Out of all the reigning monarchs of England and elsewhere whose lives would have made a smashingly entertaining soap opera, that of Henry VIII is generally acknowledged to be at the top of anyone’s short list. The man certainly had a way with serial monogamy, and as such has kept writers like Philippa Gregory, movie-makers, playwrights and the BBC busy for decades. Make that centuries, for even Shakespeare had a go. One would think there isn’t another blessed thing that could be said about the much-married monarch, and yet Showtime has managed it. And they haven’t even gotten up to the point where he had finally and irrevocable divested himself of his first wife and married the second – in the process almost casually wrenching England out of the orbit of the Catholic Church. This season just sets the stage and establishes the personalities.

In one way, this reminded me rather vividly of the movie “Elizabeth”, in that it combined psychological acuity with considerable historical inaccuracy. Yes, there are all sorts of inaccuracies, merged events, death of historical personages that did not occur for years after the events depicted here, deaths that did not in the least happen as represented here, and strikingly divergent visualizations of personalities – not least of which is Henry himself.

This is not the usual Henry VIII, a heavy-set and peevish middle-aged man; here he is vital, young and passionate; a sort of rock-star king, as charming as he is – perhaps – a sociopath. He is the sun around which the whole of his court and government revolve. Jonathan Rhys Meyers looks nothing like the historical Henry. However, he conveys the arrogant attraction of the man and his single-minded pursuit of his desires, whether it was victory on the tilt-yard or in a diplomatic convocation… or to be rid of a wife who could not bear him a son. One has the sense that yes, Henry VIII was probably very much like this; charming, mercurial and dangerous to cross – and that his court was a snake pit of seething ambitions and relentless plotting to gain his ear and his favor.

Eventually Henry would be also be rid of anyone around him who dared to tell him “no”, and that is what is the larger drama in this first season: the downfall and disgrace of his most trusted advisor and chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Neill) and the setting aside of his proud and able wife, the Catholic Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy) in favor of the younger and presumably fruitful (and Protestant) Anne Boleyn. This is the point which has been reached in the series finale, although for my money, the most noteworthy climax was that moment of quiet horror when Thomas More (Jeremy Northam) and another councilor seemed to realize that there was absolutely no one left at court who would be able to reason or coax Henry out of the disastrous course that he had set.

Of the extra features included in this set, the most interesting is a look at series production and sets, and a tour of modern-day sites in London associated with Henry VIII’s court.

The Tudors – Season 1 is available from Amazon.com and from other retail outlets

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer who lives in San Antonio; Her current book “To Truckee’s Trail” is available here. More about her books is at her website www.celiahayes.com. She is also a member of the Independent Authors Guild.

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