The Tudors ends up becoming.
Any fool with even a passing interest in this historic period will notice how timelines don’t match up. There are little things like the amalgamation of Henry’s two sisters into a composite and the hastening of that character’s marriages and eventual death. Timing of betrothals, national alliances and declarations of war, particularly regarding the French King are also somewhat curious. Not for a second do I suggest that temporal continuity beyond Henry’s divorce and reformation of the English church is accurate – it isn’t – but those other changes serve the narrative and that’s good enough for me.
And while I don’t intend on picking apart setting and characterisation too much, if I wanted to shoot The Tudors to pieces, factual contradictions abound too. Again though these are not significant diversions on the whole. After all, this period is commonly held to be the most documented in English history and the one told by the most conflicting perspectives. Who can really make a case for what is absolutely true and what isn’t? Henry might not have been as youthful and athletic as Rys-Meyers but, surprisingly enough, he did wrestle Francis I in a paper castle during a diplomatic trip to Calais. As for whether Pope Paul III was the sarcastic, indignant smartass Peter O’Toole portrays him as being, I really can’t say.
So, prepared to forgive as much as I am, why do I take issue with the prolonged discussion of was-Henry-really-married-to-Catherine? Because, above all else, it is noticeable. I’m along for the ride. I’ll forgive little inaccuracies, slightly fictional characterisations and the occasional chronological hiccup as long as the The Tudors is fun to watch and keeps the ball rolling. The problem with the show’s abject fixation on the ‘Great Matter’ grinds things to a halt. By this point I am sick of seeing the pathetic and downtrodden Catherine continually swear allegiance to God and his majesty. I am similarly tired of seeing the Queen Consort parade around power as though she was entitled to it by divine right. I’m sick of the church disagreeing but doing nothing, and I’m sick of hearing of excommunication and reformation only to have these things materialise a season and a half later. But I’m most of all sick of the King of England acting like a horny impetuous shit who had one too many cans of Monster that morning.
The amount of time spent on this first part of Henry’s life is understandable- surely the beheading of Anne Boleyn and creation of the Anglican Church is what he’s best known for. The fact is though that his life took many twists and turns thereafter. As interesting a hook as those two things may be, time is being squandered on them that would be better purposed to the story of the latter wives. I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt now – I’m still watching it – but may be inclined to revisit this topic once I’ve worked out exactly where it jumped the shark.