TV review: Deja vu strikes in Tudors' return

Last updated 11:45 24/06/2008

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Are we all Tudored-out yet? TV and the movies seem to be hurling more Plantagenets, pontiffs, cardinals and schisms at us than we know what to do with.

There have been two recent Elizabeth I spectaculars, Ray Winstone doing an enviably common Henry VIII, a frightful adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl, and of course, Sunday's The Tudors, which returned to TV One this week for its second season.

And didn't your heart just sink when you realised that after all those histrionics last season, we're still only up to Anne Boleyn, wife No 2 of six - and he hasn't even married her yet.

It's a safe bet that this admittedly very well made series will again be consigned to the late-night slot as viewers balk at having to sit through the, now almost tiresomely familiar, story yet again.

The Other Boleyn Girl was so fresh in our minds that during last Sunday night's episode we'd have all cried out, "Oh, the shirt scene again!"

While exclamations of, "Oh-oh, there's the court musician, look out!" will have gone up and down the country. Too, too much of a good - but not that good - thing.

For those who only dimly remember their Jean Plaidy novels from childhood, they're all a useful catchup on how and why church and state skirmished bloodily centuries ago.

The best part of this series is the passion and steeliness with which the clergy and politicians are played.

Jeremy Northam is asterling Thomas More, and James Frain, a man born with a casting-couch villain's face, is the best, subtlest Thomas Cromwell in recent memory.

Past versions have had the pair crabbed and desiccated, and well into middle age. It's refreshing to see virile, early- middle-aged blokes in the role. After all, how do we know they weren't?

And if you can top Peter O'Toole as the Pope, I'd like to know with whom.

Maria Doyle Kennedy as Catherine of Aragon gave an unusually touching portrayal, whereas this Anne Boleyn - played by Natalie Dormer with a snub-snouted smugness that's really quite slappable - is presented not as the usually high- spirited young girl whose head is fatally turned, but as a selfish, spoilt brat who has it coming to her.

The great tedium of most of the new adaptations of this fascinating corner of history is that they seem to compete to see who can cram the most bonking in between each ad break.

Certainly, from our modern appreciation of such matters, Henry VIII's story was all about bonking - inasmuch as it took his fancy and led, or failed to lead to begetting.

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The politics arose almost exclusively from Henry's appetites. But here he is portrayed adamantly as a fetching lover, which seems presumptuous in the extreme.

From his conduct outside the bedchamber, wouldn't you take him for rather a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am sort of guy?

The love scenes, veering from the steamy to the candle-flickeringly romantic, have been rather sickening.

Though not nearly as sickening as the summary justice of the era.

This Sunday's punishment of the cook who - paid by plotters - poisoned half the clergy, was graphically portrayed in a series of screams as he was lowered slowly into boiling water. Hideous, but pertinent to be reminded of the routine cruelty of the era.

Alas and alack, if they ever get as far as Anne of Cleves, most of us will be happily ensconced in Prime's great fun Mad Men by then.

Earlier on Sunday, at 7.30pm, TV2's new gameshow, Dare to Win debuted. It should, under the Fair Trading Act, be called Dare To Make A Prize Prat Of Yourself On TV In Order To Win A Prize It Would Be Much Easier To Just Buy For Yourself Down At Harvey Norman.

But that's not a very snappy title.

Having sat through the gurning and squeaking of four women going to ridiculous lengths - like memorising 50 Star Wars characters - just to win a TV set or new oven each, this reviewer was incredulous.

How can a TV set or a new oven be worth wasting all that brain power and energy over? Let alone on national TV in front of one's peers, who acquire such goods the normal way, with a credit card or on HP.

The week these women spent wearing silly wigs and giggling - a lot - while learning to tell their Wookies from their Yodas might have been used to cram basic Mandarin, or read all of War and Peace.

Even a week spent clearing out the garage would have been preferable to this utterly pointless humiliation.

Dare to Win actually makes those earlier game shows, in which people accepted dares to eat bush insects and jump out of helicopters, seem quite civilised and dignified.

And as the recession deepens, contestants may be induced to make dolts of themselves for mere car stereos and the odd kitchen whiz, so the producers of this rubbish can make insulting TV for even less money.

A nastily consoling thought is that if anyone had offered up such nonsense as entertainment in Henry Tudor's court, he'd have had the water at a nice rolling boil by now.

- The Dominion Post

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