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27 March 2010 @ 05:42 pm
watching The Tudors  
So I finally started watching The Tudors. I'm only three episodes in, so maybe it gets better, but so far, I am mightily unimpressed. It's not actually about historical accuracy or lack thereof; my knowledge of the intricacies of Tudor politics is not at all what it should be, sadly, so I'm not particularly concerned with that aspect, at the moment. (Except that I continue to be annoyed when characters wear doublets with no shirts under them. Because those outer layers can't be washed, it was really important to notions of cleanliness to have linen against the skin, to absorb sweat and oils from the skin. So every time someone does it, I can't help going, "ewwwww" in my head.) Though I reserve the right to change my mind about this. And the actors are good, I think.

But all the characters are flat. They state motivations, every now and again ("I want a son!" "I want to be King of France!" "Henry is an upstart and I deserve to be king!"), or they scheme a bit, or are idealistic and wear hair shirts, but there's no sense of why these characters really want anything. *I* know that Henry's having a son is really important in terms of the succession, but it's like it would have taken them too long--or taken time away from the many sex scenes--to establish this as an emotionally or politically important aspect, beyond some crying in confession, on Henry's part, that frankly felt tacked on.

It's especially bad with the female characters, who so far have not given any indication that they have *any* other interests, goals, or desires than to sleep with Henry (or maybe Charles Brandon. Once). And it's not even clear *why* they want to do so. Yes, power and influence--but of what sort? What exactly are these women hoping for? Who are they? It's not enough to say that they were merely pawns, because pawns can have their own feelings about what they're being forced to do, and we don't even see any of that. (And why are these men using them as pawns, anyway? You have to be pretty desperate for power to pimp out your own daughters to the King--so why is Thomas Boleyn doing this? "Our fortunes will be made" is simply not good enough, Michael Hirst. I'm sorry, but it's not.)

I'm especially disappointed in the introduction of Anne Boleyn. The voiceover at the beginning of each episode tells us, "You think you know the story, but you only know how it ends," and suggests that to *really* know this story, we have to watch it play out. But the narrative treats Anne Boleyn as somehow special solely because she *is* Anne Boleyn. Her father says at one point, "There's something deep and dangerous in you, Anne," but we haven't been shown *anything* of her except a few smirks. Likewise, Henry is so fascinated by her that we see him dreaming about her--but she's not the only woman he's wanted to sleep with in this miniseries so far, and his usual tactic is to get his guys to just bring the women to him. He never does this with Anne; for some reason he's changed his modus operandi, and we're given no reason for it--except, apparently that Anne is "special" or "different" in some way, and the only reason for that is who she will be. (And I can't even talk coherently about how gross it is that the one moment in which Anne is given some kind of agency in this situation is in Henry's dream. We couldn't have had an actual conversation between the two of them in which she stated that she wanted to be wooed and seduced, instead of its being Henry's dream-idea? That was too hard?)

Basically, I feel like the people who've put together the show have no vision for why they're doing it beyond this oft-repeated concept that Henry VIII wasn't always a bloated monster; at one point he was "young and fit." Well, "young and fit" isn't a coherent narrative. It isn't a rounded character or an interesting world.

Also, I'm annoyed by the behind-the-scenes features, which were not very good, for the same reasons. Nobody seemed to have anything to say other than, "Henry VIII was a rock star," and while I'm sure that the production designers and costume designer put more thought into their work than that, that was all we got from the special features. And whoever that London tour guide is, he should be ashamed of himself for saying that Shakespeare wrote Richard III in the Middle Ages, when he's supposed to be specializing in the Tudor period. Yes, "the Middle Ages" is a fairly arbitrary designation, but if you're going to use it, you should know what it consists of, particularly if you are supposed to be an expert in the period that is generally thought to mark the (arbitrary) end of the Middle Ages! Also, Thomas More's sister didn't rescue his head, tour guide man. His daughter did.
Constant Reader: elizabeth iskirmish_of_wit on March 28th, 2010 03:53 am (UTC)
I am to The Tudors as magpies are to shiny objects. I watch it kind of compulsively and think "SO PRETTY" and then get irritated with it for being nothing but surface when there is so much awesome real drama to work with.
tempestsarekind: princess elizabethtempestsarekind on March 28th, 2010 06:53 pm (UTC)
Argh, exactly! They could be getting so much out of this material, and instead it's...just a bunch of people glaring and/or gazing at each other.
La Reine Noire: Elizabethlareinenoire on March 28th, 2010 04:32 am (UTC)

To be fair, the second series is considerably better than the first, if only because it gives Anne something to do aside from standing about and smouldering.

That being said, I completely understand your reaction and it's roughly on par with mine. Although I am somehow still watching this show. I suspect I'm committed now and will watch it to the end. But I am admittedly watching it for free on the Internet, so...
tempestsarekind: ladies in waiting [elizabeth]tempestsarekind on March 28th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC)
It really is all she does, isn't it? I guess I'll keep an eye out for series two.

I just wish I had some idea of what was going on in anyone's head, ever, basically. Like, basic things. If I didn't already know what humanism was, I would be incredibly puzzled as to why everyone keeps mentioning it, especially when Thomas More is around.

