The Last of Jane 1.0
It’s still May 18th for a bit, and we’re in some really pretty formal gardens after dinner and this is the last scene for Anita Briem, who was tied into a contract for a movie the following year she couldn’t get out of, so gets replaced by Annabelle Wallis next season. You can tell it’s early in Henry and Jane’s relationship because Henry just up and asks her what she wants to talk about. It’s an Actual Historical conversation, and got quoted a lot by Remainers in their hopes of “The good Catholic times are coming back” after Anne’s fall. Jane says that once she is Queen, she hopes to see Mary reinstated as heir apparent. Henry laughs uproariously and takes this as evidence of Jane’s profound political naiveté.
But it could be construed as being very politically clever, just more subtle than Henry’s used to, and depending on a factor smack in the middle of one of his blind spots.
Henry would have really hated any reference to it, and his courtiers would have gone to great lengths not to bring it up, but Actually Historically Henry was getting old. 44 years old in 1536, in an age where, once you got into your twenties (high childhood mortality rates skew historical life expectancy figures very sharply) you could reliably get to your fifties, maybe sixties if you didn’t get killed or get a serious illness when you were young. Still, Henry was in terrible physical shape by middle age and would die at 55.
Taking that as a starting point, and this move begins to make sense for Jane. Jane’s career as Queen could have one of three outcomes. One, Jane produces children, including a boy. Great, well done Queen Jane, All Hail. A boy easily trumps Mary’s claim even if she gets reinstated in the succession, and having Mary onside lessens her and her powerful relations as a danger should Henry die before his son is 18, which is quite likely.
Two, Jane produces children, all girls. Realistically, none of them is getting ahead of Mary in the succession. Henry isn’t going to do shit for another girl, and Mary is once again the viable heir. Being the one that got Mary her place in the succession back is going to work very well for a Dowager Queen Jane and her daughters in a Marian regime, also for option three, a surviving childless Queen Jane (although who would want to give the odds on that one?).
Yes, on the surface it’s not a smart move, but if you take into account that Jane is likely to outlive her husband, it’s a very smart move that is to her advantage however her career as Queen shakes out, as long as she survives it.
Jane says, again possibly quite cleverly, that she was asking because she thought it would produce peace and tranquility for Henry, for their children, and his kingdom. Now that is a good move when caught playing politics, but if it had been Katherine or Anne they wouldn’t have got away with that. Henry would have snapped at them for getting above themselves and getting into business that is his to deal with. But it’s Jane, and the start of their relationship, so he’s a quite different Henry. But not entirely different.
Instead of snapping, he tells her what she is to him, and therefore who he needs her to be, like, four times in under a minute. Because that’s just not who Jane is being right now, and if she were less pretty to him, he’d be getting annoyed.
Henry kisses Jane, and Sir John Seymour drops the titular line.
I don’t think they were ever going to go for a ‘Political Animal’ Jane here, but there was a little bit of an edge to her, (she does look a little put off by Henry’s scoffing) and certainly still scope to develop Jane at this point. Maybe as a frontman for Seymour faction politics, maybe as a ‘soft power’ political mover with a variable success rate.
Sadly this is the point where Briem steps off, and Wallis takes over. I find Wallis’ acting to be pretty good if cyborg, sadly lacking if human, and I don’t think she was helped by the script, which somewhere in the off season decided to go straight for ‘Perfect English Rose/Tragic Milksop’ for Jane Seymour. Maybe some study of Season 3 next year will change my opinion. Maybe not.
An interesting 21st Century interpretation of Jane, a kind, genuine young woman who nevertheless was not blind to ambition or her chance when it came would have to wait until Kate Phillips in Wolf Hall.
Memories, Bitter and Sweet
Anne has got over her distress at the delay in her execution. By the end of the night, it will turn out to have been a great gift to her.
In the meantime she is having a little fun, reminiscing about her time at the court of Margaret of Austria in the Netherlands (Actual Historical – it was when Anne was very young, before she was sent to France), and the fantastic court pageants there. She finds a willing and eager audience in her three maids, but at the end the story turns a little bitter as Margaret’s warning from long ago rings all too true for her.
She puts down the book she was holding and stops talking, disappearing into thought for a while.
Behold the Earl of Wiltshire
The day is grey at the Tower, as Brandon walks past where the scaffold is being cleaned and prepared for Anne.
