Part the First
Hey Autocrat, these take a while to load. Can I load up the next one in a new window while I’m reading this one? Yes, yes you can.
This is the pilot, which is probably why we get the merest ruffle of a title sequence before we are into the first scene.
There is architecture and a title telling us we are at the Ducal Palace in Urbino, Italy. With this sequence –
Where everyone involved is clearly freezing their tits off. That’s a lot of extras in a lot of heavy coats for Italy. That’s not Italy unless it’s halfway up an Alp and November.
Sean Pertwee demands to know why he has been dragged out here so early in the morning, and why the French are here. He is assured that it is because he is very important, and the French are the problem, but we’re already being told something’s up. The close ups are suddenly a bit too close, and there’s a mood change in the music just as the scene changes. There’s a lot of hurried footsteps and furtive glances that work fine, although it all goes on a little too long for the space they are in, and yes, on your fourth viewing you will absolutely notice that everyone’s actually just been filmed doing laps around that central floor.
Then they finally catch up and they are there and stabbing and it’s a full ‘Julius Caesar’ type stabbing, everybody gets a stab.
Punctured by many wounds, he hisses “French Bastards”, and really well done there, extra English points for getting the emphasis and fury on the “French” part of that phrase, Sean Pertwee’s character.
Do you have a Frenemy? Is that Frenemy also your sibling? Does that Frenebling live less than a mile away from you and have an opinion about fucking everything? Well then, you Sir, have a very good idea of the sheer tonnage of neuroses that go into the ‘special relationship’ between England and France. For everyone else, let us simply say that it is, indeed, complicated.
He spits out his dying insult like a true Englishman, and crawls towards a really, really expensive piece of marble to bleed to death somewhere where that stain is just never going to come out.
We cut to Whitehall Palace, London which CGI I will not mock because it is…fine.
We cut inside where Thomas More (Not a ‘sir’ yet) and Mr Pace (Henry VIII’s personal secretary) are on a sixteenth century Sorkin walk and talk. It is precious. More is basically Josh and Mr Pace is Sam.
I like how busy and smoky everything is, it feels authentic, like actual rushes on the floor, carts left around, servants doing stuff, peasants yelling at you Authentic. Commoners could come to petition in the outer areas of Tudor courts, and this looks very much like it could be depicting one of those areas – a depiction not always seen when you’re trying to make everything look so damn regal. So, Well Done, and take an Authenticity Gold Star, The Tudors.
Now give that Authenticity Gold Star right back, The Tudors. We’re all talking about Sean Pertwee being Henry’s uncle that got murdered and I have a name for him. His name is Uncle Fictional . Henry VIII had no uncles living at the time of his birth, let alone when he was king. His mother had two brothers that both died before he was born and his father was an only child. His uncles all being dead was part of his qualification to be King. You were doing so well, The Tudors. So, why Uncle Fictional, huh? I guess that’s the question. Why blot your accuracy copybook in the opening scene just to kill him off?
I think Uncle Fictional’s purpose is to get The Tudors barrelling towards war with France so that the mega-summit of The Field of the Cloth of Gold can at least promise some stakes, even if, like in actual history, it can’t deliver them.
Because without Uncle Fictional’s death the point the first two episodes are driving towards is utterly stakeless and drifting without a shitload more buildup than these 5 minutes have efficiently and propulsively provided. Neat narrative device, The Tudors, full marks for trying very hard to give a political summit (That a lot of important character moments are going to happen at) a point, but no Authenticity Gold Star for you.
There is a trick they do with men whose characters need to age over a film or TV series. They shave and wax the crap out of them at the beginning, and often give them a really short haircut. It’s a trick that, combined with a decent performance, works annoyingly well. Because with enough shaving, waxing and tweezing, (and what I assume is some pretty amazing lighting and make up) you will believe that Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who was 28 – 29 years old at the time of filming, could not get served a drink.
We’re into the audience chamber and we meet the Duke of Buckingham, who is just frighteningly bolshy around Henry, particularly considering the stubble he’s sporting. He turns his assessment of the situation into a humble brag about how he was ready for war with France months ago as Henry breaks out the crazy eyes.
More and Wolsey have reaction shots of not being fine with all this war talk, and the Duke of Norfolk is ‘Sure whatever, it’s Tuesday, why aren’t we planning to invade France?’ So Wolsey reads the room and when Henry asks for his opinion on the meeting chimes in for war, but without enthusiasm.
Henry is pleased that “It’s war with France, then” and More and Wolsey talk after the meeting about how the king might need to be ‘guided’ away from all these preparations and then our headlong rush into The Tudors finally moves down a gear and it’s over to Henry and Lady Bessie Blount for some fuckin.
