Tudors: The Complete Second Season, The (UK - BD RB)
Marcus Doidge takes a step back in time with the Tudors on Blu-ray Disc
I’ll start by saying that I’d never seen either of first two seasons of The Tudors and more so I never had any inclination to. So when I got this, the second season of the internationally popular show, I went in feeling a little daunted. Firstly for the fact that this was the second season and I wasn’t sure how lost I’d feel having never seen a single episode, and secondly this was for a review, so I couldn’t even walk away from the show if it failed to grab me, and believe you me, I’m a hard TV viewer to grab, especially when it comes to period dramas.
The Tudors season two deals primarily with Henry VIII’s (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) struggles with the Church. Not only in regards to the amount of control that he has over his Kingdom, but because he has recently hooked up with Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) and ditched his first wife Katherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy) for this younger, hotter model. The Church aren’t taking too kindly to the talk of divorce and Henry struggles to keep control of the religious sect of his kingdom as well as his decreasing popularity with all of the rest because of the recent split with Queen of Hearts, Katherine.
Initially this was a lot to take in. There was no ‘Previously on The Tudors...’ style introduction, which I was hoping for, and the show’s opening sequence was a hard one to make out, what with its super camp slow motion headshots of the cast and its modern sensibilities. Once the show got underway and I watched the first on many debates between Henry and the church leaders, it felt as if I’d been dropped into the deep end of a swimming pool, struggling to follow what the hell was going on and what the arguments were actually about, but I persevered, as I do with all TV shows the first time I see them. I place a lot of faith in a screen writer’s skill to create an entire episode that pays off, rather than forming an opinion on a flashy or dull introduction. Thankfully by the end of the first episode I felt comfortable within this period piece and felt a little happier about continuing, despite the fact I wasn’t sold on the show.
Moving through the following few episodes I really began to get into some of the story arcs. Despite the fact I’m not a royalist or even a fan of this era in history, the dramatic themes that the show plays with are all classic: a leader losing control but ploughing onward despite the obstacles, secret love affairs, behind the scenes scheming, assassination plots, lusting after power and characters standing by their beliefs. It’s all played out with grace and with a lot of good actors who can really sell it, which isn’t as easy as it sounds considering just how many layers there are to this King Henry vs. the Church feud.
The Tudors isn’t just about politics and period costumes though, it brings along some sex too, and the show has picked up quite a bit of word of mouth because of it. As I said before, I’d never seen the show, but I was well aware of its reputation for bringing the steam to the period drama. Now before all you viewers with a corset fetish start placing your orders, this isn’t half as mucky as they’d like you to believe. This is basically a little T&A with a lethal dose of suggestion and in all honesty a lot of it feels a little tacked on to keep up appearances sometimes. There are a handful of cast, mostly mid thirties men, with fashion hair and designer stubble that always seem to end up alone with some hot housemaid or handmaiden and just as it gets to where they spend far too much time hinting at, it fades out or cuts to some other fully clothed bearded man on his way to talk to the church leaders or an executioner. The sex stuff certainly brings a welcome break from the many conversations, but let’s just say it isn’t exactly Californication.
So what of the cast? The character I liked from pretty much the get go was Anne Boleyn and not just because she’s played by the cute Natalie Dormer and her Elvis lip. She’s probably the most interesting character here because of her position in the ongoing butting of heads around the King. Her presence alone is the catalyst to many of the supporting casts’ story arcs, whether it be their dislike of her as a person, her muscling in on the monarchy, or that they just want to get her in bed. Much of the entire second season has Anne Boleyn at the source of what keeps this show going, a hell of a lot more than the show’s lead Jonathan Rhys Meyers has as Henry VIII anyway.
Meyers’ portrayal as Henry is a weird one. For starters his accent and general demeanour is so much like Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus from Gladiator that it takes a good three or four episodes for it not to be distracting. Once I got past that I had real problems trying to work out how the lead character of a show could have the least to work with. What I mean by this is everyone else has two roles to play. The public, well spoken, very typical period drama role, and when they are in their homes or with friends or family, a softer or indeed harder edge emerges. These characters get to air their true feelings or darkest secrets and it’s this element that I feel really brings The Tudors to life because you get a real sense of the conflicts going on above and below the surface, but with Henry it’s all so one note. Meyers plays Henry in exactly the same way in every scene. He’s stern, formal and once in a while he throws in a slimy grin. I guess it could be argued that as King, Henry’s got nothing to hide or is confident enough in his decision making and bull headed enough in his power that he can be this guy 24/7 and hide it from nobody. Either way, I found the character really uninteresting, despite have a strong presence on screen and found he was only really there to throw out situations for the other more interesting characters to respond to.