Actually Historically, they built a new one for her. Brandon is here to see Thomas Boleyn and he has brought good news and a lot of indignation. Of course it’s not hard to feel indignation at Thomas Boleyn. He starts off alright, asking fearfully if he is to be tried and it’s possible to still feel sympathy at his relief when he hears that he’s going to survive this nightmare.
It’s deeply offensive but this is what happened a lot of the time. The men that orchestrated throwing potential wives at Henry and who reaped the benefits if they succeeded just didn’t suffer the same consequences as the young female relatives they threw at him. Most of the time, they lived to plot another day. The Duke of Norfolk managed it twice.
In Actual History, Thomas Boleyn wasn’t arrested. However, there’s also no reason to think he was the same kind of shitheel we see in The Tudors, as in order to create a character they took a lot of attributes from the (absent from the series after Season 1) Duke of Norfolk, and gave them to Boleyn. Boleyn got all his bad traits, Brandon got his good ones.
Back in the scene, Brandon lists all the things Boleyn is getting removed from him. He won’t be on the privy council. He’s no longer Lord Privy Seal. He is banished from court for life on pain of death(Actually Historically Henry would bring him in occasionally for a unity showing. He formed part of the procession at Edward’s christening). And then Boleyn just says something that’s an invitation to a punching.
And that is just too much for Brandon, who gives Boleyn the kind of confrontation he’s deserved but didn’t get for most of this season. So, a couple of things. First that’s a lot of indignation for the guy that sidled up to Henry an episode ago and dropped some rumour info that got the Anne Boleyn’s Fall Ball rolling. But Brandon is definitely the audience surrogate right now, and he could very well be also expiating his own sense of guilt in this moment, so fine.
Also Boleyn’s behaviour is extraordinary. It’s like Brandon’s rough indignation pierces through this veneer Boleyn has of still being the erudite, polished courtier and shows us the twisted, terrified, yet still aggressive creature he’s become. All in all it’s been an amazing performance over two seasons from Nick Dunning (Who does guest spots on TV from time to time, but appears to work primarily in theatre, writing and acting) for which he deservedly won the IFTA Best Supporting Actor award in 2008.
And then we get this. A released Boleyn looks back to see his daughter, and it might be his own guilt that stops him from waving back but Jesus Christ, Boleyn. She wasn’t accusing, she managed to smile at you, all she wanted, this ghost at the window, was a tiny bit of contact with her Dad before dying and you were still so wrapped up in yourself that you couldn’t manage even that.
You total piece of shit.
From One to Another
Henry is riding through some parkland with a retinue, when he comes across a pond. He stops, gets off his horse and asks his retinue-
And nice touch from Meyers to slightly emphasise Henry’s cronky leg as he walks in to his ‘Fountain of Youth’. His retinue are somewhat unsure, is this a joke? Are they supposed to take it seriously? (Oh, as you value your life Take It Seriously). Henry walks all the way in and then ducks under the water. He’s under long enough for the retinue to get concerned. Then he pops up.
Blame the Frenchman
The 18th of May 1536 is finally drawing into night and the Calais Executioner (Anatole Taubman) has finally arrived at the Tower. He is at least a bit of an asshole. He’s got that arrogance that comes from being really good at your job, and that job happens to be killing people, and he’s disturbingly jovial about it.
A lot of the tension for the remainder of the episode will come from the interaction of the impeccably correct William Kingston, and the blasé but outrageously good at his job Calais Executioner.
Kingston asks to see the sword, and that goes reasonably well.
And Kingston agrees it is very fine. He’s clearly desperate to go, so he wants to give Calais X some really perfunctory info (Breakfast at 7, Execution time is 9) and leave, but Calais X has words to say.
He describes how the execution has to be set up, which is going to be different from what Kingston is used to. Anne must be unrestrained, people executed by the sword had no block, but were executed kneeling. Unlike its portrayal in The Tudors, however, a blindfold was used. Calais X explains that more than anything else he needs her not to look back at him because this would mess up his angle and botch it. Of course this is tricky because “You want to know where your death come from, no?” So he explains his procedure:They are in two completely different headspaces. Calais X is here, talking to another professional in his field about an important job tomorrow. But in the end it is just another job.
