I should probably mention right up front that I’m writing this immediately following my bachelorette party, so if this at any point seems hazy or odd, sorry about that, it’s the Pinot talking. Or the fact that I’m starting this a good two hours later than usual. Sorry!
The subtitles tell us this is based on a true story.
We open on a woman’s skirt trailing through the grass, then get a glimpse of the back of her head, which sports a curly late-18th century hairdo. She approaches her girlfriends with a man’s tricorn hat in one hand, and goes from girl to girl, each one pulling a name out of the hat that corresponds to one of the eager young aristocratic gentlemen stripping off their jackets and warming up on the grass. The young woman we started with is the last to pick, and she turns so we can see that she’s quite fresh-faced and lovely. She’s picked Charles Grey out of the hat and tells him not to let her down, she’s got 20 guineas riding on him. That was a pretty huge bet at the time. He cheekily tells her she should double it and joins the other gentlemen, who are lining up for a race. Our heroine—Georgiana—leads the girls to a better vantage point, and the helpful subtitles return to tell us this is the Althorpe Estate in England (I think the accents and titles gave that away, but thanks anyway, subtitles). The year is 1774.
In Winchester’s square, pigs are roasting, jugglers and tumblers and puppeteers are performing, and criminals are being horribly mutilated for the enjoyment of the crowd. Aliena and Richard wander in just as a thief is having his hands cut off. The crowd roars as they’re sprayed with blood. Man, Aliena’s really not looking too good, which is appropriate, all things considered. She’s hollow-cheeked, tanned, and heavy-eyed. Either Hayley Atwell went on a crash diet for a while right before filming this part, or the makeup artists did a really good job on her. There’s something different about her—a certain hardened look. Well done, Hayley. I think she’s starting to grow on me.
Previously on the Tudors: Henry’s uncle/ambassador was turned into a pincushion by the French, which gave Henry the excuse to declare war. Wolsey and More pushed a treaty with France (and the rest of Europe) instead, using Henry’s daughter, Mary, as a bargaining chip. Henry knocked up Bessie Blount. Buckingham came up with a really, really stupid plan.
Credits! Henry VOs that we only know the end of any story—to get to the heart of it, you have to go back to the beginning. Lots of shots of women having their clothes ripped off, soldiers, sex, Henry Cavill, sexy Anne Boleyn, pious Katherine, and some menacing swords being drawn. And many knowing looks.
I’m going to be totally honest here: I went into this show expecting it to suck. So, I guess I can’t say I was disappointed.
Now, I’ve been a fan of Tudor history—and particularly the history of Henry’s wives—for quite a number of years. I inhaled Alison Weir’s book the Six Wives of Henry VIII, and I’ve watched every other Henry VIII movie I could get my hands on, from Anne of the Thousand Days to Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII to the incredibly awful Private Lives of Henry VIII. I’ve seen lots of Henrys and I definitely have my favorites, as well as my not-so-favorites. So, when I heard that Showtime was going to do a series on the famed dynasty, I was cautiously optimistic. I was spoiled, then, after watching Rome and Deadwood and seeing that it was, in fact, possible to do a really good historical drama. Sure, facts get bent, but the story and acting are so good you really don’t care. I was prepared to make some of the same concessions here. I was not prepared to accept Jonathan Rhys Myers as Henry VIII.
Pillars of the Earth, how I have missed thee. I read this book several years ago, but it’s always stood out in my mind, for a few reasons. First, it was one of the first really “adult” books I ever read (and by “adult”, I mean book for adults, not that this is porn. Although at times, it practically is). I was 13 when I picked this novel up, at the suggestion of my mother. I can only assume that she forgot the rather graphic rape scene that figures prominently in the story. And the many less graphic but still mind-warping and paranoia-creating rape scenes that follow. That’s the other reason I remember this book quite well. I don’t think I’ll recommend it to any 13-year-old girls I know. However, once you get past that part (or skip it, as I’ve done on subsequent readings), it’s a really good book, which I’ve enjoyed numerous times over the years and yearned to see on screen somewhere. So when I heard that it was finally being turned into a 10-part miniseries starring some of my favorite British Isles actors, I raced to add Starz to our cable package for the duration of the series. I figured seeing Al-freaking-Swearengen as Bishop Waleran (AWESOME casting) and Matthew McFayden as Prior Philip alone was worth the $10 a month I’ll be shelling out for the next eight weeks or so. Plus, as an added bonus, they threw Rufus Sewell in as Tom Builder, upping my excited squealing to deafening levels. Nice to see Rufus finally playing a good guy. If they’d cast James Frain, I think my brain would have just melted.