Normally this would be must-see TV for me, because it’s my absolute favorite period of all history, but (a) it’s on cable, and I have so far managed to live without cable in my life; and (b) it’s written by the same eejit screenwriter who wrote that absolutely abominable MTV-style “Elizabeth” movie (the one that starred Cate Blanchett…which is pronounced BLANCH-ett, by the way, as she pronounces it herself—I’ve heard her, twice—not blan-CHETT).
I HATED that movie. Wrong history, wrong costumes, wrong hairstyles, wrong architecture.
So this one? No.
For one thing, the writer has publicly ’fessed up to taking liberties with characters and inventing stuff. (Oh, OLIVERRRR!!!! Sure you didn’t have a hand in this?)
Just for starters:
Princess Mary—Henry’s younger sister who married the moribund King of France—is called by the name of his older sister, Princess Margaret, who married the King of Scotland and became the grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots. Oh, and the old King of France is changed to the young King of Portugal. WTF??
A gay liaison is invented between two of Henry’s friends. Could have happened, but...
And a bunch more stuff, because the screenwriter thinks the real-life way it happened wasn't good enough. Welcome to the Oliver Stone Graduate School of Historical Distortion. Oy.
What annoys me more than anything, though, is the way the actor playing Henry and the actress playing Catherine of Aragon look nothing like their portraits and descriptions.
As a young man, Henry was gorgeous: tall, slim, athletic, and RED-HAIRED. And Catherine, six years his senior, was brilliant, scholarly, pretty and ALSO RED-HAIRED. Of the children not lost to stillbirth or infant death, they produced two red-haired daughters.
So then whywhywhy are the actors playing Mr. and the first Mrs. Tudor both brunettes? Yes, Catherine was Spanish, but just because she was doesn’t mean people should portray her as dark and olive-skinned. This isn’t the first production, of course, that does that, but come on, Hollywood, do your research! It's all well established, especially on Henry: we have paintings, written descriptions and even armor to attest to his stature and appearance. Yeesh.
Of all the Henrys I have beheld down the years, Keith Michell (“The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, both film and PBS Masterpiece Theatre versions) was by the far the best. He looked like Henry. He carried himself like Henry. He captured Henry’s intelligence and wit and vanity and talent (the king composed music, wrote poetry and theological discourses—for one of which books he was given the title “Defender of the Faith” by the pope of the time, how ironic was that in view of what happened later—and could speak numerous languages), and also his mercurial, murderous nature. He aged impressively and progressively girthier in the part. He was just terrific, and the actresses who played his queens were too.
As was, indeed, all the casting: the Wolsey and, especially, the Cranmer were absolute ringers for their portraits, so much so that it was kinda creepy.
So it’s not impossible to do historical fiction onscreen that isn't geared for the GameBoy generation's flea-like attention span and flea-sized capacity for absorbing detail and nuance. And it just makes me seethe that lazy screenwriters and incompetent casting directors don’t, or won’t, bother to take the time to get it right. Just because it all happened five hundred years ago is no excuse.
But then, considering how they can’t even get something right that happened thirty-five years ago (looking at you, Oliver, you lying bastard!), I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
Just furious that once again, Hollywood spoils something interesting and good for the sake of "improving" it for the screen.