Television Series Review: “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII”

81uwnQbeXvL._SY445_Many actors and actresses have portrayed the lives of Henry VIII and his six wives in modern films and dramas. When asking Tudor nerds which Henry VIII stood out the most, the most popular response is Keith Michell in the 1970s BBC series, “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII.” I had not heard about this series until I started “Adventures of a Tudor Nerd.” Many people have wanted me to watch the series solely for the performance of Keith Michell, so when a coworker allowed me to borrow her DVD copy of the series, I finally decided it was time to tackle this legendary series.

For those unfamiliar with the older Tudor dramas like this series, it should be noted that the focus is not on sex or bloody battles but on the relationships between Henry and his six wives. Therefore, the costumes and the scenery take a step back in quality that one would expect when compared with modern dramas. I think the English brides’ outfits are well done, but the native gowns for Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves felt a bit off for me.

Keith Michell plays the titular king, but I will discuss his performance later. I want to look at the actresses who played Henry’s six wives. Each episode focuses on each wife’s story, how they became his wife, and how their story ended.

We begin with Katherine of Aragon, played by Annette Crosbie, who was the wife of Prince Arthur, but when he died, Katherine struggled to survive in a foreign land until it was decided that she would marry her former husband’s brother, Henry VIII. The couple seems to be in love until Katherine cannot deliver a son for the king, so he decides it’s time for a divorce, which we call The Great Matter. With Katherine out of royal favor, it is time for Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, played by Dorothy Tutin, to make her appearance. When it comes to Anne Boleyn’s performances, I don’t know if I like Tutin’s portrayal; it just rubbed me the wrong way.

My favorite episode of this series was Jane Seymour, played by Anne Stallybrass, who shows a more complex side to Jane’s story. We see her interacting with the Seymour family and her desire to reunite Henry VIII and his daughter Mary. The way the episode was structured with Jane on her death bed and witnessing flashbacks to her time with Henry VIII, the issue of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the birth of her beloved son Edward. With Jane’s death, we see the more human side of Henry as he is in deep mourning for his beloved queen.

It would be several years until he married again to Anne of Cleves to secure a German Protestant alliance. Anne of Cleves, played by Elvi Hale, is a young woman of average looks and very little money who wants to learn everything she can about England. I like how we are introduced to Hans Holbein in this episode and to see how Anne felt about her marriage and ultimate divorce from Henry VIII.

With the divorce of Anne of Cleves settled, Henry VIII turned his gaze on the young Catherine Howard, played by Angela Pleasence. Catherine is young, naive, and only concerned about being queen and having men fawn over her. It was interesting to see Catherine Howard as a nursemaid to the King and how angry he was with her uncle after her execution. Finally, we are introduced to Henry’s final wife, the devout reformer Catherine Parr, played by Rosalie Crutchley. We witness the end of the King’s reign and the rise of the Seymour family to help the young king Edward VI.

Of course, these stories could not be told without side characters like Thomas Wolsey, Thomas, and Edward Seymour, King Henry VII, Eustace Chapuys, Jane Boleyn, and Will Somers. I was a little surprised that they included torture scenes for Anne Askew and Mark Smeaton, especially since they did not show the execution scenes for Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Several small Easter eggs for Tudor fans sprinkled in are quite delightful to discover.

Now, it’s time to discuss the big guy, King Henry VIII, played masterfully by Keith Michell. Before watching this drama, I was only familiar with Keith Michell from his performances in Murder She Wrote and the episodes I would watch with my mom. We begin with Henry as a young king enchanted with Katherine of Aragon. They are madly in love, and it is hard to believe they would ever separate, but they eventually do when Anne Boleyn catches his eye.

Throughout this entire series, we see Michell’s acting range through the rapid emotional change of the king. One minute he could be lovey-dovey, the next raging mad, and then bawling his eyes out. What impressed me the most about Michell’s performance was how we saw Henry VIII’s size and shape change in each episode. As Tudor fans, we have screamed at the TV when we see modern adaptations of Henry VIII that do not meet our standards for what older Henry should look like. Michell exceeds all expectations and gives his audience one of the most believable King Henry VIII performances in modern history.

