Review: The Tudors

The Tudors

In the US: Showtime, Sundays, 10pm ET/PT

In the UK: Not yet acquired for some reason

There are all sorts of debates in historical circles about what constitutes history. While most historical education dwells on dates of battles, treaties, coronations and so on, is that really what history is about? Does that undervalue women’s contributions, for instance? What about the history of small things like the food we eat or how we actually lived?

TV networks such as BBC, HBO and Showtime have all decided that a very important part of history is being overlooked. With shows such as Rome and now The Tudors, they’ve attempted to redress the balance. They want us to remember the history of shagging.

The Plot

The Tudors focuses on the life and romances of the young King Henry VIII. The ten one-hour episodes take a look at the often overlooked early political relationships as well as Henry’s trysts with such notable women as Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. The series is shot on location in Ireland. Michael Hirst (Elizabeth) is the series creator, writer, and executive producer.

Is it any good?

The Tudors
stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII. Yes, you know, portly old Henry VIII, composer of Greensleeves, mass wife divorcer and murderer, establisher of the Church of England, et al.

Except this is young Henry and his early exploits, for which we should read “attempts to establish pan-European peace and shag a lot”. Myers, whose Irish accent can’t stand being hidden for more than a minute so re-emerges at the slightest prompting, depicts him as a lover, intellectual and Real Tennis player, who likes to shag a lot.

Did I mention there’s a lot of shagging?

Actually, there’s not much shagging. I’m just messing. It just seems like it when all you’re waiting for is the founding of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the dissolution of the monasteries.

I have no idea just how historically authentic The Tudors is, thanks to a GCSE History education that bypassed the years between 1066 and 1720, although 85% is apparently the figure to aim for. Certainly, it makes the whole Tudor period seem a whole lot more interesting than constant Catholic burning and you have to admire a show that kills off Sean Pertwee in the first few minutes. It also has a great cast, with a whole host of heavyweights like Sam Neill (Cardinal Wolsey) and Jeremy Northam (Sir Thomas More) wading in to bring gravitas to proceedings.

As popular history goes, this is one of the better shows, but I suspect it’ll have more than a few historians crying into their giant pillows. One to watch, even if a Simon Schama hand-wave show feels too much like book learning.

Here’s a YouTube trailer that gives a great big explanation of the show and has clips. Very interesting.


Jonathan Rhys Meyers (King Henry VIII)

Sam Neill (Cardinal Thomas Wolsey)

Callum Blue (Knivert)

Henry Cavill (Charles Brandon)

Henry Czerny (Norfolk)

Natalie Dormer (Anne Boleyn)

Maria Doyle Kennedy (Queen Katherine)

Jeremy Northam (Sir Thomas More)


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.