When last we left Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) and Hank VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) on Showtime’s The Tudors, they were having raunchy and unfulfilling pre-marital sex out in the woods somewhere. Would things get any better for the aspiring power couple on Sunday (March 30) night’s second season premiere?
Well, you’d kind of think so, given that Anne and Henry have the same last line on Sunday’s episode: Everything is beautiful.
Of course, everything isn’t beautiful and fans of TV’s least historically reliable primetime historical soap opera wouldn’t have it any other way.
[Spoilers to follow, though if you need me to spoil the fact that things aren’t going so swimmingly for Henry and Anne, well, you’re probably the ideal viewer for The Tudors.]
Showtime’s 16th Century take on Big Brother: Til Death Do Us Part (Think Henry as Matty and Anne as Natalie, maybe?) returns with an episode that’s already available on any variety of platforms, including OnDemand and iTunes, and at least on the surface, Henry has made some superficial gains in his long-standing plots to delegitimize the Catholic Church in England, get himself placed as the head of a new Church, grant himself a divorce, marry Anne before she sleeps with half of the artists flitting around court and get himself a son or two so that the Tudor line doesn’t go the way of the dodo (which is an inappropriate analogy given that in the historical period in question, dodo birds were nothing if not plentiful and reported to taste just like chicken).
By not actively protesting such a move, Henry’s bishops allow him his position as Supreme Head of the Church. That’s super, everything the king could want, except for the caveat "as far as the Law of Christ allows," which means that power can be pulled back at any time.
The best way to negate the concerns of the Bishops is to rub them out, or at least that’s how Nick Dunning’s Thomas Boleyn feels as part of writer-creator Michael Hirst’s ongoing effort to make every facet of 16th Century England feel like it was lifted straight from The Godfather. Thomas enlists a cook to poison the Bishops, which goes well, but not quite well enough.
[It’s here that I interject and say that "Bishopric" is an awesome word and I wish I had more contexts in which to use it.]
Actually, Sunday’s premiere is pretty low on the quantities of sex and violence that bring fans to The Tudors. The only sex is a dream sequence in which Jamie Thomas King’s Wyatt imagines he’s getting it on with Anne and the greatest violence is the punishment-fits-the-crime death of the poison-happy chef, who’s dropped into a boiling cauldron of, well, something brown and bubbling ("Head first or however it comes?" the hangman asks ominously).
The episode’s other scene of violence comes at the end and sees Henry pummeling Queen Catherine’s messenger for having the nerve to send her love and inquire after his health. Despite that "affront," the messenger actually brings some of the episode’s best news for Henry, that Catherine has packed her stuff and moved out, making way for Anne to be installed as future queen. That’s why, after watching Henry’s fit of rage with a mixture of lust and terror, Anne tells him that everything is beautiful.
The beating was actually the culminate of my favorite plotline of the evening. Anne is unhappy with Catherine’s ongoing presence in and around the court, but the thing that pushes her over the edge is the knowledge that despite being denied Henry’s royal intimacies, Catherine has continued to make Henry’s shirts, receiving large supplies of cloth from some servant or other.
Faced with the horrid charge of remaining the royal tailor, Catherine replies, coyly, "I thought you like the shirts I make for you. I see you are wearing one."
Nice. But now she’s gone, though not at the pleasure of the various underlings in the court.
And yet I still somehow don’t think things are going to go smoothly for Anne in her plans to marry Henry and live happily ever after.
Nor do I foresee a happy end for Jeremy Northam’s Thomas More, whose protests that he’ll never undermine the King’s authority "in public" seem a bit loaded.
But maybe I’ll be wrong. After all, history and The Tudors are only distant kin, probably not even blood relations.
I’m not sure, for example, how Pope Paul III plays into things, but if his injection into the storyline lets me see Peter O’Toole and hear him call Anne "The King’s Whore" in that incomparable voice of his, then I’m all for it.
A few other ultimately important characters are starting to pop up. We hadn’t seen Hans Matheson as Thomas Cranmer previously, had we? You also may want to keep an eye on newly arrived musician Mark Smeaton (David Alpay), because it’s no coincidence that Anne was so transfixed by his nimble fiddling.
Things really get going over the next four episodes, but Sunday’s Tudors premiere was a reminder of where we were and an indication of what’s to come. Here’s a hint: It won’t all be beautiful.
What’d you think of the premiere?