So, in finally getting back to my previously promised Tudor rant/review, here we are.

I guess part of my problem with this show is that, at this point, I have a surprising amount of actual knowledge about this time period and these people and all the events that led up to these kind of amazing (and horrible) things that happened to these people.  And so, knowing what I know, I just don’t understand the choices that they make for the show. They will make these seemingly valiant attempts to keep it true to the facts in certain ways and then just go wildly off the mark for no apparent reason. 

Adapting material is difficult, and it’s very difficult to do it well, so I do try to cut them some slack, but some of this stuff they have added in or changed is just ridiculous and unnecessary.  The great thing about Henry VIII and his six wives is that it was rife with drama and intrigue to begin with.  There were murders, conspiracies, marriages, affairs, sexual escapades, religious persecution, beheadings, trials, rumors, it’s all there – you actually have to invent very little to “sex it up” and make it pretty for the masses…so I just don’t understand the choices they make. 

The Good:  It’s interesting to see these characters brought to life and the scenes shot on location are rich and beautiful, unfortunately,  too large a percentage of the show is shot on sets, which despite a good effort for a television show, look pretty sad and small and cheap.  The costumes however, show no expense spared, and are fantastic. 


The Bad & The Ugly:

Mary of Tudor (Henry VIII’s younger sister) was married to King Louis XII when she was 18.  This character is played by…wait for it…38 year old actress Gabrielle Anwar.  Now I hate Anwar, and have never liked her ever, so I’m a bit aggressively biased here.  However, even for the non-biased, Anwar is not looking too good these days (and certainly not anywhere near 18 )  and she has a really bad habit of making these terrible expressions while she is “acting” that make her look even older than her 38 years.  It is a painful experience watching her play this interesting character.  

I know of course that people play characters much younger than their age all the time on TV, but it’s actually kind of important here when you understand that these women were being married off at very young ages.  It was a huge part of what was going on at that time, and it’s difficult to understand as a viewer when we see Anwar, looking 40-ish and being horrified because she’s marrying an ugly old king.  It’s far less dramatic to see Anwar marry this guy, than if they had cast an innocent looking 18 year-old.   

Additionally, in the show they had her marrying the wrong king (who cares about any kind of accuracy, right?).  They invented (or stole?) some King of Portugal for her to marry.  This seems to be not such a sin until you understand what a complex web of alliances there were at this time, and marrying off princesses to other countries was a chief way of solidifying an alliance.  In reality, she married King Louis XII of France…and Portugal had nothing to do with it. 

But the greatest sin is in how it all plays out.  In reality, Mary didn’t kill her husband as Anwar does (a crime of treason for which she could easily be killed).  In truth the King dies about three months after the marriage (an old guy putting it to an 18 year-old for three months can be exhuasting – and fatal).  After King Louis VII died, Mary very cleverly arranged to marry the man she was actually in love with, Charles Brandon, with the help of King Francis I (the new King of France) and much to the anger of her brother King Henry VIII, since it was without his permission.  In the show, Anwar kills this ‘King of Portugal’ and heads back home within a week, marrying Brandon in the process.  It’s like they want to tell the story, but they just can’t manage it.  And I have to say, again, a far less dramatic take than the actual original story, which is pretty tragic and then redeeming in its own way.  A headstrong young woman being sold off to a foreign country but then cleverly managing to marry the man she loves anyway (unheard of in that time)…fascinating.

Henry Fitzroy.  Son of King Henry VIII by his mistress Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount.  This is true, and handled pretty accurately.  And then they suddenly decide to kill the kid with the “sweating sickness”.  Why?  I have no clue.  It’s not like they milk it for high drama.  There is literally one scene in which the kid’s mother comes to see him (already dead) and there is a maybe five-second scene of King Henry looking at the tiny crown of the kid (who he never saw anyway).  In reality Henry Fitzroy lived to the age of 17 and died suddenly of consumption (tuberculousis).  

Anne Boleyn.  They’ve done Anne the biggest disservice of anyone, which is really a crime for a series focused partially (for the first two years at least) on the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn.  I’m not a huge Anne Boleyn fan, she was a manipulative clever woman and a vindictive tyrant of sorts, but she was also incredibly witty and wise in a way and she rose to a power no women had previously imagined, based solely on her own merit (and maybe beauty). 

