Part the First
It’s our first full title sequence.“You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends. To get to the heart of the story you have to go back to the beginning.”
Yep, Did that two weeks ago.
Hey, ‘How long does it take to load?’ ‘Does it matter if you can pre-load the next one in a new window?”
It’s big summit time, and it is a goddamn glorious day. The English, though, are not hiding their insecurity well. First they are worried the French won’t show up, and then Compton makes a ‘fashionably late’ joke and everyone relaxes for, like, a nanosecond.
Then they spot the French, and suddenly they are worried that this is all a plot to kill Henry when he rides down to meet them. They are all being as calm as first time speed daters when Henry decides he has to take control.
Francis and Henry’s first meeting has an outrageous amount of tension in it, and you can’t help thinking that if these two guys could just take a walk together along the Kinsey scale this could end more happily for everyone. Sadly they’re both kings and they’re both straight, so it’s decent money that this attempt at a Renaissance UN ends in a punch up with a side order of war.
Henry loses bout 1 : Fashion Round. OK, so that hat may have excess volume but Francis looks fantastic. That jacket is a beautiful fabric, it’s well tailored and Francis is wearing the hell out of it. Henry is in a confection made of a decent curtain fabric with lace attached and a fake spare tire built in at the waist for reasons passing all understanding. All over a really rustic shirt. France 1, England 0.
There’s a nice little cut where we get a brief look at what appears to be one of the ‘outer’ areas of the summit, where there’s a bit of mud about, but there’s laughter and conversation and music in the distance and you know there’s quaffing of ale going on in those tents – to the VIP tent where Oh My God things are so strained.
There’s a crowd of about 60 people and about 10 of them get chairs. Anyone lower ranked than a Duke gets to stand for all the ornate polite speeches, being godly, and holding your goblet delicately by the stem.
Henry manages to win at courtesy after his opening loss at fashion by dropping, for the duration of the summit, the whole ‘King of France’ title that English Kings hung on to for about 500 years after it was anywhere remotely near feasible. France 1 England 1.
Then there’s swearing not to be dicks to each other, where everyone is extra earnest and sincere, if only because these events clearly give extra points for being earnest and sincere. More polite applause, and then ‘awww’s all around as the newly betrothed children (Princess Mary and the Dauphin) are swept in for inspection.
Mary is unlucky in love and her cute peck on the cheek is treated as the worst form of bogeys from hell by the Dauphin. She does not take this well and pushes the Dauphin over. His little crown springs right off his head and everyone gasps while Henry silently signals his total parental approval.
So England go 2 :1 up after an unexpected lightning round – ‘Heir Fight!’. Which, considering both of their heirs are about 7, was surprisingly feisty.
Like its inhabitants we are relived to escape the VIP tent and get outside into the evening air where Henry can show off his new mobile home and there’s finally something for the gentry to quaff, from actual wine fountains.
I love how delighted Thomas More is with the cutting edge of Renaissance illusioning – “Oh Ho! Look at that! I can’t believe it’s not masonry!”
He would be stunned with this CGI exterior- Which is…fine.
As we get on with the programmed events it’s becoming a Ceremonial Comparing of Everything. Everyone thinks their side won the mock sword fight, so that’s a draw. Then, remember last episode when Wolsey said Francis could never afford jewels as fine as Henry’s?
And then Francis points out Mary Boleyn, daughter of our erstwhile English Ambassador to France and says:And France pulls it back to 3 All. By the time Francis slinks off Henry has squandered the lead his heir gave him by succumbing to sexual jealousy. Perhaps we should just call them Iceman and Maverick, agree that Wolsey is clearly Goose, and have done.
It’s a late evening now and we see Thomas Boleyn stride towards one of the largest tents, where soft music is being played, poetry recited and young people are getting close to getting up to something. He finds his daughter Mary who is informed of King Henry’s interest in her, and she is not reticent. She would appear to be up for it. She just has to stop and tell her sister, though.
And if Mary’s need to tell her this news has anything to do with sisterly love then Anne, here, works a summer job as a whaler out of Nantucket.
Then we come to one of those bits that I just love about The Tudors. Henry is in his rooms getting a shave. Henry grew a beard as a symbol of his commitment to the summit, and that bitch is coming right off tonight. We can hear someone singing to him. It’s in an unaccompanied and scarily good falsetto, like ‘So, what happened to your balls?’ good, and has lyrics like ‘The Falcon Hath Bore my Maid Away’ so it is just the classiest singing.
And then this happens.
See that? Henry is enjoying the song and the first reaction he goes to is to see what is being asked of him. If something pleases Henry then someone has almost always done it for a reason and has a request they’d like him to look at. But tonight what he sees when he turns is this –
And Humbleflow’s just doing Humbleflow, you know? Just singing his song the best he can for the King. You see all of Henry’s tension fade out as he gets to just enjoy the song, and Rhys Meyers sells us all of that in about 7 seconds of just reacting. Call it a historical soap opera if you must, but it’s an awesome historical soap opera, OK?
In gratitude for not being asked for anything Henry does some good monarching. He asks Humbleflow’s name, gives him props for his voice and then drops a really fat tip (Several months worth of wages fat, as best I can tell) before letting him go. Humbleflow looks at whoever it was off-camera that brought him here with a ‘Jesus, am I allowed to go now?’ expression and is very relived to get what was clearly a ‘Yes’.
