I watched the series finale of The Tudors last night, and while I already discussed a lot of my feelings about the show last week, I did want to talk a little bit about the last hour of this outstanding four-season historical drama on Showtime.
Series creator Michael Hirst discussed the last episode in a brief segment after the credits, mentioning that he wanted to end the show on a balanced note, which is why we didn’t actually see Henry’s death. Hirst’s rationale was that if Henry simply died, his character would be remembered for the cruelties and excesses alone. As I mentioned in my last post, there has been little to like about Henry this season. He’s been brutal, and I agree that if he would have just died, with no reflection on his past deeds, it would have seemed flat. Kudos to Hirst for realizing this.
Instead, Hirst said he tried to elevate the episode, and I believe he succeeded in this goal. The dream sequences with the white horse were beautifully filmed, and the use of young Henry was perfectly orchestrated to evoke authentic sympathy for a man who was undoubtedly cruel, but also complex and very conflicted in his life. The scenes in which former wives appeared, particularly Anne Boleyn, served as a reminder that Henry was obviously a man of great passion, often ruled by emotions and therefore fallible in life and love.
As I mentioned before, this show was filled with outstanding actors. In this final hour, the meeting between Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk (played by Henry Cavill) and Henry VIII (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was genuinely touching. What a sad turn the Duke’s health took – sad for his mistress who could not morn him in public and deeply sad for Henry, his lifelong friend who mistakenly believed he had the divine power to will him back to health.
The final montage of happy scenes from the show was effective in two ways. First it reminded me of how gorgeous Rhys Meyers is without all of that aging makeup. Second, it allowed the audience to rethink his character. Was he a true villain? Was he a misunderstood monarch? Or was he just a man with too much power and influence for his own good, capable of extreme cruelty but also pure love? Maybe the lesson is that he was all of these things.
I often wonder, in 500 years, how history will portray current heads of state. Who will be revered? Who will be forgotten? Who will be hated? This leads me to the other lesson of The Tudors, one about the passing of time and history, which Henry vocalized in this scene:
Henry: “What loss, your Grace, is to man most irrecoverable?”
Charles Brandon: “His virtue.”
Henry: “No, for by his actions he may redeem his virtue.”
Charles Brandon: “Then his honor.”
Henry: “No, for again, he may find the means to recover it, even as a man recovers some fortune he has lost.”
Charles Brandon: “Then I cannot say your majesty.”
Henry: “Time, your Grace. Of all losses, time is the most irrecoverable for it can never be redeemed.”