She also had a very good reason for being as angry as she was and for becoming the tyrant she became.  Much of what Anne Boleyn did in her rise to becoming the Queen of England can be chalked up to revenge.  In reality, Anne was very much in love with Henry Percy (eventually to become the Earl of Northumberland) and he with her.  They were likely married or “pre-contracted” which was as good as marriage in those days (and the relationship was likely consumated).  This was a great match for Anne, both in that it would rise her up in the societal ranks, and also because, rare in that day, she loved the man and he her. 

This marriage was deemed unworthy by both Cardinal Wolsey and Henry Percy’s father and possibly King Henry (although it was a time before Anne would realize the king had anything to do with it – and there is speculation as to whether he actually did).  Wolsey and Percy’s father undid her marraige quite cruelly and Anne was temporarily banished from court.  It was a very hard lesson to learn.  And for a woman like Anne, it was not taken lightly.  She came back to court with a very clear idea about how to get power, and that she would need to play the game like a master.  There was no way to get that power, or revenge on Wolsey without rising as high as possible, and there was nothing above Queen for a woman.  It’s unlikely she ever really loved Henry VIII, although it’s possible that after years of courting she did fall for him.  It’s also highly unlikely she was guilty of any crimes against him. 

In The Tudors there is none of this backstory.  None.  We never know why she hated Wolsey so much. Religious reasons are given, and they were certainly present as well, but her single minded hatred of the man is far too personal for it to just be religious difference, and Wolsey was actually fairly light in punishiment for the followers of Martin Luther (i.e. heretics) compared with his successor Thomas More, who also opposed Anne’s marriage to Henry, yet she did not set out to destroy More, she had a very specific reason to go after Wolsey, and none of that is addressed.  They do give her a previous “dalliance” with the poet Thomas Wyatt, which is completely out of context and just wrong.  There is a recorded flirtation, but an affair is very unlikely.  So overall it is an incredibly unfair portrait.  All the history that built this amazing woman and character is just dropped.  It makes it impossible to understand her motivations and as such it is the broadest of sketches of a fascinating woman.  And it makes me angry.  Really angry. 

In the end, I don’t mind so much if you want to create a completely fictionalized world of The Tudors, I probably couldn’t ever love it, but I certainly can’t even like it if you can’t make it more interesting than what really happened.  If you’re going to make it fiction…it’s gotta be better than reality.  And this, isn’t. 

2 Stars.   Blech.


  1. shiv’s avatar

    yeah. i couln’t even bring myself to watch it. especially knowing that it would be rife with inconsistencies.
    and also, knowing how deliciously juicy the real story is, you know that most any attempt to make it into anything for any screen, any size, would just be a ridiculous disappointment. there’s just no need to try to “improve” upon history.
    people are idiots. stuff like this makes me mad.

  2. thejamminjabber’s avatar

    Why don’t you complain about how hot that bitch who plays King Henry is.

  3. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    yeah, i was pretty riled up about it. yet when i see the posters for season 2, i can’t help but be curious about season 2. it sucks, because i can tell i’m going to watch it eventually anyway and then just be mad all over again.

    jamminjabber: honestly, it’s not that bad of casting actually. it’s one of the few mistakes they didn’t make. although i’m sure they won’t age him appropriately (he should be looking pretty haggard and chubby and bearded and thinning a bit by the time he’s done with Anne Boleyn…)

  4. kaitlyn’s avatar

    yeah i hate movies/shows that try to mix up everything about that time in history b/c the actual story is really interesting so i don’t get why they cut things out and think that they need to change certain things, and its important that they don’t do that b/c a lot of things tie together so its hard to understand one thing if you don’t know another. Like the new movie “the other Boleyn girl” my goodness i was really excited about it coming out b/c i know a lot about that time period and especially about the Tudors. Buuuut when i watched it i was extremely disappointed b/c they just messed up everything, and the casting was horrible, mostly the women who played Anne Boleyn and Catherine of aragon. In this tv series though I’m actually quite pleased with the people who play those characters.

