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THE TUDORS
Season Two

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Henry Cavill, Natalie Dormer, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jeremy Northam, Peter O’Toole
Director: Various
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0, Spanish mono
Video: Color Anamorphic Widescreen 16:9
Studio:  Showtime Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 4 discs, 542 minutes
Release Date:
January 6, 2009

“His Majesty wishes that you return to him the official jewels of the Queen of England.”

“No!  I will not return what is rightfully mine to adorn a woman who is the scandal of Christendom.”

Show ***

Showtime warned us that the second season of The Tudors would be much darker than the first, and so it is, and it is also less interesting.  On the other hand, some characters hiding in the wings previously are now front and center. 

Henry has declared himself the head of the Church in England, Rome is weighing excommunication.  Thomas Moore awakens from a nightmare in which he realizes that the Anti-Christ may be not only be alive, but ruling England.  Henry truly becomes a monster, lashing out at anyone who even mentions Catherine of Aragorn.  Anne demands that she stop making his shirts, which shows her insecurity.  And in the end, after tens of thousands are killed, monasteries destroyed, the Reformation having left Europe only a shell of what it once was, he executes Anne herself, while already moving on to his next conquest.  There is serious discussion that murdering her will save Christendom.  The Pope enlists men who would eventually become known as the Jesuits, sort of the Roman Catholic Jedi after the Templars faded into history.  While the Ottoman Turks remained an external threat, the worst enemies of the church seemed to be from within. 

There are only ten episodes but once again Showtime demonstrates what can be done over a season of television.  Each episode seems short because there is little or no dead air, hardly a wasted moment, except for the finale, which drags by as Anne weighs her fate. 

This series avoids becoming a soap opera by penetrating the mind of the king and revealing his real challenges, his insecurities, and regrets.  While Henry VIII never shied from using his power in any way he chose, he knew his restrictions.  His reach very often exceeded his grasp, but not just with the Catholic Church.  The weight of the Tudor dynasty weighed fully on his shoulders, and he was filled with despair at the possibility of never having a male heir.  He also allowed Anne to rule him, pushing him much too far in her whims long before she actually became queen, so that while their courtship was hot, their marriage was practically over from the moment it began.  When the smallest possibility of her betrayal emerged, there was no mercy left for her from anyone.

The final episode, in which Anne Boleyn meets her doom, is well-acted but there is simply not enough action to fill an entire episode and therefore is anti-climactic.  Clearly there was a pacing problem in building events to the climax, a rare letdown in what is otherwise a great show.  There is also less seduction and fewer carnal moments overall, and we can only show Henry throwing things so many times.  On the other hand we see Thomas Wyatt the poet seducing with poetry the woman who would become his wife.

Even though we know what awaits Thomas Moore, as he himself probably knew, every moment of his time to be imprisoned and to die is gripping.  If Jeremy Northam is not nominated for every television drama award out there, he should be, and should win several.  This episode is so moving that it actually eclipses Anne’s death in the finale. We hear Henry scream as the axe falls, because he realizes he has started something he cannot stop. 

The other triumph of the second season is Peter O’Toole as the new pope who will ultimately decide Henry’s fate.   His gravitas lifts the entire season and while O’Toole shows his age, his talent has not waned, and his age actually lends authenticity to the role as pontiff.  His directive to a young man to become a priest and fight for the Roman church, probably hinting at the founding of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits.  That would make a fantastic series as well, or at least a good portion of another season of The Tudors.

Video ****

Flawless, and the lush scenery and sets are even more believable on disc.

Audio ****

No problems, excellent mix, rear channels used mostly for storms, horses galloping, music, etc.  The music used for the execution scenes is wonderful and there is hardly any lost dialogue in the whole season, a wonderful mix all around.  

Features **

Very brief and minimal, contrary to the boasting on the package that there are loads of features “sure to make you lose your head.”  I was hoping for more extensive features in the second season, but they are absent.  All we have are a brief presentation about the tower of London, interviews with modern descendants of Henry VIII, and an interview with actress Natalie Dormer who portrays the doomed Anne Boleyn so excellently.  In the interview we see the actual resting place of Boleyn, just a mosaic in the floor of a cathedral, nothing more. These are just a few minutes each.

There are season two premieres of This American Life and Californication, the first of which is far too sad and pitiful to be inspiring and the second is just the continued soft-core pornographic biography of its lead character, which in some ways resembles that of the actor himself.  These are the two extremes of television at its most mediocre and have no business being included as an “extra feature” for The Tudors.  The only other features are very brief biographies of each cast member.

There is a link on the DVD that supposedly you can go to if you watch the DVD in your PC, but this only directed me to a Tudors page that said “coming soon.”  This may activate after the official release date, and supposedly allows you to enter a contest for a trip to Ireland where the series is filmed, and other Showtime previews.

Summary:

A very dark season not quite up to the first but still a valuable edition to history and drama.  Henry is already about to wed wife Number Three, a Roman Catholic.  Will the Reformation continue, and will more heads roll?  Will Henry finally have a male heir?

Check out this website from Showtime:  www.whothetudorareyou.com

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