Ever since I caught a bit of the Showtime series The Tudors and clocked that Henry VIII, instead of being a tall, bloated, ginger bastard, was instead the gorgeous and rather feminine Jonathan Rhys Meyers I have been full of disdain. Disdain for these shitty historical books and series and films that bastardise the facts and are full of tits and ass and stupidity. That can't even be bothered to get accents and hairstyles right - if you can't trust the costume department, how are you going to trust the writers?
Look. This is the real Henry VIII as a young man. Here. This is what he looked like.
And this is what he looks like in The Tudors.
Uncanny isn't it? I like the way they've replicated the hairstyle, colour, hat and clothes so accurately. Actually, fuck it, he's beautiful.
So I turned it off and, despite my near obsessive love for the Tudors as a dynasty (we've all got a favourite one, right? Right guys?) refused to have it on my screen. Ditto The Borgias. I am too good for this stuff, thought I. I only want to watch things that get stuff right. I don't understand how people can be so stupid to lap this crap up.
And then the other day I caught the end of one of the episodes. You know when you're watching TV but doing something else at the same time and then you get sucked into it and then you're watching and then you run to Neflix and start watching from the beginning? Well, that. Basically.
It was the Anne of Cleves series. I had read earlier than Anne of Cleves was being played by - wait for it - Joss Stone. Yes, that Joss Stone. The souly pop singer who went off to America and hasn't been heard of for about a decade. The obvious choice to play a Germanic princess, ja? I was ready for it to be terrible. I was ready to hoot in derision.
But... she was actually pretty good. In the context of the LUDICROUSNESS of the show. The casting is bonkers. Everyone - and I mean, EVERYone - is gorgeous. Including the soon to be Mary 1, even though it's well known and well documented that she looked like Dennis Waterman in a wig. Here she's a gorgeous little slip of a girl, all downcast eyes and heaving boobs.
Look, look. Here is Mary 1 as a woman in her 20s. Tell me you don't have the Minder theme tune in your head right now:
Aaaand this is how she looks in The Tudors:
Anne of Cleves, you may remember, is the wife that Henry couldn't bring himself to shag. He complained about her pendulous breasts and called her a 'Flander's mare'. In real life. In The Tudors, Joss's tiny figure and pert boobs, along with prettier than average face, makes it all a bit confusing when Henry shrieks: "She looks like a HORSE, Cromwell. A HORSE". Brilliant.
Henry, by the way, who is still slim, young and gorgeous. By the time he got to Anne of Cleves he was a fat, bloated, purulent sack of vile insanity. He manifestly did not look like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who nevertheless, does a commendable job of articulating Henry's total insanity. He has to do it by flaring his nostrils and bulging his beautiful baby blues a lot though, rather than actually doing any real acting.
So I go back to the beginning and start to revel in the glory that is this crazy series. His best bud Charles Brandon is played by Superman (Henry Cavill), which is just fantastic. He's all square jawed and shagging everything that moves. All the women are fragrant and stunning in a very 21st century view of beauty. There are definite costume mash ups occuring, with vaguely Tudor dress merging with very Regency and sometimes even Victorian styles.
The castles and backdrops are all CGI'd to the max, which is actually pretty cool. Everyone speaks with a kind of Americanised 'British' accent apart from the actual English members of the cast. Henry's sister is played by someone out of Press Gang. Sam Neill plays Cardinal Wolsey with relish. How's that for MENTAL casting? And he has a riotous old time screwing everyone around. Wolsey, by the way, was round and fat and very unattractive. Sam Neill is none of these things. Even Thomas More is hot. That's just not a thing that happened in real life.
Ahem. Wolsey in real life. Also take into account that this was most likely a flattering rendition of the porky Cardinal:
And Wolsey in The Tudors for your delectation. I mean, I almost would.
There are plenty of liberties taken with the facts - including, bizarrely, the killing off of his illegitimate son 14 years too early. Henry Fitzroy was born to Bessie Blount. Henry did recognise him as his son and was in the process of dicking about with the laws of succession when the kid died at 16 of TB or sweating sickness. It was always one of the two back then. The same thing happens in the series but he's two. Weird.
Hilariousness occurs when Henry meets his nemesis - Francis 1 of France, who is kind of foppishly French. His wife looks like an actual model and his costumes are ace. He and Henry strip half naked and have a homo erotic wrestling match at one point because I'm sure that absolutely definitely did happen.
The fabulous Natalie Dormer picks up Anne Boleyn. And it was while I was watching her that I realised something. The writing is actually good. The structure of each episode works really well. The casting somehow works. It's really really really good fun and, if you know the period well, you can see where the writers are going with stuff.
This is Henry and Anne depicting Henry as he was by then. A fattie. With a big ginger beard.
Annnnnd Showtime's Henry n Anne:
It's clear that they're fans of Anne Boleyn herself, which I always find refreshing. Few women have had such an astonishingly huge impact on our way of life today as Anne Boleyn. She was ferociously intelligent and had to have nerves of steel and a core of iron to get where she did. She's on my list of most admired women ever and I like to see her portrayed as a real person instead of a grotesque caricature of an incestuous witch, which is the easy way to paint someone who did what she did.
The writers are hinging the plots around Thomas Tallis. He appears in such an innocuous way that it takes a while to realise who he is and why he's important. He will act as the constant presence through the turmoil of the next few years. He was a real person and became court musician under Henry VIII. He ended up court musician for every monarch up to and including Elizabeth 1. What a life he had - and what he must have seen. I like the way they're using him to frame events. I like the daftness of the liberties they take. I like the acting. I like it a lot.
I do like to get things wrong sometimes.