  5. Christine’s avatar

    I don’t think it is fair to ridicule the show, it made no promises to be historically accurate 100% of the time. The first goal of any television show is to entertain and second to educate. Take that into account. And this review is of little to no consequence because it has become a cult series by its own right and I believe it to be well deserved. Any attempt to stimulate knowledge and our fantasies of the past, has a least some level of merit for it is hard to do…and it would seem that everyone is a critic.

    If you are watching it and say you still “don’t like it” then really you contradicting yourself, because you are obviously being entertained, and as I discussed is that not the main goal of a series? So then is it not doing exactly what it set out to do?


  6. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    Christine: I DO think it is fair to ridicule the show – it’s very poorly done and I didn’t like it. While they didn’t make any promises to be historically accurate at all (as most fiction shows don’t) I went into extreme detail in my post to talk about why I felt it was a particularly stupid decision in the case of this show to not be MORE historically accurate, since the “real” story is generally far more interesting than what this show is churning out. This is my “review” and it’s a bad one. I’m glad you like the show, and certainly others must as well since it’s still on the air, but that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to like it, or to talk positively about it.

    If the second goal of this show is to educate they are in BIG BIG trouble, I think the only goal of this show is to entertain, and they are obviously successful in that venture as it entertains you and others, it did not, however, entertain me. And I don’t know what you’re talking about as far as “if you are watching it”. I watched some of it (most of the first season) to see if I liked it. I didn’t, and I stopped watching it. I’m not sure where you’re going with that…but whatever. Maybe you didn’t notice that this review is nearly two years old? I’m not sure.

    As for everyone being a critic. Yes, yes they are. In this world of blogs everyone is a critic. I’m not sure what you’re doing here if you didn’t want to read a review of the show…and certainly if you were looking for a positive review to reinforce your opinion of the show, the title “The Tudors…BAD.” must have given you a clue. But I’m not sure where you get off being frustrated with me for being a critic of the show…your post makes you a critic as well, just a positive one, while I am (where this show is concerned) a negative one.

  7. Courtney’s avatar

    This was interesting to read – I’d only known about Henry Fitzroy dying at 17 (not as a child the way they have it going on the show) so the rest of this was fascinating. I can totally see why you don’t like the show.

    As a previous poster commented, this show – for me, anyway – has been entertaining and sparked an interest in knowing what really happened during this King’s reign. For some the show will serve to misinform if they don’t dig deeper and that’s a shame. I do enjoy the heck out of this Showtime series despite the flaws. If nothing else I’d watch it for the costumes, lol!

    Thanks again.

  8. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    Courtney: I read a couple of good six wives of henry VIII if you’re interested I’d be happy to recommend them.

  9. Lola Lolita’s avatar

    I’d have to say Courtney has read my mind.

  10. Lola Lolita’s avatar

    I’d love to hear your recommendations of the books. it would be awesome to see the series, and then find out about all this amazing details you are telling.

  11. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    Lola Lolita: My favorite of the Henry VIII books I read was The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir. It’s a big comprehensive book that well covers the material and it’s well written too.

    I also read Divorced Beheaded Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII by Karen Lindsey. The book did not quite live up to the title (which is awesome) but it was insightful in a slightly different way and I thought the section on Anne of Cleves was particularly interesting and different than what I had read in other books.

    The problem with reading more than one book on this subject is that you get a lot of duplicate material, so I think the key is, if you’re going to read more than one, to look for at least one book with a different interpretation – which was why I chose the Lindsey book. I was glad I did, but ultimately the Lindsey book did not feel as solid as the Weir book, if I had to pick only one, I’d go with Weir.

    Have fun and if you read and I’d love to hear your thoughts – especially if you find other/different/better books!

  12. tamsin’s avatar

    I think the show is amazing. The acting is good and the costumes are amazing and it is fairly close to being historically correct. Closer than any other movie or fictional account. And who cares. It’s a T.V. show. Most shows are about crap so why get so worked up about this one.

  13. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    @tamsin: I’m glad you like the show and I can certainly see why people would like it (and I too mentioned the amazing costume work – which is exceptional)…but let’s not get crazy with sentences like “it is fairly close to being historically correct” It is NOT REMOTELY CLOSE TO BEING HISTORICALLY CORRECT.

