The Tudors: The Complete Second Season
Directed by Colm McCarthy et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 542 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 surround English; 2.0 mono Spanish
MSRP: $ 42.99
Release Date: January 6, 2009
Review Date: December 19, 2008
Many aspects of the tumultuous life and reign of England’s Henry VIII have been fodder for dozens of films and television programs. Showtime’s The Tudors might not rank as the best of these endeavors, but it’s certainly ambitious, colorfully intriguing, and packed with incident both true and fabricated. It’s not quite at the level of historical fiction; great chunks of the story told in the second season are indeed accurate, but there’s just enough fiction added to the narrative to keep the melodramatic timbre of the series chugging along on all cylinders.
The second season begins in 1532. Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is smitten with Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) and is busily trying to arrange for the annulment of his first marriage to Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy) so he can marry Anne and produce a male heir. To accomplish this, he’s taken on the mantel of Head of the Church of England, thus instituting the Reformation making Catholicism not the authorized religion of the country. As the season progresses, Henry parries and thrusts with Pope Paul (Peter O’Toole), installs Thomas Cromwell (James Frain) as his Master Secretary and Thomas Cranmer (Hans Matheson) as the Archbishop of Canterbury, and required every citizen to take an oath of acceptance over his right to be head of the church and to marry Anne installing her as the new Queen of England. In this last matter, former Archbishop Thomas More (Jeremy Northam) spends much of season two dodging the king’s repeated pleas for his acceptance until his hand is forced and he has no choice.
But as monumental a figure as the king is, he’s not the only focus of the series. His best friend Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) plays a major role in the changing times, the king’s eye for the ladies finds several willing recipients, and the Boleyn family’s rise in power comes with some great costs and some great perils for them, all of it riding on Anne’s ability to produce a male heir. Early in the season, her first child Elizabeth is born and afterwards, each new pregnancy is awaited with great anticipation but also with a sense of foreboding. It’s palpably felt in every succeeding episode after the birth of the daughter who would eventually become one of England’s greatest monarchs.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers has the bearing and charisma for the role of the king, and the actor has obviously spent considerable time in the gym to become the athlete the young Henry VIII was known to be. No amount of training, however, will add height to his frame. The king was abnormally tall (well over six feet) for the age in which he lived, and Rhys Meyers does not have height on his side. The show has taken very lenient dramatic liberties with showing the king during his second marriage to still be young, vital, and in shape, something that the history books would refute. Charisma is also a very important quality for the men who are in his inner circle. Henry Cavill has a much larger role to play this season as Charles Brandon, a composite of several of Henry’s close friends. Jeremy Northam gives us a Sir Thomas More with infinitely more colors than the renowned humanist is usually shown to have in other productions. Nick Dunning is manipulating and calculating as the viperous head of the Boleyns. And James Frain as Thomas Cromwell comes into his own this season, craftily following the king’s directives while gathering power for himself along the way. David Alpay as the unjustly accused musician Mark Smeaton and Padraic Delaney as Anne’s brother George are also spot-on in their tragic portrayals of men dragged down by their association with Anne.
As for the ladies of the court, Maria Doyle Kennedy has the regal bearing, pride, and Spanish accent to make her a believably tragic Katherine. Natalie Dormer’s Anne Boleyn has a haughty demeanor which gives rise to increasing paranoia as the season progresses as she sees herself losing Henry’s affections. The season finale rightly focuses on Anne, and Dormer more than rises to the dramatic occasion.
The Tudors has the rich, opulent look that one would expect for a program about one of Britain’s greatest royal dynasties, and all the trappings of the period: the clothes, the music and dancing, the castles, courts, and landscapes all perfectly portray an era very familiar to history buffs. The writing for season two’s ten episodes by Michael Hirst, however, puts the drama in the context that even those allergic to history can appreciate and very possibly enjoy. Dallas’ J.R. Ewing and Dynasty’s Blake Carrington have nothing on Henry VIII when it comes to bedding ladies, plotting takeovers, or ruling their kingdoms, and the series presents them all with copious nudity and bloodletting where appropriate.
The Tudors produced ten episodes for its second season. The episodes were not titled, so no list of episodes appears here. They are presented on four discs in the DVD set.
The series is broadcast in 1080i on Showtime, and these down converted 480p 1.78:1 transfers are only slightly above average. While sharpness is acceptable in close-ups, medium and long shots show a softness that robs the visuals of much allure. Contrast is relatively weak thus producing black levels which aren’t inky and rob the image of dimensionality and depth. Color is acceptable and flesh tones are quite good, but one look at the credit sequence shows what excellent black levels and superb contrast could make the series itself look like. Each episode has been divided into 6 chapters.
Strangely, the Dolby 2.0 stereo surround track is the default audio track. It’s louder in volume than the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but with loudness levels adjusted, the Dolby 5.1 track is the better of the two. The music is beautifully woven through the mix’s surround channels producing some very deep bass, and ambient sounds where appropriate are also used to good advantage.
A featurette on The Tower of London finds actress Natalie Dormer touring the actual site of Anne’s imprisonment and also Anne's grave at St. Peter's. This vignette runs 6 minutes in nonanamorphic letterbox.
Another very brief featurette has interviews with various descendents of Henry VIII either through their Boleyn connection or through Henry’s sister Margaret. This 3-minute featurette is in 4:3.
The disc offers text biographies of all of the major actors for season two.
A step through photo gallery shows quite a few behind-the-scenes shots of the cast and crew at work on the series.
Also provided on the disc are the season premieres of This American Life and Californication.
DVD-ROM contents include additional series episodes from Dexter and Californication as well as registering to win an expenses paid trip to London.
The second season of The Tudors takes us through the end of the Boleyn reign, and the sumptuously produced series, while not getting the grand treatment on DVD, has an acceptable video and audio presentation.