Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Tudors (2007-2010)

Today I finished my viewing marathon of ‘The Tudors’, a recent TV series set in the court of Henry VIII and following the story of him, his courtiers, six wives, and three children. It was the first time I watched the series.

I enjoy adaptations focusing on this era very much as it has always been an area of history which interests me. As such, I have always been sensitive to historical inaccuracies in film and television adaptations, but have not led that stop me appreciating them as works of art and/or entertainment.

Previous films and series focusing on this area which I have viewed and enjoyed have included the 1970 miniseries ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ (six plays, one for each wife, and Keith Michell as Henry – followed by a much shorter film version entitled ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ in 1972), its sequel ‘Elizabeth R’, with Glenda Jackson; the TV and film versions of Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ about Mary and Anne Boleyn (the first with Jared Harris as Henry, the second with Eric Bana); the Cockney ‘Henry VIII’ with Ray Winstone; the 1933 film of ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’ with Charles Laughton; and the BBC Shakespeare’s ‘Henry VIII’ with John Stride.

‘The Tudors’ didn’t have immediate promise on paper, as it seemed to present the political and personal machinations of the court as basically the twin ratings pullers of sex and violence. However, in the performance of Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry, convincingly becoming more aged and weary as the series progresses (although not the grossly fat monarch of legend), we have a strong centre around which an array of character parts (Sam Neill as Wolsey, Peter O’Toole and Max von Sydow as Pope and Cardinal, Jeremy Northam as Thomas More, Bosco Hogan as John Fisher, James Frain as Thomas Cromwell, Anthony Brophy as Chapuys, Simon Ward as Bishop Gardiner) and variable performances as the wives (Maria Doyle Kennedy (a dignified Catherine of Aragon), Joss Stone (a surprisingly touching Anne of Cleves), and Joely Richardson (graceful Catherine Parr) coming across rather better than Natalie Dormer (a pouting and preening Anne Boleyn), Tamzin Merchant (a truly irritating Catherine Howard), and the two Jane Seymours, Anita Briem and Annabelle Wallis (so colourless I didn’t immediately notice the cast change!)) form a watchable fabric within a superbly shot and plotted erotic thriller.

As a potted history across 38 episodes, there are many glaring anachronisms which can cause offence to those who know the period well – the merger of the King’s sisters Mary and Margaret into one character, the changing of the ages and family situations of Charles Brandon and Robert Aske, the supposed affairs and attractions between people where little evidence exists, and a disregard for chronology. However given dramatic licence, this series stands as a superb modern achievement, with sumptuous sets, beautiful colours, and some truly memorable moments. As Brandon, Henry Cavill doesn’t really convince until the fourth series, when his youthful indiscretions and military cruelty appear to be behind him.

One demerit on this series though has to be the depiction of the future Queen Elizabeth, who is colourless, passionless, and characterless, in contrast to her sister the future Queen Mary who emerges fully rounded but with a glint of the ruthlessness that would brand her forever as ‘Bloody’ Mary in years to come. Sarah Bolger is quite possibly the best Mary ever put onto film or television. Only Kathy Burke in ‘Elizabeth’ (the Cate Blanchett film) has been as memorable.

In terms of television repeats, the satellite channel Sony TV has shown the first series of ‘The Tudors’ a couple of times, but I watched it all from the DVD sets, which are nicely packaged with a small number of featurettes putting the historical events into perspective, including a look at Hampton Court and the legacy of Henry’s reign.

Beginners (2010 film), some thoughts

I’m a bit late to the party with this one, as it is now two years since Christopher Plummer won the Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Hal in the 2010 film ‘Beginners’, written and directed by Mike Mills. The film has two overlapping storylines, that of Hal’s decision to come out as gay at the age of 75, four years before his death from cancer, and the budding romance of Hal’s son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) with French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent)

What appealed to me about this film was not the subject matter, which has been tackled so many times before it is almost a cliche (older man seeks younger lover and ‘find himself’ before it is too late), but the way it is filmed – with flashbacks to the particular years being discussed, historical events, subtitling the dog’s thoughts, and other tricks which take away the viewer’s attention from the fact that, really, this film doesn’t have a great script, believable characters, or much to say.

Disappointed – but do take a look to see a different take on how to make a film, and kudos to Mills for thinking up some of the more quirky aspects of ‘Beginners’.

Divas in London: Dear World and Liza Minnelli

Two American musical divas are in town. 

Last night, the legend that is Liza Minnelli proved that despite the rumours, the ridiculous fourth marriage, and the plastic surgery, she still has that star pizazz to wow a crowd, and a packed Royal Festival Hall buoyed up by a large contigent of Liza’s gay fanbase certainly appreciated her 90 minute set.  Her big showstoppers from Cabaret and New York, New York of course made their appearances, and if Liza’s voice has faltered just a little over the years and her health has declined, she makes up for any shortcomings with sheer personality. 

Backed by a band she has obviously collaborated with for years, she gave us a varied set which included as highlights a cut song for the landlady in Cabaret – ‘So What’, Charles Aznavour’s superb story of a lonely gay female impersonator (‘What Makes a Man a Man’), ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ (a duet with her pianist), the touching ‘You’ve Let Yourself Go’, and her final unaccompanied ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’.  The lady may be breathless, scatty and more than a little bit manufactured, but Judy Garland’s daughter still puts on a magnificent performance, especially in her fast paced whiz song ‘Liza With a Z’, and she seems to have genuine affection for her fans, as they have for her.  It’s been a long time since I was in a crowd chanting the name of their idol as they wait for an encore!

The previous week I was at the Charing Cross Theatre to see Betty Buckley as the mad countess in Jerry Herman’s ‘Dear World’.  Buckley had been indisposed with a virus but was in fine voice at the performance I saw, especially in the lovely ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ and a song reminiscent of Mame’s Open a New Window, ‘Some People’.  Paul Nicholas was the other star name in the cast, and although he still has a certain charm, the songs he has in this show are not a patch on those given to the lead.  As the eccentric ladies who conspire against the wickedness of the ‘presidents’ and the oil seeker, Annabel Leventon and Rebecca Lock are funny and grotesque, while the greed of moneyseekers is beautifully played by Peter Land, Jack Rebaldi and Robert Meadmore (who I recall seeing back in the 1980s as Freddie in ‘My Fair Lady’).

‘Dear World’ is a musical adaptation of the Jean Giraudoux play ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’, which was itself filmed by Bryan Forbes with Katharine Hepburn in the lead.  Betty Buckley’s countess is a dewy eyed optimist with nerves of steel and a conscience, and if the character isn’t quite Mame Dennis, well there is still much to enjoy and appreciate for the rest of the musical’s residency in the capital.


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