I don't know why I haven't written about this before seeing as how I've been brewing on the topic for so long, but I really cannot stand the Showtime series The Tudors. I was really excited when I first heard how they were coming out with this Sopranos-style drama about the reign of Henry VIII and England's Tudor dynasty because (a) I'm a big history buff and this is a fun era to learn about and (b) at the time I liked Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the actor who was playing Henry. But, for me at least, the series has been a big disappointment: I stopped watching about halfway through Season 1 because I just couldn't stand it anymore. More recently, I tuned in to the first few episodes of Season 3, tempted by promos that showed Henry's marriage to Jane Seymour and the Dissolution of the Monasteries/Pilgrimage of Grace uprising. I found out that, although the Anne Boleyn story arc may be over, all the same problems that irritated me remain. Let's countdown my issues with the show...
Problem #3: Historical Inaccuracies
The Tudors has a lot of these – some small and some big. Let me give you just a few examples of major rewriting of history in the show's first season. First, there's Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, who was Henry's bastard son and the only illegitimate child he officially recognized as his offspring. On the show Richmond is a young boy when he dies, but in real life he survived until the age of 17. At one point, Henry may have even been considering the idea of grooming the young man to be his heir seeing as how he was having so much trouble producing a legitimate son.
Then there's King Henry's sister. On the Tudors there is a character called Princess Margaret who is first married to an elderly King of Portugal whom she murders! (smothering him with a pillow) before going on to marry Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk (Henry's main bro, see problem #2). Margaret later dies, and there's no mention of her having any children with Suffolk. In real life, Henry's sister PRINCESS MARY was married to the elderly King Louis XII of France (on the TV show they had already introduced Louis' successor Francois I as King of France so I guess they decided to move the story to Portugal). There's no evidence that the old king was murdered, but many historians suggest he over-strained his heart trying to produce an heir with his young wife. Mary then did go on to marry Suffolk whom she bore three children: this is kind of important given that their granddaughter Lady Jane Grey would be put on the throne as Queen of England for like a minute after the death of Henry's son Edward VI. Not only that, but the real Princess Margaret, another sister of Henry's who is excised from the story in the Tudors, married King James IV of Scotland. She was the mother of James V and grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots, rival to Queen Elizabeth.
These historical revisions really irked me and were a major reason I stopped watching the show. I understand how – you know – this is a work of fiction (kind of a trashy one at that), and I could overlook some use of dramatic license – maybe playing around with the chronology of events in order to speed up the pace. But these are some major points. The producers of the Tudors have to understand that there are lots of Tudor-era enthusiasts out there who are familiar with all the minor details of the period down to Anne Boleyn's eye color and who don't appreciate these liberties they're taking with history. Plus, why do they have to make shit up: isn't the true story dramatic enough?? Henry VIII was a tyrant and a womanizer who broke his country away from the Catholic Church, started his own religion, married six times, had numerous extra-martial affairs, and put hundreds of people to death (including two of the aforementioned wives).
Problem #2: Henry VIII was not Vincent Chase
Another thing that bugged me in the 1st season (I suspect this might not apply as much to the subsequent seasons) is this whole Entourage vibe that pervaded the show. Henry VIII and his posse of bros always seemed to be carrying on like sixteenth-century frat boys what with all their carousing, attending/participating in jousts, hunting, and most of all chasing after women at court. Sure, as a young man Henry was athletic (incidentally, Henry was already in his thirties by the time he started his affair with Anne Boleyn) and we all know he was a playah, but I think as King of England he did a bit more then just chase skirt and hang with the boys. Plus the guys on the show just all seemed like such douches it became painful to watch.
Problem #1: Jonathan Rhys Meyers makes a TERRIBLE Henry VIII
This right here is over 50% of why I hate this show. Before the Tudors came along I liked JRM, I would have even called myself a fan (ugh, what was wrong with me?). But his Henry VIII sucks. Let's put aside the fact that he looks nothing like the real Henry who was fair-haired and super tall for his time (6'3"). Maybe Henry didn't start packing on the pounds until later in his life, but I think he was broad shouldered and athletic rather than model thin and androgenous like JRM.
Worse then that JRM plays Henry as a spoiled child. He also doesn't seem very smart: watching the show it seemed like Henry's treatise in defense of the Catholic faith (Assertio Septum Sacramentorum) was a joke and any praise it got was just an attempt to flatter a vain prince. In reality Henry VIII was purportedly very learned (he was actually studying to be a priest before his brother Arthur died), and his Defense was well regarded at the time.
JRM's Henry basically has two emotions, sexy/seductive and angry/petulant, and the way he expresses the two they're surprisingly similar. In recent episodes, I noticed that his disappointment at the fact that his new bride was not yet with child was basically indistinguishable from his reaction to news that peasants in the North were rising up against his Protestant reforms and had ceased control of York.
I don't think this is just a conscious decision JRM made about how he would play the role. No, I think it boils down to the undeniable fact that he is just not a very good actor. I guess I didn't notice this so much in the movies I had seen him in prior to the Tudors. His roles in Bend It Like Beckham and Julie Taymor's movie Titus weren't that large or demanding, and I guess Velvet Goldmine and that BBC miniseries of Gormenghast (I loved those books by the way, one of the best endings ever) were stylized/weird enough for him to get away with it. But he just can't pull off the complex character of Henry VIII (portrayed by the likes of Richard Burton) and in the Tudors his is the starring role. It's the kind of performance (like Natalie Portman's crap turn as Anne Boleyn in the Other Boleyn Girl -- that's a subject for another post) that makes you reassess what you've seen of his previous work ("gee, come to think of it, I guess he's never acted any other way but sexy/pouty/angry in EVERYTHING I'VE EVER SEEN HIM IN!)
Since I formulated this opinion, I've also watched Woody Allen's Match Point: JRM wasn't awful in that but it's a less challenging role (also he stars opposite Scarjo who just had to look sexy throughout 60% of the movie). Now I'm wondering about his performance in that Elvis miniseries as I remember hearing at the time that it was really convincing. Could this go against my JRM can't act theory, or is his Elvis impersonation just all about him being pouty and sexy (maybe with a curled lip? oh, I can totally see it)....
This reminds me of when Nicole pointed out to me that Milla Jovovich (another model/actor) really has like one facial expression (if you've ever seen one of her movies you know what I'm talking about, wide eyes mouth open) which she manages to get a lot of mileage out of. In different contexts it can connote religious ecstasy, surprise, fear, wonder...
Images: Jonathan Rhys Meyers from Showtime's the Tudors, as Steerpike in the BBC's Gormenghast,. Milla Jovovich in the Fifth Element, the Messenger, and Resident Evil all taken from her official website.