One of the reasons I enjoy Showtime’s original series “The Tudors” is because it takes place during a fascinating time period: The Renaissance.
The Renaissance was not just about Italian artists and rediscovering old ideas. The early 16th century was an intellectually vibrant period, where the dark ages met the modern world head on and every dogma was up for debate.
The conquest of the Americas opened many minds to the enormous power that European men had to change the world. The invention of the printing press made it so new ideas could spread quickly; soon every literate person had easy access to the news of the day whether the authorities liked it or not. Bold reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin were even able to successfully challenge the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church.
It was a brave new world, and King Henry VIII of England was a new kind of prince. His arrogance, lust, and bloodthirsty nature was old-fashioned enough. But Henry was no barbarian. He was cultured and educated. He read and published books. He surrounded himself with the best and brightest advisors.
Henry was ambitious and resourceful in the ways he used his power. He is most famous for beheading his wives, but the most remarkable aspect of his reign was the audacious, cynical way he established the Church of England.
When “The Tudors” began last year, Henry (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was basically a happy, childish young man. He liked his buddies, sports, and girls. Henry was married to the boring, pious, older Spaniard Catherine of Aragon, but that certainly didn’t stop him from sleeping with every pretty lady he could get his royal hands on.
The situation got complicated when an ambitious young woman named Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) stole Henry’s heart and refused to be a common mistress. The Church didn’t allow divorce and Rome steadfastly refused to annul Henry and Catherine’s marriage.
When the pope speaks – it’s case closed, right? Not this time. As season two of “The Tudors” begins, Henry is starting to recognize that a king who is secure in his power can pretty much do whatever he wants within his own realm.
Right now Henry is well on his way to severing ties with Rome and creating the Church of England, with the King himself as the head. This gutsy gambit has the added bonus of moving the vast wealth of the English monasteries into his own coffers.
All of this for the love of a woman who will only be Queen for three years. It’s a remarkable true story and “The Tudors” is telling it well. The series features gorgeous sets, costumes and actors (it’s definitely worth seeing in HD), but it never skimps on dialogue and substance.
Perhaps the most interesting character is Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam), another uniquely 16th Century man. On one hand, he was incredibly well educated and brilliant. His novel “Utopia” is still thought-provoking and a good read.
But as Chancellor of England, More did not hesitate to use horrifying medieval methods to punish those who dared to act against his beloved Catholic Church. More is a great tragic figure of history and I am looking forward to watching his inevitable downfall this season.
With its engrossing story and beautiful HD cinematography, “The Tudors” is one of the most consistently entertaining programs on television.