As for the supporting cast, I really enjoyed Cromwell (James Fain) as a character doing what he’s told by the King down to the letter, but playing a subtle sense of conflict under the surface. Peter O’Toole’s portrayal as Pope Paul III was a lot of fun. O’Toole playing the persistent absurdity of the church with a glint of fun in his eye. He obviously loves playing this character and considering he is basically used as a tool (no pun intended) to update the audience with a quick overview of the situation in England in case they’d lost track, it was great to have it delivered by someone with this much charisma. I was also completely won over by Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam), who initially struck me as a villain, but through the courage of his convictions becomes the character who ultimately brought about the closing story arc for the final episodes that was the real key for me to enjoying The Tudors.
The Tudors wasn’t the hard slog I thought it would be and after about five or six episodes, it had me wanting to know what would happen next. It has a well handled pace across the ten, hour-long episodes and subtly builds up to the eventful last episode where all of the hard work laid down in the build up comes to a head in a pleasing and rewarding climax.
With a great deal of The Tudors being shot on interior sets and a lot of that lit by fire light, I was immediately impressed by the warmness of the image. Everything bathes in a welcoming orange glow and it really adds a lot of drama to the show. However on closer inspection there is a thin layer of grainy mist separating the viewer from a truly great HD image.
This is all the more noticeable when we get exterior scenes and the mist disappears. The video really plays on its HD transfer in the bright lit courtyards or forests, with bright natural colours popping off the screen from the dense trees and gardens or brightly decorated Tudor clothing but even in the best of circumstances there’s one noticeable issue: softness. The image is just that bit too far away from being sharp and because of it, much of the detail is underwhelming. In fact the only really noticeable detail was on some of the exterior sets, which showed old castle walls as art department facades.
Admittedly, I’ve not seen any TV show in HD at this point so have only movies to compare this to, but I’d hope that when my Lost season four box set arrives it’ll be a lot more impressive than this was or my impressions of TV on HD could turn out to be very lukewarm.
As a show that is heavily based in the conversations of its characters, I’m glad to report that the dialogue here is presented in exactly the way needed. It’s clear, crisp and comes with just the right amount of power to sell the depth of some of the characters’ voices.
Atmospherics are also very good. The crackles of the large open fires were always impressive and great mood setters. In the many social get-togethers in the show, the sense of a lot of people in a room was always believable and each of the many different locations always seemed to capture the right atmosphere.
There are never any ‘big’ moments to really put the audio to test but for the style of the show the mix is a good one.
The first thing you are asked to do when selecting the first episode is to enable the Blu-ray to remember where you are up to, so it can resume from the same spot every time you come back for viewings. All very clever stuff.
As for actual featurettes, there are three. ‘To Capture a King’ (07:43), focuses on Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ portrayal of Henry VIII from a historical standpoint, discussing how well he’d captured him physically as well as in attitude.
‘To Play a Pope’ (08:49) has Peter O’Toole’s discussing his performance method as well as his knowledge of the church’s history. It’s good to get this straight from O’Toole as he can make anything sound interesting.
‘Love & Passion in Tudor Times’ (08.25) looks at the sexy side of The Tudors and how historians are glad this element plays such a part in the show.
All in all these struck me as little segments that turn up on TV when promoting the show and are essentially EPK’s to get across what the show’s about.
Finally there’s a bunch of trailers for Vantage Point, 21 and Sony Blu-ray discs.
So I guess I could say that I enjoyed The Tudors. It’s a well plotted, multi layered well written piece of entertainment that was a hell of a lot more accessible than I’d ever imaged it would be.
The last episode is the show working at its absolute best and a great season finale, but I can’t say that it’s made me want to go back to season one or indeed that it’s got me excited about seeing more in the forthcoming season three.
These ten episodes made for a good weekend of watching and I’m sure fans of the show will enjoy the Blu-ray a lot, despite the lack of real in depth features. As for you non fans, give it a go. You never know, you just might end up enjoying it.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 13th October 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles: English HoH, English, Greek, Hindi, Indonesian Bahasa, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese (Brazilian), Spanish (Latin American), Thai
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ciaran Donnelly, Jeremy Podeswa, Colm McCarthy
Cast: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Natalie Dormer, Jeremy Northam, Peter O'Toole
Length: 524 minutes
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