Back for a fourth and final season this September, The Tudors is set to be as explosive as ever as we follow the later years of Henry VIII, played by Irishman Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and his relationships with the last of his wives, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. Four wives down and two to go, there’s one more beheading before the bloodthirsty King of England shuffles off the mortal coil.
While some object to the show’s many historical inaccuracies – including the physical discrepancies, given Henry Tudor’s reportedly hefty waistline against Meyer’s comparatively lean figure – the series was never intended to portray history exactly as it happened. Michael Hirst, the show’s English screenwriter (best known for his films Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age) has always maintained the same stance, explaining to an interviewer on Canada’s CBC radio ‘What I always say is that I’ve written a soap opera based on historical material’. And a soap opera it is, from Anne Boleyn’s relentless scheming, to over-the-top verbal sparring and the complex web of relationships woven by most of the cast. Even cooks aren’t safe, as one finds out when he gets boiled alive.
‘It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but this is entertainment. We’re not making a documentary for the History Channel!’ says Meyers, in defence of the script. Having previously played another king, Elvis – for which he won a Best Actor Golden Globe in 2005 – Meyers believes the two are more similar than they might first seem. ‘We throw rock stars and movie stars up there, and we treat them like gods, in the same way that Henry was treated. Wherever they are, that is where the party is. We live in a very fast world, and Henry’s court was the fastest court in the world at that time,’ he explains. ‘If you weren’t in Henry’s court, you were nobody. Everything revolved around him.’ Indeed, this particularly fast-paced, energetic depiction of the Tudor king shows him to be rather more petulant, impatient and boyishly arrogant than others have, such as The Other Boleyn Girl where Eric Bana’s Henry was an unlikely lothario, left wanting in the charisma department and largely unconvincing in his flashes of rage.
Although responses have been increasingly warm from most fans and critics (Metacritic – a website which collects published reviews from across the globe – has 72 per cent favourable reviews for the show) some have filed less-than-glowing reports; in 2008, a review by the New York Times claimed ‘Mr Rhys Meyers, who showed such talent for displays of moral enigma in Woody Allen’s Match Point seems to have been asked to keep all that dimension to himself here,’ while the Sydney Morning Herald said ‘Queen Catherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is believable, but Henry, complete with gorgeous razor-sharp haircut, cannot act, at all’.
Meyers’ 2005 Golden Globe perhaps disputes suggestions he cannot act. Either way, any doubts about Meyers’ ability to carry the monarch’s larger-than-life character weren’t enough to keep him from invading living rooms across the globe, from Canada to Australia, and now the UAE, as people tune in for Hirst’s dramatic retelling – and, at times, fanciful fabrication – of the fascinating story of Henry Tudor and his many wives.
King Henry VIII and his many famous faces
Henry VIII (2003)
Helena Bonham-Carter and Sean Penn supported ‘tough guy’ Ray Winstone in his convincing warts and all portrayal of the bloodthirsty king.
Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
Far from your regular Henry VIII, Eric Bana moved the role away from fat and ginger, attempting to convey a more devious side of the King. More seductive and definitely more bodice-ripping, but Bana failed to breathe new life into old Henry.
Carry On Henry (1971)
Although the plot wasn’t exactly gospel truth, Sid James’ amusing performance provided Innuendo and puns aplenty. Henry was his womanising self, if a little more jovial than his real-life counterpart.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970, TV series)
Classically trained, Michell was the perfect choice for this six-part production. He painted an accurate picture of the short-tempered ruler with old-school finesse.
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
Welshman Burton’s own reputation for courting controversy – and indeed, numerous women simultaneously – was well matched with that of his alter ego in this Oscar nominated film.