Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Tudors, Season 4

Tamzin Merchant as Queen Katherine Howard
On the whole, The Tudors is an amalgamation of brilliantly authentic and well-acted historical recreations with the most banal and absurd distortions. The salaciousness of Season 3 carried over into Season 4 only to die off with Katherine Howard. I appreciated Tamzin Merchant's portrayal of the doomed Katherine much more in Season 4 than in Season 3, for she acquires some personality beyond that of a giggling teenager. It is enchanting to see her dancing at court with complete joie de vivre, as she and Henry VIII enjoy their idyll which will soon end so tragically. I wish they had showed how she sent food and blankets to the imprisoned Carthusian martyrs as well as to Blessed Margaret Pole, who was beheaded while Katherine was Queen. Perhaps it would have lent more depth to her character.

 It was odd that there was no mention of how the Howards, particularly Katherine's uncle the Duke of Norfolk, were the ones to maneuver her into court. In fact, after Season 1, the Duke of Norfolk, who was an active player throughout Henry's reign, seems to vanish from sight. Norfolk and Suffolk are basically combined into one handsome Charles Brandon in the latter Seasons. I know this was to get as much mileage as possible out of good-looking Henry Cavill but I found it confusing because I kept wondering what had happened to Norfolk. They did show Norfolk's son Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, which would have been fine except that the real Surrey was tall, lean, red-headed and not quite thirty. David O'Hara's Surrey is a roguish, middle aged, barrel-chested Irish sot, quite charming, but not the Henry Howard that I know.

Another principle player who disappears is Archbishop Cranmer. Bishop Gardiner is substituted in his place and becomes the chief cleric-in-residence instead of Cranmer which is most peculiar, especially when it was really Cranmer who visited Katherine Howard in prison. What is more absurd are the imaginary characters such as Season 3's lusty Lady Ursula and Season 4's Brigitte the buxom French lass. The latter is discovered dressed as Jeanne d'Arc by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, as he is fighting in France. He brings her back to England and makes her his mistress. I don't think this really happened. Also, Charles' third wife (or fourth, if you count Margaret Mortimer) was Kate Willoughby. Why they call her "Katherine Brooke" I will never understand. Did they think Americans would not be able to pronounce "Willoughby"? She is another intriguing character who just fades into the background although by all accounts the Duchess of Suffolk was alive and well and stirring up heresy in the household of Queen Katherine Parr. And what about all of Suffolk's children by his sundry wives? Where are Frances and Eleanor? They only show him having one son whose name keeps changing. I must admit, however, that the portrayal of Suffolk, Henry VIII's oldest and best friend, made me think more about him as a historical figure, whereas before he had never occurred to me beyond being the husband of Mary Tudor the elder.

As I have said elsewhere, I love the depiction of young Princess Mary, Katherine of Aragon's daughter. The series portrays her ordeals and character as I have never seen or read in any other dramatization or novel. She really came alive for me, symbolizing the difficulties of trying to live a faithful Catholic life in a world gone mad. It is sad knowing that she would later lose the love of her people, who did not take kindly to being burned alive. I enjoyed Joely Richardson's Katherine Parr; in the show as in reality she is a character whom it is easy to love. She makes being Henry's wife look easy when we know by that point that marriage with him was like trying to have a picnic on an erupting Mount Vesuvius. Laoise Murray was radiant as the Lady Elizabeth. As Henry VIII says farewell to his wife and children everyone weeps except the young Elizabeth, who stares stonily at her father with the heartlessness of an adolescent who can see too clearly the failings of her elders. It is sad to me that Henry never seemed to appreciate his girls, both in the series and in actuality; they both suffered for it.

Sarah Bolger as Princess Mary

Laoise Murray as Young Bess (Elizabeth I)



Matterhorn said...

This is such a thoughtful and beautifully written and illustrated series of reviews.

julygirl said...

I agree totally regarding the unnecessary insertion of nonexistent characters, for what reason? There were enough fascinating true life figures. It was unneccessary to throw in non-essential characters.

It is also puzzling why an older actor would be chosen to play the role of a younger man, or a true historical figure would be interchangable with another historical figure. I cannot see that it advance, simplified or improved the real events. With your amazing knowledge of history I am surprised you were as patient with this series, except that it was beautifully presented and the acting was supurb. Why do producers of historical dramas deem it necessary to change the facts when the reality is just as interesting and exciting.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Matterhorn. I agree, Julygirl!