Show Hide image

The Tudors

The history is plain wrong and the acting atrocious, but I’m
a fan of Tudorland

It's 1536, and in Tudorland, Jonathan Rhys Meyers is taking a break from filming commercials for Hugo Boss aftershave. Instead, he is modelling something altogether more classy: a dressing gown. This little number, perfect for the kind of draughts one tends to find in even the grandest of English homes, is made of ivory wool and lavishly trimmed with dead animal. As Rhys Meyers - sorry, I mean Henry VIII - enters the royal bedchamber, it moves with a charged swing, a triumph of cut that only serves to emphasise his amazing sexual charisma. What a man. Sure, he appears to be wearing panstick make-up most of the time, but thanks to outfits such as this, there is just no doubting the stench of testosterone coming off him.

No wonder Jane Seymour (Annabelle Wallis), his new wife, looks so blank. She is about to go to bed with a man whose body odour resembles that of a fox's set, and is clearly trying not to breathe through her nose. Oh, for a quick squirt of Hugo Boss now!

Henry, meanwhile, is apparently oblivious that Jane has changed somewhat since he last saw her, the actor who played the good lady in her first incarnation having quit at the end of series two. Oh well. No matter. She'll be shuffling off pretty soon anyway, when she dies following childbirth. Lady Jane was a blink-and-you'll-miss-her kind of a wife, though the producers of The Tudors (starts 21 August, 9pm), with their easily bored American audiences in mind (the series is produced by Showtime, a US cable network), have decided that Henry will tire of her all the same. To that end, they have introduced an entirely fictional character called Lady Ursula Misseldon, whose job is to give King Henry, er, physical relief when his jousting injury is getting him down (said injury is in helpful proximity
to his codpiece).

Alone with her ladies-in-waiting, then, Jane goes into proto-feminist mode, telling them that women are too hard done by in Tudorland, and none more so than Mary and Elizabeth, her husband's exiled daughters. She is going to restore them to court and, perhaps, buy them both a subscription to Cosmopolitan, though it is possible that Mary, a devout Catholic, is a little too prudish for Cosmo. According to the naughty research of her father's pal, the one-eyed Sir Francis Bryan (Alan van Sprang), she doesn't even know what cunnilingus is. Perhaps she'll have to make do with the Tablet instead.

Can The Tudors get any barmier? You bet it can. Poor old Anne of Cleves will be sailing into view quite soon, black of tooth and bald of head. Imagine the fun they can have with her. Look, I know that The Tudors is all wrong; that David Starkey is always getting his Calvins in a twist about it. The history is wonky. The acting is atrocious. Even the geography is off. The peasants who joined the Pilgrimage of Grace were shown in a strangely mountainous version of Lincolnshire. And yet, it's so madly enjoyable - and I write as one who came to it this time straight from Hilary Mantel's novel Wolf Hall (in Tudorland terms, this is like having lunch at Le Gavroche and dinner at Chicken Cottage). The critics should calm down.

The truth is that, in spite of the best efforts of Rhys Meyers - who is simply refusing to pork out, Renée Zellweger-style, for the part, or to go even remotely ginger, and who likes to lie distractingly naked on his four-poster bed, with only the tiniest corner of a sheet covering His Majesty's crown jewels - The Tudors only lingers in the mind for about five minutes. So there's no danger whatsoever that a whole generation will get the wrong end of the stick about the dissolution of the monasteries.

On the other hand, they might go and read some proper history afterwards, because the show makes you feel excited about this stuff all over again. It's as if your dimly remembered school textbook had been rewritten by someone who used to work on Falcon Crest. Call me downmarket, but I just can't believe that this is entirely a bad thing.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Is Google Evil?