As someone who loved the point in history class where the lessons turned to the British monarchy, and who could at one point name all of the British regents from Richard III through Elizabeth II in order, it's no surprise I have been watching The Tudors. I have been a little reluctant to post about it, however, because I don't know that anyone who reads this blog (other than me) actually gets Showtime, but Comcast is offering the first two episodes for free On Demand, so everyone can at least catch the beginning. And it's worth a viewing.
The show stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers (although some like to refer to him as "the hot guy from Match Point," although I have never seen the film, nor have I seen Bend It Like Beckham) as King Henry VIII, following him through the early period of his monarchy. This is not the bloated, tired Henry VIII of Charles Laughton or Richard Burton films. This Henry is slim and athletic (although there is still some gluttony--with various women in bed) and, although I have never found Rhys Meyers to be so before, pretty attractive.
At the start of the series, Henry is married to Catherine of Aragon, and like HBO's Rome, we know how this story ends. But although I watched the first six episodes of Rome, I was never hooked. The characters weren't compelling enough to tune in week after week. Not so here. Rhys-Meyers' Henry is multi-faceted and conflicted. A self-professed humanist, but a realist about the duties of his monarchy; loyal to his friends, but vicious toward his wife. And the supporting cast is quite good as well, notably Sam Neill as the ambitious Cardinal Wolsey and Nick Dunning as the Joe Simpson-esque Thomas Boleyn, a man willing to pimp his two daughters for a little bit of status. Jeremy Northam has also been good as Sir Thomas More, although he hasn't been spotlighted in the first two episodes; I suspect he will be featured more in the future. The show also treats us to smaller stories within the larger arc, such as the beheading of the Duke of Buckingham, which help keep the episodes fresh.
Of course, Anne Boleyn is sure to be the other star of this series, although she has only made brief appearances thus far. As of yet, there isn't much to say about her except that she's cute and the casting department did a good job of choosing an actress who really could pass as her sister to play Mary Boleyn. Oh, and in a nice touch, she wears the necklace worn in her most famous painting, which I now think of as "Betty's necklace on Ugly Betty" (see painting to the right).
I'm unsure how far into his reign the show will go, although I suspect most of season one will consist of Henry's affair with Anne and his divorce from Catherine and split from Catholicism. (Theoretically, with the title of the series, it could go all the way to the death of Elizabeth I, but I doubt we will get there.) History has given the writers a fascinating story, and thus far they have delivered with good scripts and great acting.