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'The Tudors' recap: Getting the chop

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Tudors_lTV’s had some pretty monstrous parents of late: Livia Soprano (The Sopranos), Charles Widmore (Lost), Colleen Donaghy (30 Rock), Celia Hodes (Weeds), Bradford Meade (Ugly Betty), Katherine Mayfair (Desperate Housewives), Locke’s Dad (also Lost), Edina Monsoon (AbFab), George Bluth (Arrested Development), Mrs. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), even our Henry. But Papa Boleyn takes the Tudor-era Banbury cake.

We’ve been waiting weeks for his comeuppance only to be disappointed. You’d think hearing that Anne and George are suspected of treason would break him. No dice: He turns on his kids to save his own arse. You’d think he’d shed a tear when George gets the chop. No, he reads a book instead. The only way to hurt this guy would be to kill him — or to take away his Earldom — neither of which would be historically accurate. Thus, I doubt it’s going to happen.

So I had to refocus my hate onto Plain and the Seybores. Kudos to The Tudors for not going the usual route and portraying the former as Henry’s perfect, sweet, little nursemaid (at least not yet). Sure, she hasn’t done anything overtly nasty, like how Anne verbally taunted Katherine in season 1. But meeting the King (even with dad and bro in tow) and accepting his locket while the Queen is crumbling — then wearing it in her presence after she had a miscarriage because she walked in on Plain snogging Henry — is pretty wenchy. (Anyone else notice the creepy horror film score during this part, or how Anne was dressed like Cate Blanchett and Glenda Jackson in their craziest moments as Elizabeth?) Also, those shots of Plain yucking it up in the scenes-from-the-next made her seem, for all her fair-haired purity, quite gluttonous. (In her defense, being secretly a Catholic, she probably doesn’t accept Anne as Henry’s true wife or the Queen. But that’s no excuse.)

As for Anne, when I was in grad school vainly trying to turn myAnglophilia into a full-fledged academic pursuit, I had read originalBritish reviews of the 1933 Alexander Korda film The Private Life of Henry VIII. Two things stood out: A) Charles Laughton’s bad table manners as Henryoffended just about everyone and B) Merle Oberon’s über-sereneAnne-on-the-way-to-her-death was a major hit. So I had Merle on thebrain when Anne entered the tower — and I wished those old Brits couldsee how affecting Natalie Dormer’s impassioned acting was. Anne’smanic wavering from resigned martyr to fainting/begging wreck wasstriking. Heartbreaking, even. Yet, still dignified. Plus, she got agood dig in about Henry to Lady Rochford a few days before her arrest:“The King cannot satisfy a women — he has neither the skill nor thevirility.”  Well done, and in front of Plain no less!

On the other hand, how fitting was it that Charles Brandon finallybit back at Anne by being the one who tells the King about the rumorsof her infidelity? Does Brandon really think they’re true? I’m notsure. I loved how his face got so dark and ugly — his eyebrowsthickened by about a centimeter — as he stood behind Henry feeding himthose lies as his “most loyal subject and oldest friend.” It was allvery Iago. I think it became quite clear during his solo scene withHenry, in which the King cried into his lap about Elizabeth possiblybeing a bastard (dude, she looks exactly like you, or at least howyou’re supposed to look if your hair wasn’t getting blacker by theepisode) that Brandon realized he’d started a much bigger disaster thanhe’d planned.

And why, despite his moaning, does Henry take all this down like aspoonful of sugar? Because he’ll let himself be convinced of anythingif it justifies him getting his own way. Katherine not a virgin? Thatmeans Henry can marry Anne. Anne a slut? That means he can marryJane. And make friends with Spain.  And keep from gettingexcommunicated. And forgo begging King Francis to betroth his son toElizabeth. Which reminded me of something else: As James Chapmanwrites in Past and Present:  National Identity and the British Historical Film, “…it is the truth universally acknowledged — among historians at least — that the historical feature film will often have as much to say about the present in which it was made as about the past in which it was set.” So if Laurence Olivier’s Henry V was about World War II, and Chariots of Fire was about Thatcherism, Rome was about U.S. imperialism, then what is The Tudorsis about? For one, Henry’s willingness to believe anything in order toproceed with his own personal and political wishes reminds me a lot ofa particular politician and his particular administration. As didRichie Rich (yes, he’s back!) and Cromwell’s CSI-meets-Abu Ghraib-styleinterrogations of Madge, Nan, and the offending men.