Overall, I found this a decent show where the political and romantic drama of the reign of King Henry VIII shines through the screen. The queens and the counselors did take a back seat to the titular king, but I did not mind that. If you want to watch a legendary series about the reign of King Henry VIII that does not have the sex and scandals of a modern drama, I highly recommend you watch the BBC series, “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII,” starring Keith Michell.

Casting Source:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066714/?ref_=tt_mv_close

Television Series Review: “Becoming Elizabeth”

MV5BZjYxNWQxMzctZjA2MC00ZTkxLTg4MTQtMDE3M2E3YTE5MzFhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM1MTE1NDMx._V1_FMjpg_UX1000_The year is 1547, and the infamous King Henry VIII is dead. The throne is left to his young son Edward VI while his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth wait in the wing. Without their powerful father to look after their well-being, his children must navigate the tumultuous Tudor court with powerful men who desire to use them as mere pawns in their game to influence how England is ruled. Throw in some romantic drama and the ever-changing religious landscape with the clash between Protestants and Catholics. This is the premise of the latest Tudor drama on Starz, “Becoming Elizabeth,” which follows the titular Princess Elizabeth Tudor during the reign of the third Tudor king.

Before we begin, I want to provide a little context before I dive into this review. As many of you know, I am incredibly picky about Tudor dramas; shocker, I know. I will watch trailers for new dramas, but after Reign (which, after watching the show for five minutes, I had to turn it off because of the costume design), I have been highly wary about committing to sitting down each week to watch a new show about historical figures I know pretty well.

The story of Princess Elizabeth is what got me interested in studying history after reading The Royal Diaries book series, so when I heard about this series, I wanted to know more. When I first saw the trailer for “Becoming Elizabeth, ” I decided to take the plunge and watch the first episode, which turned into watching every episode every Sunday.

Now let’s get to my thoughts about the series “Becoming Elizabeth.” I will be discussing the plot points of this series, so if you have not watched this show before reading this review, I would highly recommend you do.

There are a few aspects that I want to touch on before we take a deeper dive into this series, which have to do with the settings, costumes, music, and other details that will delight Tudor nerds. The location of “Becoming Elizabeth” is spot on, immersing the audience in Tudor England, which includes using candles for lighting instead of torches (which was a thrilling addition). I congratulate the costume and make-up crew from this drama as they are the best replications of Tudor gowns and outfits I have ever seen in a Tudor drama. They used the Tudor portraits of the time to replicate specific dresses and jewelry used in the show (including the famous “B” necklace most associated with Anne Boleyn) was a lovely and thoughtful touch. The only exception was the lead women’s riding gowns in this series. I did not like that they rode astride and had pants under their skirts. Let them ride side saddle and wear the same dresses they do at court but in those brown and green tones.

The little touches like having servants sleeping in the rooms of the royalty/ nobility and the masques to show significant events were viewed at court were nice touches for Tudor nerds. I also appreciated the small nods in the dialogue to elements that those who know Tudor history would understand, like the Queen’s jewels and the foreshadowing of Edward VI’s dog. Finally, the music in this show was decent, but some soundtracks felt a tad too modern and took away from the whole escapism element you want in a historical drama.

Now, let’s get into the most critical points of this show: the acting, the actors, and the plot points.

becoming-elizabeth-tudors-1655065913770The cast of “Becoming Elizabeth” is a plethora of talented actors and actresses who remarkably bring the treacherous Tudor court to life. The titular role of Princess Elizabeth was played by Alicia von Rittberg, who portrays the young woman’s naivety and eventual strength in love and court politics. Oliver Zetterstrom is the young King Edward VI who struggles to find his identity as a reformer king while navigating the drama of his court and Lord Protectors. Finally, we have Romola Garai, who revolutionized how Princess Mary Tudor was portrayed on television. Garai gives the audience a more sympathetic and vibrant woman trying to hold her family together while defiantly standing up for her Catholic faith in a Protestant court.

