TV Testimony – Quick Review of Season 4 of The Tudors
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.
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.
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.