I'm currently watching it for free from the public library, so I understand!
La Reine Noire: Elizabethlareinenoire on March 28th, 2010 08:10 pm (UTC)
It's a shame because I think Natalie Dormer could have been a wonderful Anne from the beginning. There's this lovely brittleness about her in the later episodes that I thought worked really well and her capriciousness is such a foil for Henry. But she's such a pawn in those early episodes and I honestly believe that by speeding things up as much as they did in the first half of S1, they really did her character a disservice. It would have been fascinating to see more of Anne as she was before Henry noticed her.

And, oy, the humanism thing.
tempestsarekind: peddlers of bombasttempestsarekind on March 28th, 2010 08:31 pm (UTC)
Agreed; she could be really interesting if given somewhere to go/something to do. Normally you'd think the writers would be trying to play up women's parts--and instead they've stripped Anne of motivation and interest. It's peculiar.

Henry and More and Wolsey keep saying, "We're all humanists!" And it could mean "We're all cheese sandwiches" for as much explanation as we've been given. It's gotten to the point where it makes me giggle, actually.
Diminutive of fox: Marie Antoinette's sneakersvoske on March 28th, 2010 11:54 am (UTC)
Yes, I totally agree, but I finished the first series anyway. Possibly because of Jeremy Northam and Sam Neill.
viomisehuntviomisehunt on March 28th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
You're watching the show for historical content....?
They were more interested, as was the Doctor Who people with Shakespeare, in showing Henry as a rock star.

If you're interested in more historical Henry may I suggest, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/henryviii/index.html

Or Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson. That performance remained with me for years. When I hear Elizabeth I hear Glenda Jackson.

By the way, I agree with the conclusion Alastair Cooke advances towards the end: That although Elizabeth did love and liked the company of men, and the appreciation of men, she had seen enough of the cruelty of males in her own household, for not to want to marry, to fear childbirth more than like sex. There is also the suggestion that she was molested, but not "deflowered' by her stepfather.

tempestsarekind: i am my father's daughter [elizabeth]tempestsarekind on March 28th, 2010 07:08 pm (UTC)
Re: You're watching the show for historical content....?
Oh, I'm not watching it for historical content, particularly. But it's not doing a good job at basic *storytelling*. The characters' motives should be clear, even if the writers had invented them whole-cloth. Instead, everyone's vaguely interested in "power," and they go around swearing that they love other characters they've hardly spoken two words to.

I saw that Masterpiece production; I still can't see Emilia Fox without thinking of her as Jane Seymour. Which is peculiar, because you'd *think* I'd always think of her as Georgiana Darcy.
tempestsarekind: a broad rivertempestsarekind on March 28th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC)
Jeremy Northam is certainly a draw with me. :)
viomisehuntviomisehunt on March 28th, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
Hm motivation. As especially among "highborn" women there was no career except wife or Nun (and Henry dissolving the Church kind of nixed that one) the only other motivations for these women would be survival. Their dads were very unlikely to send their daughters to Padua to study medicine or law. Middle/merchant class and working class women had more "Choice" in a way as there was no inheritance to worry about. But that still was about survival.
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on March 28th, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC)
Perhaps "motivation" is the wrong word for the female characters, then. But there's no sense of how they *feel* about anything that's happening--how they make sense of what they're told to do, whether they are willing participants or dragged along unwillingly, whether they are told to do everything step by step or discover that they are actually quite talented at manipulation, whether they want anything out of life that isn't just sleeping with Henry (a house? a child? security? pretty dresses? Anything).

And the men don't seem to want anything, either, beyond "power" that's never made clear. Why are some of them enemies, and others allies? What do they want to *do* with all this power they seem so eager to get?
viomisehuntviomisehunt on March 29th, 2010 12:06 am (UTC)
Duty would have been first- a dutiful daughter was to keep chaste or follow her father's dictates and hope to heck she had father or brother who would not force her into a liason against her heart. I imagine Elizabeth, whom Dudley wrote vowed at 8 years old never to marry, was quaking in her kid slippers the entire time her little brother, then elder sister was in power. I shuddered at the historically verified images of Philip couting the Princess Elizabeth while Mary was on her sick bed. Other than duty, there was tapestry,embroidering,reading and writing if you were taught these skills, managing the castle,household,servants. A steward took care of money, I know there were shops, but the concept of shopping. Travel was restricted. I think Anne had a favorite house,like riding,music; educated as a consort to a nobleman. I think that is why Knox, thinking like St. Paul, that women were made for men; was outraged that Mary and Elizabeth were allowed to Enjoy these accomplishments for something other than the pleasure of their husbands.
tempestsarekind: corset pouttempestsarekind on March 29th, 2010 05:05 pm (UTC)
Right--and none of that is in the miniseries, not even a reflection on what it means to be dutiful. As for activities, so far I don't think I've even seen a woman with needlework in hand (well, *possibly* More's wife--though I'm guessing--but none of the court ladies), or anything to read that isn't a letter from Henry. I'm not suggesting that they should be out fencing and composing poetry (though women did the latter)--but as you point out, Anne was educated, she had pastimes. There's no reason we couldn't see some of that. Heck, Anne had a sister, who simply disappeared from the show's narrative as soon as Henry tired of her--but she didn't evaporate into thin air. Why not include a scene between Mary and Anne?

I know the story is mostly about Henry, but there are plenty of scenes in which various noblemen have conversations without him; there's no reason not to include similar scenes for the female characters.