For William Kingston, this might be the most difficult execution he’s ever had to supervise. He’s got a personal investment this time and it’s painful.
I think we’ve been in Kingston’s company enough now to guess that he’s pretty chivalrous, and he’s being asked to supervise the execution of a woman. That’s difficult. A woman he has seen repeatedly go toward her execution with bravery and stoicism, until the last in a series of delays finally robbed her of her serenity. That’s hard. Finally, and most importantly at this stage, from her confession earlier that morning, William Kingston is pretty sure that Anne is innocent. As were the four men whose execution he supervised earlier that week.
There’s no chance Kingston is going to stop it. If the King orders someone to die, they’ve got to die. But Kingston is taking refuge in his duty, and in correctness, and in ensuring that Anne gets the quick and painless end he promised her. Then this unapologetically late and unnecessarily edgy Frenchman just swans in, jokes about a bit about what’s going to happen tomorrow, and tucks into his dinner like he’s enjoying it. You could cut William Kingston’s discomfort with a knife.
Probably for Calais X’s part he’s been on the road for several days, is hungry and really has no idea what Kingston’s problem is. It’s an execution, he’s going to do it fine. He always does it fine, and the chicken is not bad.
In the deep quiet of her rooms, on the night before her execution, there is a gift for Anne.
Everyone else is asleep while Anne prays with some intensity. As she prays there is an insistent image that keeps intruding, keeps coming through to her. It is a vivid memory from her childhood, a bright vision of her and George and her father all back together. When that family connection she tried to get earlier that day was easy and solid, in a simple game of hide and seek. It’s a beautiful idea, brilliantly realised, fitting right in with other supernatural elements in the series, and giving Anne and the viewer a renewed purpose and courage to face the monumental day ahead.
Goodbye Great Queen
Before May 19th arrives, let’s say goodbye to Natalie Dormer, and The Tudors version of Anne Boleyn. I wasn’t expecting what I got from Dormer, which was and remains a definitive portrayal. Oh everyone sagely agrees on Maria Doyle Kennedy’s Katherine of Aragon, but name me a better realised Anne Boleyn, and we can argue it, because I have not seen one. As commenter Sir George said earlier in the year, early portrayals tended to be a combination of flaky gold digger/scheming harridan, and then moved towards a ‘sympathetic’ wide eyed, slightly clueless, ingenue version. “By contrast, Dormer’s version in the Tudors is the only one that I’ve seen that portrays Anne as she actually appears in the historical record: A savvy, charming, erudite, reformist, freakishly intelligent court player who could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell and even Henry himself, but also a lonely, isolated, stressed queen, trapped in a situation she simply couldn’t control.” Sir George, June 29thIn the 21st Century dramatic portrayals of Anne returned to ‘Scheming Harridan’ territory with a side order of bringing possible incest back, with two adaptations of the Gregoryverse’s The Other Boleyn Girl and, of course, Wolf Hall. Claire Foy in Wolf Hall delivered great on what she was given, but that script for Anne was an instrument with only a couple of notes. The weight of Cromwell’s Hero Edit warped Anne into a complete and unremitting bitch. There was not a scene she spoke in (well, until she got executed) in which she wasn’t bullying or plotting or implying something nasty about someone. By contrast, Dormer got all the notes, and played them beautifully. Partly as a function of scale of the role, with 21 epsiodes we got all of Anne’s rise and fall and we got to see the nuance of what her varying situations did to her behaviour and personality. We got a portrayal of Anne that felt like an actual human being, and that is a considerable feat with a woman who polarised opinion from the moment the English people found out she existed. The role rightfully kick started Natalie Dormer’s career, and personally remains one of the great surprises The Tudors had for me, I had no idea how great this portrayal was going to be.
Time to say Goodbye, then.
The Day That Was The Day
Henry wakes, and we get a reprise/new single verse of the hymn that started the episode. This time he’s up quickly, and now he’s going into the garden to stalk the swans.
Meanwhile, at the tower, it is time. There is a brief Actual Historical exchange between Anne and Kingston. Before she gets outside we cut to Whitehall for an absolute little treat of a scene I had forgotten was in there. It’s early enough in the royal chapel that a cleaning lady is still working as Cromwell strides in. I love the way the cleaning lady goes to get up, then realises Cromwell has too much on his mind to notice her existence right now and keeps on scrubbing. And, Oh, Cromwell. He goes to pray with an almost feverish determination and can’t, he just can’t. He slowly collapses down onto the ground with a couple of huge sighs and ends the moment looking at the cross, with just a shade of resentment in there.
