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TV Testimony – Quick Review of Season 4 of The Tudors

April 19, 2010

WARNING:  Historical spoilers.  For those who want to be “surprised” about the fate of certain characters on the show, read no further.   


The Tudors on Showtime has managed to age much like Henry VIII himself – beginning as a vain, spoiled spectacle and growing into a complex and multi-faceted potboiler.  Season 1 was a little too gaudy and didn’t delve too much into the characters beyond surface-level caricatures.  Season 2 was fantastically entertaining, due mostly to superb performances by Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn and Jeremy Northam as Thomas More.   Season 3 struggled to find its footing without a strong female lead, although it did manage to bring forth a convincing, if conflicted villain in James Frain’s Cromwell. 

This season begins with Cromwell stripped of his head and Henry without a voice of reason to advise him.  This, historically, is fairly accurate.  Left without a strong central advisor,  the Tudor court would become overrun with the power-hungry Seymour clan (led by Thomas and Edward, brothers of the late Queen Jane), who are always eager to advance the interests of their nephew the prince, hence lining their own pocketbooks.


Tamzin Merchant as Katharine Howard

I’m not terribly fond of Max Brown’s portrayal of Edward Seymour.  He’s not ruthless enough, and seems to simper under his wife Anne Stanhope’s  scheming.  It’s hard to believe this guy will end up being Lord Protector of England upon Henry’s death, although the series is smartly showing  just how incompetent the man truly was. Edward’s brother Thomas has been noticeably absent so far this season, but will no doubt reappear when Catherine Parr’s story moves to the forefront.  Here’s hoping they age the appearance of the baby-faced actor who appeared last season, or that they decide to re-cast altogether. 

The lack of strong , intriguing women on the show after Anne Boleyn’s absence was wearing on me in season 3 (both Jane and Anne of Cleves were relatively tame), but producers seem to be making amends this season.  I was happy to catch a gleam of wistful longing in Henry’s eye as he presented his daughter Elizabeth to Katharine Howard.  The actress walked in with the exact air and attitude of her mother, which was no coincidence, I’m sure.  Perhaps, like all of us, Henry saw something of Anne’s charm and bearing in her daughter.  It’s nice of the writers to give us a little taste of how powerful and captivating Elizabeth will become. 

Edward’s scheming wife Anne Stanhope is still cuckolding her husband with glee (last season with Francis Bryan and this season with the Earl of Surrey), and Emma Hamilton’s wry performance is quite enjoyable.  She brings some “bite” to the ladies of The Tudors, which has been sadly missing since Anne Boleyn’s departure in season 2.   

I’ve yet to see what David O’Hara will bring to the cast as the Earl of Surrey.  Historically, he was an intelligent mover and shaker, the son of the powerful Duke of Norfolk (who hasn’t been seen on The Tudors since season 1).  He was a poet and intellectual, and the first cousin of  TWO of Henry’s queens – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.  I find it interesting that no one on the show has yet to mention that current queen Catherine is dearly departed Anne’s first cousin.  Minor detail. 


Speaking of our dear Queen Katherine Howard – I’m enjoying Tamzin Merchant’s performance much more this season than during her brief appearance in season 3.  She’s playing Katherine as exactly what historians believe she was: a spoiled, vapid teenager.  Henry remarks on the day of their wedding that she is “17”, but historically she was a mere 15 when she became Henry’s fifth bride.  This is one case where the show didn’t have to alter history to scandalize.  There is much historical evidence to suggest that Henry’s “rose without a thorn” was quite sexually adventurous before and during her brief reign.  Still, she seemed to be utterly without malice historically  and she was quite popular at court and with Henry’s younger children.  She was widely liked and showered with gifts and attention from Henry until her sudden downfall. 

The series is playing up Katherine’s rivalry with Mary, Henry’s eldest daughter, and for good reason.  Mary would no doubt have been appalled at this uneducated young trollop bouncing about as the most powerful woman  in England, while Mary herself still suffered under Henry’s constant whims.  Sara Bolger’s performance as Mary is becoming one of my favorites of the series.  She has matured from a petulant young lady to a powerful force to be reckoned with. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her conflicts with the Seymours.  If only poor Edward and Thomas knew what harmless little Mary would have in store for them… 

Jonathan Rhys Meyers continues to earn my admiration for his portrayal of Henry.  The first season I was not impressed with the path the writers appeared to be taking with him, but over the years he has grown in both stature and importance.  I especially love the continual friendship between Henry and Henry Cavill’s Charles Brandon, which has formed the heart and soul of the series, and is perhaps Henry’s most important relationship.   Cavill’s performance even outshines Meyers’ at times in the series, most notably last season as he lost the love of his wife in the face of duty for the king at the horrifically brutal Pilgrimage of Grace. 


Henry, Jane and Mary

Overall, season 4 is shaping up to be a thrill ride.  Producers intriguingly promise the return of all of Henry’s wives by the end of the season, and I’m looking forward to Joely Richardson as Henry’s final wife Catherine Parr, who was the only published author of the wives, as well as one of only two (the other being Catherine of Aragon) Henry trusted to rule as Queen Regent in his absence at war. 

Bring on the mayhem, and let more heads roll…its shaping up to be an interesting season at court with The Tudors. 


