With one final shuddering thrust, history bonk-a-thon The Tudors is coming to an end, and not a moment too soon. Now on its fourth series, it charts the life of one of England’s most famous monarchs from handsome Enlightenment prince to bloated despot.
This series opens with Henry looking for a new wife, having rejected Anne “SHE LOOKS LIKE A HORSE!” of Cleves, alighting upon the annoyingly flighty Katherine Howard. Immature, selfi sh and self-centered, Katherine flounces around the court pissing off all and sundry, eventually making the fatal mistake of sleeping with the King’s manservant, Thomas Culpepper. The series sags in the middle, with Henry spending a ridiculous episode-and-half trying to blow up an entire town by tunelling underneath it and planting explosives (cue rubbish budget CGI of a castle falling down), but picks up somewhat towards the end with an uncharacteristically intellectual episode focusing on the struggle between his religously radical final wife and Henry’s conservative bishops.
Jonathan Rhys-Myers – the randy Irish football coach in Bend It Like Beckham – is the show’s weak link. He can only deliver his lines in one grumpy, barking register and along with the writers completely ignores the intelligent, cultured side of Henry – he was considered to be one of the most enlightened rulers of his age – and instead focues entirely on his reputation as a lecherous, war-mongering glutton. He’s plausible enough for most of the series, but fails completely to explain through his performance why Henry went so badly off the rails. There is no emotional depth to Rhys-Myers’ performance and he spends most of each episode threatening to shag, marry or kill whoever might be around at the time. He is continually upstaged by the actresses playing his wives; Joss Stone in one of the few genuinely convincing and historically accurate performances as Anne of Cleves, Tamzin Merchant as Katherine Howard and Joley Richardson’s intelligent stateswoman Catherine Parr. James Frain is brilliant as the shadowy scheming Lord Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, standing out amongst the rest of the council – populated as it is by emotionless Ken dolls clad in ruffs and silk tights.
After a bit of a drought of sex in series three, the programme’s infamous soft core sex scenes are back, and are just as crass as they were before. You can hardly hear some of the dialogue over Henry and Katherine going at it the next room, and Katherine spends most of one of the episodes going down on various courtiers in the palace bogs. The Tudors should at least be lauded for going into history in some depth instead of trying to cram decades into a two hour film or three hour miniseries and you will switch off better versed in Tudor history than before, but there is something fundamentally unworthy about a series which prizes cheap thrills over a deeper, more genuine exploration of such an important historical figure.