There’s some toe action. Tits. There’s our first glimpse of Henry’s happy trail (or where it would be if it hadn’t been shaved)and a bit of his shaft, so get used to that. By the end of season 2 it’s essentially had its own character arc. Teh sex fails for being sadly disproportionate – either something is happening that justifies all that panting and groaning (and actually achieving orgasm?)or everyone can be shown firmly keeping their pants on throughout, The Tudors, pick a fucking lane.
But I like how, after the world’s most exiting dry hump ever, we draw back to the three guys just standing outside. It’s a neat way to nod to the basic openness of life for a monarch at that time, and the differing notions of what a private life is from then to now. Yes, that total lack of privacy was standard for your average reigning Renaissance monarch. They would probably wonder what it is you’re hiding with that secretive lifestyle.
We cut to Hampton Court, Surrey, Cardinal Wolsey’s new home. And the CGI is fine.
And it’s our first bit of intrigue as Wolsey conspires with the French. Wolsey has an unusual attitude to the French, it turns out. He kind of gets along with them. Oh and if you’re trying to place Bishop Bonnivet – then you last saw him dying next to his cottage before being robustly euthanised by the Hound. He had a much better accent then. The travesty he’s failing to nail down at the moment I can only describe as Fritalian.
The French admit, after some initial push back, that their king did indeed fuck up bad by killing Uncle Fictional, and Wolsey’s getting around to his price for avoiding a war that his King and everyone else in the council (except More) wants.
While Wolsey is enjoying his life and choosing his price we go on a little tour of the other main characters as they touch Henry- looking hot with his friends at a tennis match –
Charles Brandon (Henry Cavil, 22-23 at time of filming S1) has also been strategically sheared for youth, and while he will age satisfyingly and convincingly over the next 4 seasons, Brandon’s characterisation this first season is basically a horny Golden Retriever in a man’s body.
William Compton and Anthony Knivert round out Henry’s circle of friends. Compton and Knivert are just smart enough to be half honest enough be really great sycophants, and Brandon is planning to seduce Buckingham’s daughter. Oh, but she looks to be about 20 – it’s cool.
Finally we visit Henry’s domestic life, where he is dining with Catherine of Aragon (Wife No1 – ‘Divorced’), and being waited on by Lady Bessie Blount who is – not subtle.
We establish that Henry and Catherine have a daughter, and no son, because if they had a son their entire conversation all the time would just be about him. Shit, multiple pairs of naked tits trying to get attention at that table would just be utterly ignored in favour of what Tarquin thinks about his music teacher.
Then Catherine tries a bit of diplomatic manipulation at dinner. And, fair enough, that’s not cool. But Henry decides to whip out his temper, and we get our first foreshadowing of the raging monster he’ll become. For now, he is just very serious about normative gender roles.
Well that’s how it would have gone for any of us but Catherine of Aragon has a different truth to live. Catherine of Aragon needs a goddamn heir. She needs to secure her dynasty and the personal futures of herself and her daughter. Bottom line, if Catherine of Aragon conceives tonight and delivers a boy then no one ever even makes this series. This whole thing is done. She and Henry are like a cute ruling couple tale in British history you just don’t look at too closely. Any significant Protestant reformation probably doesn’t happen in England until much later, if at all. History Is Different and Way More Catholic.
So, Catherine of Aragon womans up, puts down her Bovril, shrugs into her camelhair coat and orders her uterus to get back out there onto that pitch, to take just one more shot for England and says-
Hey, she really is great at diplomacy. And Henry… will think about it. How minimally appreciative.
Henry is getting ready to go to bed and there’s a lot of suggestive business with a pomegranate (Which is also Catherine’s personal symbol – so full marks to whoever had the idea to bribe the fruit monger).
“Well, what strikes me Terry, is how far his strike rate has fallen from where it was 5 years ago. He used to be in the right vagina seventy five perc…”
“Seventy five percent of the time. Yes, yes, absolutely. And now…”
“Well now it’s barely twenty.”
“Of course he’s thrown a lot at the right vagina over the years, and in fairness he’s got very little out of it.”
“Just a girl, Terry and it’s not like one of them could be a suitably competent heir. There’s just not enough irony in the world for that.”
“You might as well wish for the greatest monarch to ever sit upon the English throne, and maybe any other, Sam. Simply ridiculous.”
Part the second for episode 1 can be found here.
A fantastic recap – incredibly detailed. I started re-using the episodes of this series to help add some flesh and understanding to an A-level module that i teach on the Tudors. I will use these recaps as helpful tool.
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Well Thank You Dave of Dave Does History. Producing something someone that Actually Currently teaches History finds useful? Priceless.
These are great! I wish I’d known about them when I started watching The Tudors.
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