At the Tower, Anne pulls her courage together and goes through the gate. There are some cries of “There’s the strumpet” and “Traitor” but they come from a distance, and as she walks through the crowd most of the hands that reach out to touch her seem kind and possibly a bit reverential. For as many fist shakers and yellers as she passes, there are mouthed ‘God Bless You’s, and people crossing themselves. She gets her first glimpse of the executioner a way off. Actually historically he was dressed without a mask and one of three guys stood on the scaffold, only making himself known to her once she had finished her speech. The Tudors makes good but not excessive use of POV as Anne gathers herself and goes up the steps. And Oh, look who got released in time to see the execution. Because Jamie Thomas King‘s Thomas Wyatt needed just a bit more trauma. On the other hand it is nice that someone that loves her is there, and it is possible she spots both him and Archbishop Cranmer from the scaffold. Brandon and his son are there too. Actually Historically it was a larger crowd, even with two delays and guards on the gates there were estimated to be around a thousand people present. The speech Hirst gives her is lightly edited from the versions of her speech given by three of the more conservative contemporary sources (De Carles, Hall, Wriothesley).
She has a moment where a couple of “about time”s from the crowd and the tolling of the clock make her miss her step a bit, but she rallies and continues on.
“…I pray and beseech you all to pray for the life of the king. My sovereign lord and yours, who is one of the best princes on the face of the earth, who has always treated me so well…”Her maids from the Tower take off her cloak, put a coif (The plain linen cap) on her head and remove her jewellery. She thanks them, smiling warmly as her thank you is also her goodbye to them. Calais X kneels down and asks forgiveness, which she gladly gives, and she pays the man. A last sentence to the crowd, where she asks them to pray for her, and it seems that with her last speech, (Particularly with all the long live Henry references) she’s won the crowd around somewhat.
And as her chaplain reads the 23rd psalm, and she kneels down to pray, Cranmer gives his last gift to her.
Even Brandon manages to kneel, then Calais X steps forward to adjust Anne’s hair. And let’s hope that really was an issue, because you’d like to think that the one place a woman could avoid getting creeped on would be her own sodding execution. There’s a moment where as a viewer it feels like Calais X is taking too long to finish the job. That’s certainly William Kingston’s opinion, because you can virtually see him thinking “Get.On with it. Frenchman.” but it’s actually not that long, and Anne’s head does keep flicking towards Calais X, which was the one thing he said earlier he wanted to avoid when he struck. And then suddenly, he’s calling for his sword, the birds fly, and it’s over.
And as she dies The Tudors lets you know where its Anne has gone.
Anne Boleyn was a knight’s daughter from Kent. Today she stands as large, as vibrant and as deeply embedded in history anyone that was ever born to royalty. The effect of her execution on Henry’s reputation was something he had concerns about at the time, but those disappeared as Henry got a standing ovation in Parliament for announcing his remarriage a month or so later.
Anne’s execution was a slow burn on Henry’s reputation that really only got going after a few generations. By the time The Tudors was made and retelling the story for the early 21st Century, we close with a scene to leave you in absolutely no doubt what to think about Henry.
The Tudors Recap Season 2
January – August 2019
If I said it was Actual Historical I found it somewhere below:
Ackroyd, Peter, The Life of Thomas More, Vintage 1999
Fox, Julia, The Infamous Lady Rochford, Weidenfield & Nicolson 2007
Fraser, Antonia, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Arrow 1998
Guy, John, Thomas More: A Very Brief History, SPCK 2017
MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Thomas Cromwell A Life, Allen Lane 2018
Starkey, David, The Reign of Henry VIII Personalities and Politics, Vintage 2002
Weir, Alison, Henry VIII King and Court, Pimlico 2002
Weir, Alison, The Lady in the Tower, Vintage 2010
The Spanish Calendar of State Papers Volume 5, British History Online
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, British History Online
Digitised individual online documents already linked to in the text.
Wikipedia, Wikipedia everywhere.
Notes: Sorry it’s a bit late…I delayed my execution…what, too soon?