I’ve been trying to figure out why, when Madge lists the men thatvisited Anne’s bedchamber, she says “Lord Rochford… Sir Henry Norris… theKing’s groom Brereton… Mark Smeaton, the musician… and I saw her huggingand kissing her brother.” Wouldn’t Lord Rochford be Anne’s brother?(Her father is the Earl of Wiltshire. George’s wife is Lady Rochford. Doesn’t that make him Lord Rochford?) I know I’m missing something. Could it be a mistake in the script? I’ve also been trying tounderstand what Brereton was doing in Anne’s rooms at all and when hewas doing it. Maybe Madge saw him sneak in during one of his aborted“kill missions” and thought he was coming for some rumpty-tumpty?Otherwise, why did she offer up his name? I know they danced that once,but that’s not much. And this is off-subject, but why was he praying inthe nude when they nicked him? Later on, it gave me a needed gigglewhen Brereton had his “a-ha” moment and realized that if he confessedto sexing up Anne he could kill her and be a martyr. His eyes openedso wide that I half-expected a light bulb to flash above the actor’shead.

Otherwise, I’m nearly tongue-tied over last night’s deaths (FrancisWeston, you seemed to have escaped the producers’ purview), except tosay I’m glad the majority of them were shown from far away.  George’seyes closing before the blade swung down and Mark’s sigh of relief whenhis head hit the block will stick with me for days. As will the siteof Anne pushing a chest up to the window to watch her brother’sexecution and the distraught Wyatt yelling, “But I’m the only one whois guilty.” That’s not the sole irony here: He was the only one ofthem — besides the martyr Brereton — who had already given up onlife. Think of the defeated way he easily gave in to his arrest: Itwas almost funny to him. Including a somewhat bastardized version ofthe real Wyatt’s poems about Anne, Mark, and the others in voiceoverwas a nice touch. You can find their full text here and here. That said, the producers should really bring Thomas Tallis back to cheer him up.

In the end, I will miss Mark and George the most — more thanThomas More, who was too righteous, Thomas Tallis, who was too good,and Thomas Wolsey, who wore too much red. The way George tried to showsome sort of forced bonhomie to Chapuys (whose Dracula-lite accent Ifind endearing, yet troubling) by awkwardly patting his shoulder wasclassic Padraic Delaney subtlety. And Mark’s bow to Lady Rochford whenshe came to Anne’s rooms to complain about George was a last bit ofcheek that just fit him perfectly. Their absence will put a lot ofpressure on the excellent James Frain as Cromwell (who, it’s alreadybeen hinted, is skimming from the King’s pot — at least Wolsey wasstealing to build Christ’s College at Oxford) and Hans Matheson asCranmer (who so weakly changed his position on the treason trials oncehe knew Cromwell’s clerk was listening) in next week’s ep.

As for Ray Winstone’s portrayal of Henry VIII in Masterpiece’sbiopic: I liked it because it was gangster. The subheading for theBritish airing was even “Portrait of a Serial Killer.”  But it’s alsocamp, which I haven’t come to terms with yet. For all his primping andpreening, sauntering and overdoing it, there’s something down-to-earthand psychologically true about JRM that keeps his Henry from beinglarger-than-life like Atia in Rome or Swearengen in Deadwood. I love that. Now to James McAvoy’s wife, Anne-Marie Duff, as The Virgin Queen

So, Tudors fans, Cavillains and the like, what are your thoughts aswe head into the season finale? Any suggestions about what towatch/rent in the long months between next week and the premiere in2009? Any ideas on season 3 (which starts filming next month)?

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