6 Comments leave one →
  1. Hazel permalink
    April 19, 2010 10:08 pm

    What a wonderful review! I am having reservations regarding the casting of Catherine Parr. The actress starred in the FX series, Nip/Tuck, and fear I will always see her as snarky Julia. Hopefully she can convince me otherwise. I certainly agree with your appraisal of Sara Bolger’s Mary. Was she always such a tortured soul? So far this season has not disappointed, but I have yet to figure out why we had to see Mr. Culpepper rape the farmer’s wife and kill her husband. Is there some subplot that I’m missing?

  2. April 20, 2010 1:06 pm

    Believe it or not, the rape of the gamekeeper’s wife and the murder of a bystander is based on a REAL historical incident involving Culpepper. He was actually PARDONED by the king! He was apparently quite the horrible guy. I understand that they are trying to establish Culpepper as a villain who “seduces” Katharine Howard. In reality, she was just as guilty as he was. I think they are trying to make her more sympathetic.

    Poor Mary started out as a pretty, intelligent popular girl, but by the time she becomes queen she is suffering from health problems (she would die from the same type of cancer that killed her mother) and is in a horrible marriage. She was pretty tortured by Henry while he was alive – never knowing if she was “in favor” or to be treated like the “bastard” child he declared her to be when he divorced Catherine of Aragon…

    • Hazel permalink
      April 20, 2010 8:43 pm

      Yes, even with those beautiful eyes, I could tell Mr. Culpepper was up to no good. And, yes, I do agree it would be debatable whether he seduces the Queen or vice versa. The Queen is showing signs of discontent! As for Anne Stanhope, I’m very confused. She’s married to Edward? yet slept with his brother Thomas? in the second episode, and she slept with the Earl of Surrey as well in the second episode? And poor Charles Brandon has no one to sleep with!

      My other question would be the succession to the throne. In the movie “Elizabeth I” I could have sworn that Elizabeth was caring for her slightly nutsey, unmarried, “sister” Mary. (NOTE: I did not see the entire movie). So, my question would be, did Mary succeed to the throne, followed by “sister” Elizabeth? And what of the son? Didn’t he die at the age of 15 having never become king?

  3. April 21, 2010 12:50 pm

    The Tudors invented Anne Stanhope’s affair with Thomas Seymour, although the Earl of Surrey DID write a famous poem about her (about her rejection of him), which they showed in Sunday’s episode.

    As for the succession, Edward was pronounced king immediately after Henry’s death, but since he was so young (he was 9), Edward Seymour was named “Lord Protector” of England. Although Edward VI made political decisions, his advisors were all chosen by Seymour. Seymour was then beheaded for treason (as was his brother Thomas later on), and the new Lord Protector was rumored to have hastened Edward’s demise through the use of arsenic.

    Edward died at 15 (from tuberculosis).

    Mary was next in line by birth, but since she was a Catholic and still a “bastard” in the eyes of some of the court, she was passed over by Edward VI in favor of Lady Jane Grey, who was the grandaughter of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister). The “Princess Margaret” on season 1 was a combination of Henry’s sisters Mary and Margaret. Lady Jane was a reformist Protestant and Edward’s closest friend. There were rumors for awhile that they might even marry.

    She lasted a whole 9 days as queen before Mary roused the people to her cause and took the throne by force. The people were relieved when she came to the throne and showed some stability, but that wouldn’t last.

    When Mary came to power, she burned many Protestants as heretics. The people grew to hate and fear her, and many plotted to bring her sister Elizabeth to the throne instead. Mary would marry the Spanish king, Phillip II, but would have no children and eventually developed cancer. On her deathbed, she still had doubts about proclaiming Elizabeth her heir (since she was a Protestant), but she did finally cave in. In the movie Elizabeth I they show Mary gradually getting sicker from the disease (at first she thought it was a pregnancy, but historians know now it was probably a tumor).

  4. Hazel permalink
    April 21, 2010 4:15 pm

    Thank you so much for all of the information! Now, as I watched this last season, I’ll know who all of the players might be. I do miss Thomas More and somewhat miss Cromwell. Henry seems to be lost without a “go to” guy.

  5. Angie permalink
    February 11, 2011 11:48 am

    I do miss Cromwell, I thought he was a vile piece of work in season 2, having not watched season 1 properly, but I really started to warn to him an sympathies with him in season 3. What about that guy Rich who seemed to be friendly with Cromwell in Season 3? Is he happy to be Catholic now? I thought he was one of the Protestant reformers in Season 3 (but am not gonna watch it all over again, lol).
    Has anyone else noticed that Elizabeth seems to have jumped from about 4 yrs old in season 3 to about 13 this season, it’s only been about 3 and a half yrs (apart frm when she met Anne of Cleves briefly) – she should only be about 7 yrs old (perhaps she was just a very big seven, lol . . .)

    I don’t like the way Kathrine Howard is played hear either – it’s too oot, the rose petals covering her modesty (did she really do that?), the dancing in the rain and her lesbian friend – I don’t belive it, just because she had a couple of brief flings b4 she met Henry and ofcourse cheated on him doesn’t mean she has to b portrayed as a, I don’t know, practically a porn star! Could she not just have been a bit daft?? 😉

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