A story like this would not be complete without a group of star-studded actors and actresses to help the trio of Tudor heirs shine. We have the vivacious Catherine Parr, played by Jessica Rayne, and her fourth husband, the sly Thomas Seymour, played by Tom Cullen, Thomas’ brother, and Edward VI’s first Lord Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset is played by John Heffernan. We also have the Grey family, led by Henry Grey, played by Leo Bill, and the shy and studious Lady Jane Grey, played by Bella Ramsey. Finally, we have the Dudley family with the ambitious John Dudley, played by Jamie Parker, and the youthful Robert Dudley, played by Jamie Blackley. Along with the prominent families, we have Kat Ashley, the loyal servant to Princess Elizabeth, played by Alexandra Gilbreath, and the Spanish soldier Pedro who helps guide Princess Mary, played by Ekow Quartey. The interactions between this cast are so believable and passionately performed that it feels like you have been transported into the 16th century in the reign of King Edward VI.

We begin this series with the death of King Henry VIII. Prince Edward is now King Edward VI, and he and his sisters must learn to live without their infamous father. Mary goes to her own home while Elizabeth joins the household of Catherine Parr and her new husband (the man she truly loves), Thomas Seymour. While Mary and Edward VI argue vehemently over the matters of religion, Catholics vs. Protestants, Elizabeth navigates the unusual attention that Thomas Seymour is giving the young princess as she wonders if this is true love or something more sinister.

In addition to Princess Elizabeth, Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour welcome the daughter of Henry Grey, Lady Jane Grey, to their household. Elizabeth and Jane do not seem to get along very well, and it feels like the only ones that Elizabeth can turn to when times get rough are Kat Ashley and the caring Robert Dudley. Mary may seem alone, but Pedro, a man who was supposed to spy on the Catholic princess, becomes her friend and ally. Unfortunately for Edward, he is stuck between factions of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley as they fight to influence the young king and the direction he wants to take his kingdom. It was a time of rebellions, betrayals, executions, and moments behind closed doors that would forever shape these three Tudor heirs, especially Elizabeth Tudor.

ELI1_060521_0739_a_1900x1500While most of the storylines are engaging, and I found them rather enjoyable, one got under my skin: the intimate relationship between Princess Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour. Now I know it was the central storyline for the first half of this show, but it made my skin crawl. I know that Tom Cullen has discussed this issue with fans, and I think his portrayal of Thomas is spectacular. My problem is with Princess Elizabeth and how she goes along with the relationship to the point of no return. I feel like Princess Elizabeth was much stronger than how she was portrayed during those moments in the show, and she would have turned Thomas down, knowing the false allegations against her mother, Anne Boleyn. I do not think she slept with Thomas Seymour, but I do believe there were elements of flirting between the two, which could have been seen as them having an intimate relationship.

The creator of “Becoming Elizabeth,” Anya Reiss, has done a magnificent job telling the Tudor dynasty’s tale after Henry VIII’s death. The cast and crew are spectacular, the gowns and costumes are gorgeous, and there are so many Easter eggs that Tudor nerds will geek over. There will be moments that will make you laugh, cry, want to throw a book at your TV or laptop, and breathe a sigh of relief. I may not have seen many Tudor dramas in the past, but this is far and away one of my favorite shows about the 16th century. I hope we will get a second season of “Becoming Elizabeth,”, especially with how they closed the finale.

What are your opinions about “Becoming Elizabeth,” and who is your favorite character from this Tudor drama?

Sources for Images and Cast Information:

https://www.glamour.com/story/becoming-elizabeth-on-starz-everything-we-know-about-the-british-period-drama

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11444366/