    Which is fine, doesn’t mean it can’t be an enjoyable show…but let’s at least get the facts straight. :) Because I read so many biographies about the time period, I had trouble enjoying it because of the massive (sometimes oddly chosen) inaccuracies…but that doesn’t mean that will bother everyone.

  14. Courtney S.’s avatar

    I happen to be a huge fan of the show mainly because I’ve always been fascinated by King Henry VIII, his politics and his many wives. I’m impressed with the show as a whole so far — I’ve just started Season 3. My knowledge of this subject isn’t entirely vast, but I find that I’m well-informed of general facts and I’ve read a few books particularly on Anne Boleyn. Although angry with the treatment of her character at the time of her decline, I found that Natalie Dormer did an excellent job handling the part; this was a hard feat because the show is notorious for rapidly speeding through time. It’s miraculous that The Tudors is soon coming to an end (at only 38 episodes!) and has managed to cram that much history into one series. That being said, it seems your review –though honest and opinionated — comes off as a bit unfair to me. True, it could never be deemed as wholly accurate and I agree with you that history itself is rich enough not to fabricate; however, as far as the “big picture” goes the show is faithful and factual to history. Back to Anne Boleyn, her character was redeemed for me in the last couple episodes of Season 2 while in the Tower of London and her beheading. What captivated me is that sources report that Anne’s attire at the scaffold was quite exact to historical descriptions of the scene and the speech given was word-for-word verbatim. That, to me, is the spirit of the show. While the entertainment world deems it appropriate to embellish facts to liven up an otherwise “boring” subject, Showtime has discovered the truly fascinating moments in Tudor canon and brings it to light, however subtle it may be. I’d suggest appreciating those moments for what they’re worth and you may find that it is much more enjoyable to you as a devotee of the time period and subject matter. At least, I’m inclined to think so and hope that lukewarm fans of the show should be better informed.

  15. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    @Courtney S.: A fair assessment. I’m glad people like the show (and obviously they do as it’s a pretty big hit) it’s just not for me.

    In fairness, I didn’t keep watching after I decided I didn’t like it…so I didn’t see a lot of the stuff you’re talking about. This review was written in the Spring of 2008 and really only covers what I had watched at that time…which was I believe all of season 1. So the show may have become better (or worse) I really have no way of knowing, but I stand by my opinion of the show at that time.

    I expect many people that haven’t read biographies and histories of the time period, or don’t despise Gabrielle Anwar, or are happy to embrace a looser telling for a fictionalized version (for what it’s worth I would have been up for that last one if I thought what they were doing was MORE interesting than what “actually happened”, but I didn’t). Anyway, I’m glad you like it…and I’m glad people who like it are commenting here and standing up for it…the same way I’m glad I wrote this review…because the show really did piss me off at the time…and I wanted to get it on record. :)

  16. Sheri’s avatar

    Hehehe, loved the review and enjoyed the comments.

    I’m a fan of the series. I’m a period costumer so for me watching it is like research wrapped in gorgeous fabric. 😉

    I’m also a huge Jonathan Rhys Meyers fan, he’s so yummy, so that makes it fun too.

    I have to agree with you though that there were plenty of moments that I questioned what the hell they were thinking when they rearranged certain parts of history.

    One issue for me was the whole combining Henry’s sisters Mary and Margaret into one character. (And no I don’t hate Gabrielle Anwar but I do get what you’re saying about those dumb facial expressions she makes…what’s that about?)

    Anyway, I read somewhere that they thought it would be too confusing for viewers because Henry’s daughter was also named Mary. Now really, do they think their viewers are that dull?

    You’re so right when you say that what actually happened was way more interesting than Hirst’s retelling.

    But for me, it was simply motivation to question it and then do my own research to find out what really happened.

    For the record though, they actually did a pretty good job of aging Jonathan so by the time it ended he did look considerably older and ill…though his old man voice was kind of comical.

    Oh and thanks for the book recommendations, I’ve heard lots of good things about Weir’s work. I’ll have to check it out.

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