As far as material ambition goes, Humbleflow may just have passed through the most critical few minutes of his life and Henry just experienced the rare pleasure of not being asked to rate, review and reward when that is pretty much is his life.
Outside, in a quiet corner just off from the bustle, what on earth Thomas Boleyn was up to in joining Buckingham’s conspiracy group at the end of the last episode becomes clear. He was spying for Wolsey.
It’s the smart move so of course that’s what he did. He drops the fact that Buckingham thinks that as the King is without a male heir that Buckingham should succeed to the throne, and that he is starting to consider assassination to bring that about. They walk away from the conversation both knowing that those words could be used to kill Buckingham if necessary, and that if they don’t it could cost their own lives at some point.
Back at the Competitive Everything we’ve moved on to semi naked wrestling.
And when a French wrestler wins his bout, I’m afraid that Francis launches into a demonstration of his great weakness – the man could not win gracefully if his life depended on it. Oh everything about the French court is awesome, and everything about the English court is shit. Let me list the things we are better at, it will take a while…
Until Henry demonstrates his great weakness – blind, unreasoning rage. And he steps up and challenges Francis to a wrestling match furiously and gracelessly by calling Francis a coward for no reason. Francis steps up and now, now…
Yeah, now we call them Iceman and Maverick and Wolsey is Goose. The screen is just burning up with tension, Compton drops some acerbic wisdom, Brandon hopes Henry wins, More points out that as Henry just picked a fight with his opposite number at a peace summit what exactly is there to win? He’s trying to explain we are at a place where the points no longer matter and then…
And then Henry loses.
Oh Shit. But that’s good work from his wingmen. Three guys holding your furious ass back is more impressive than one, even if screamingly demanding a rematch is never a stop on the path of dignity. Francis also acts according to form and is basically going for a lap of honour while doing the ‘Down in One’ dance, when Henry says he won’t sign the treaty. More has to grab him and talk to him rapidly about just how bad that would make Henry look (because God knows no one but More will do that) and how it would damage him as a King until beast mode is finally disengaged.
Later in the evening…
“And here we are again, Sam. Looks like an assist from Brandon, here. But, er, yes I very much suspect that is not Henry’s authorised heir producing vagina under that hood.”
“That would be a good bet, Terry. It’s been a dry season all around for heir anticipators. Very little going on at the right vagina this year.”
“Yes, Sam. Pretty face, Wrong vagina. The Authorised Vagina of course, is a little older these days, has blue eyes and a Spanish Accent.”
“And darker hair…Is it me or are they going for a funny angle here?”
“Honestly, Sam, does it matter? If the right vagina’s not even in the room then that is a position of extreme difficulty in scoring a male heir. And I struggle to think of any king that has ever over come that.”
“Offa’s supposed to have come through a wall, once.”
“Terry, I’m not sure that he’s even heading for her vagina.It’s like he’s deliberately missing the goal. I mean he’s not even in a vagina right now, let alone the right one. Wait. What?”
“Oh Good Lord… Well that is…substantially offside.”
We finally get to signing the treaty itself, which is charmingly uncomfortable. There’s a choir singing and Wolsey has a lot of speaking but pretty much everyone is exhausted by now.
We cut straight from here to Henry trashing his room (and what are probably presents from Francis) like it’s the 60s.
Of course, he saves his greatest fury for a symbolic mirror and his own self esteem, collapsing in a cathartic scream/cry at the end. He’s…really not used to failure.
And then it’s tear it all down, we’re going home. Unlike the attendees we get to skip the long carriage ride and channel crossing and probably some kind of pox and go straight home to Whitehall, where Henry, stopping only briefly to end it with Mary Boleyn (Poor Mary, start as a revenge shag, and that all it is ever going to be. Of course she didn’t know that.) heads downstairs to make a suggestion to Wolsey.
Oh, so what have we even been doing? Here’s what we were doing. I don’t think anyone was really there for Renaissance UN except maybe More. Wolsey was there to fulfill his part of the deal to become Pope. Henry and Francis were there because neither of them was yet cautious enough to stay out of one another’s territory, and they could just not resist checking each other out. They were both there to one up each other every second of every day and try to come out on top. Everyone else was there because their kings told them to and it was the event of the decade.
It’s a shame it was never going to work between Henry and Francis because Charles, Holy Roman Emperor, has just emerged onto the scene and he is younger, and has considerably more material power than either of them. An Anglo French alliance might just have held him at bay, but as it is war is going to erupt across Europe.
But the entity that got the most out of the sojourn in Calais was The Tudors itself. Characters got developed, plots got advanced. We met Francis, Henry’s only real peer, and someone utterly unafraid of him who will crop up throughout the first two seasons and whose arch voice will be heard in the person of his ambassadors and in his letters to Henry right up until the end of Season 4.
Mary Boleyn got..er…an opportunity that turned out not so great, and The Tudors gets to motor past her heading straight towards Anne’s storyline. We got to see that More is Henry’s only real truth teller to power (OK, Brandon maybe, but Brandon really doesn’t know that much to tell yet.), and Buckingham’s plot has been punctured by Wolsey, using Boleyn as a spy, and The Tudors gets to deal with that next week. Also, that was a really great pie.