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The Tudors - The Complete First Season - dramatic television series DVD review
THE TUDORS - THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON Unrated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 3 1/2 stars
Actors: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam, Gabrielle Anwar
Creator: Michael Hirst   Studio: Showtime Entertainment
DVD release: 01 January 2008   Runtime: 556 minutes
(4 discs)
Format: AC-3, Box set, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC
Features: Audio tracks (English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround; Spanish, Dolby Digital mono), 10 Season One episodes, "The Tudors" Production, "The Tudors" Wardrobe, "The Tudors" Locations, Free episodes (Californication, This American Life, Penn & Teller BS), Free digital download of Californication via N Technology

Assuming the blockbuster mantle so far exclusive to HBO, Showtime steps into the arena with a lush costume drama chronicling the early years of the reign of Henry VIII, approximately 1527-1532 by the end of the first season. The Tudors is an ambitious undertaking that succeeds on one level - pageantry and sexual obsession - but fails to maintain historical accuracy.

For viewers who prefer their history straight, this is not perhaps the best venue. It is, after all, television, the audience skewed to a particular demographic. If the viewer can forgive some obvious discrepancies (Henry's sister Mary/ Margaret (Gabrielle Anwar), who marries the King of Portugal and then smothers him; Buckingham's over-the-top execution; the death of Henry Fitzroy as a child), then the drama is the thing.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a young, virile Henry who would actually be around forty and tending toward overweight, a strangely discordant figure with his buzz haircut and coterie of like-minded playboys (yet another Brat Pack?); the casting of Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) is also questionable. Anne was defined by her unusual, dark looks - not a great beauty, but compelling for her intelligence and clever repartee. This Anne displays no such subtlety, round-faced and shallow, content with gazing moodily at Henry, who sits his throne beside the unwanted, not unattractive Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy).

In a mix of delayed sexual satisfaction and a growing confrontation with the Roman Church, Sam Neill does his best as Cardinal Woolsey, as does Jeremy Northam as Sir Thomas More. But even the great upheaval of church and king pales beside Henry's passion for Anne, the bursts of controversy and violence a backdrop to Henry's increasing rage at not getting his way with the divorce from Katherine.

If one doesn't look too closely, the production values create a cinematic feast: rolling green hills, knights in armor galloping along winding roads, seductive snippets of Anne's naked limbs as she teases Henry through a candle-lit castle, drawing him into corners for a few moments of barely-slaked lust. Unfortunately, even the costumes deviate from the period, yet another small detail that should have been addressed.

With Season Two promising the divorce from Katherine, marriage to Anne and more violence with the clergy, either the producers of The Tudors extravaganza imagine the facts are unimportant to an informed public, or they believe the targeted audience will be distracted by an abundance of flesh, fever and the occasional beheading.

One more problem: the aristocrats are uniformly handsome and beautiful, with perfect teeth, lowly peasants scruffy and unkempt, a rather broad assumption of the audience's inability to distinguish class differences.

Given all these caveats, it is still entirely possible to submerge oneself in The Tudors, suspending disbelief for a few hours of gorgeous scenery, smoldering love scenes, and Henry's increasing tantrums at his impotence against the authority of the Church. Will this be enough to sustain the series? Only if Rhys Meyers steps it up, relinquishing the handsome bad boy role for that of an ageing king consumed with his own mortality and desire for a legitimate male heir.

Much as Sofia Coppola sliced and diced her way through Marie Antoinette, replacing fact with fancy and period music with pop, The Tudors is in danger of underestimating its audience and overestimating the appetite for show without substance. Time will tell.
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reviewed by Luan Gaines
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