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A Right Royal Rent Boy – The Tartiness of The Tudors

By Mark Simpson

The makers of BBC2’s The Tudors, know which side their Irish buns are buttered. They recently announced that Jonathan Rhys-Meyer’s Henry will not be allowed to get fat in the third series, currently in production.

In case anyone’s interested, the actual, historical Henry VIII became a big porker in later life and needed a crane to hoist him on to his poor horse. Quite rightly, the makers of The Tudors, now half-way through its second saucy series, have decided that Henry’s historical obesity is a little bit too proley for BBC 2. “We still want him to be appealing,” explained Morgan O’Sullivan, an executive producer. “We don’t want to destroy his good looks. An exact portrayal of Henry is not a factor that we think is important.”

No, what is important today is that HD Henry be shaggable. In TV’s TudorWorld, no king can expect to hold the loyalty of his subjects if he doesn’t look like he would serve them faithfully in the bedroom. In other words, TudorWorld is a lot like the one we live in. As Rhys-Meyers put it himself, actors ‘don’t get famous for being pug ugly, do they?’

They certainly don’t.  And I certainly don’t tune in to ‘The Tudors’ for the dodgy history, or the campy script (Henry to Thomas More, author of Utopia: ‘Your ideas are a bit… Utopian’). Nor, frankly, for Rhys-Meyer’s acting – though admittedly there is some enjoyment to be had in watching the wife-axing Pope-baiting founder of the Royal Navy and in fact England as we understand her today played as a young Captain Kirk with anger management issues.

No, the only thing I really want to see him do with his pouty face with that Billy Idol perma-sneer is snog. Oh, and spasm during those orgasmic close-ups. Which is fortunate, because both these things happen about every three minutes.

Maybe the Tudor thermostats were set too high, or maybe it’s those leather pants, but even when he’s not snogging or coming, he seems to be allergic to shirts. On the rare occasion he has to wear one he seems unable to button it up. Which is just as well, as the naughty lad would only stain it.

Yes, there are lots of comely, busty ladies in TudorWorld and their bodices keep ripping, and Jonathan keeps shtupping them. But the fact that they’re usually rather better actors than him just underlines the fact that HD Henry is the real sex-object in his sex scenes, whichever wench he’s deflowering. His tits and ass are always the first out and the last in, and the widescreen camera makes sure his body is always, very vulgarly, on display. In fact, Rhys Meyers’ looks more rent boy than royalty.  Maybe that’s why his King of England speaks – on the rare occasions when he doesn’t have his mouth full of wench – like an escort ordering in a posh restaurant. (Which he is – it’s called BBC2.)

Besides, the lovely young ladies in TudorWorld are outnumbered by the number of slutty young males in tights, every one sporting one of those cloney, immaculately trimmed Beckhamista beards no self-regarding metro can be seen without these days (Henry Cavill of course could wear a Yak on his chin and still be smoothly irresistible).

And while the occasional plain woman appears to be tolerated in TudorWorld, plain men who don’t happen to be smelly old Chancellors or Cardinals most definitely aren’t – and even they usually end up in The Tower. Even the ancient Holy Father, played by a surprisingly-still-alive Peter O’Toole, appears to have had more bad plastic surgery than Joan Rivers.

Unlike the bigger-budget, better-directed and scripted Rome, which in its Imperious second series almost succeeded in convincing you that its very trashiness and tartiness was probably the truest, most accurate thing about it – that Ancient Rome really was like this – The Tudors is just Footballer’s Wives in codpieces.

Or what is much the same thing, Footballers Wives for BBC2.

This essay is collected in  Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story

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13 thoughts on “A Right Royal Rent Boy – The Tartiness of The Tudors”

  1. Both the Tudors and Rome are made to entertain, not teach. Which is why in the U.S. they are on Showtime and HBO instead of the History Channel. If you want historical accuracy look elswhere. These shows are simply soap operas dressed up as period pieces & on that level they both succeed quite well.

  2. Well spotted Mr Quinn: It was Ray ‘I’m the daddy’ Winstone in a 2003 a Granada TV/Canadian Broadcasting, WGBH, Australian Broadcasting co-production.

    I didn’t see it myself, but it looks like it was cashing in on the gangster chic of the early 90s in the UK – Gay Ritchie was in his prime, back then.

    Funnily enough, Ray appeared in the movie Beowulf last year in which his proudly porky, pot-bellied body was rendered more, er, Rhys-Meyers, by CGI.

    By the way, ‘The Tudors’ which has an Irish Henry, was made in Ireland, by an Irish production company – primarily, it seems, for Showtime in the US, a country which of course has a large Irish-Catholic demographic. Perhaps that’s why it sometimes seems to take a rather romantic view of Catholicism.

  3. P Coderch: today’s Republicans really aren’t all that upscale(Sarah Palin: need I say more?), and your typical HBO viewer is far more likely to be an yuppie/techie Obama liberal who likes their more controversial shows like ‘Real Sex’, the great porn industry expose ‘Going Down in the Valley’, Larry David’s brilliant ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, and of course ‘The Sopranos’.

    Which reminds me: about five years ago there was another BBC ‘Henry’ bio. This Henry was allowed to get fat, only the actor playing him was trying his damnedest to turn him into a 16th Cen. Tony Soprano!

  4. Regarding Augustus: Seutonious, Plutarch, and other closet ‘Republicans’ engaged in an awful lot of frank defamation of the man who had neutered the Senate. Boinking his sister doesn’t seem consistent with the same man who sent Ovid into exile for his scandalous ‘Amors’. Indeed, with regard to that incident some critic remarked ‘Augustus had not a little in common with Oliver Cromwell’.

  5. Back in the early 70s, the BBC did a damn fine job with its (relatively) low budget ‘Six Wives of Henry VIII’ series. Keith Michel(?) was allowed to become as fat and gouty as Hoblein’s subject — in fact the famous horse-lowering incident was depicted — and as for his shaggability . . . they didn’t beat about the bush (no pun intended) in suggesting wedding night difficulties with Catherine Howard. Nor were his very real theological difficulties neglected: this ‘Defender of the Faith’ truly believed that he had placed his salvation in peril to secure the stability of his kingdom.

    The Henry series was followed by Glenda Jackson’s equally superb ‘Elizabeth R’. These two series, along with the 12 part dramatisation of Churchill’s ‘Marlborough, a Life’, set a standard for historical drama that hasn’t really been equaled until the recent John Adams series.

    Henry may be the most interesting political and religious figure of the Renaissance. He was, of course, the second son, and prior to Alfred’s death had actually considered taking Holy Orders and becoming a scholar-priest like his famous tutor (again, no pun!), Erasmus. The dispensation he received to ‘lay with his brother’s wife’ was granted, for 50,000 ducets, by the notorious Alexander VI, a.k.a. Roderigo Borgia. All Europe knew that Borgia had sired a child by his own daughter, Lucretia, and Henry was on sound theological ground in assuming this voluptuary pontiff had exceeded his authority and that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was indeed incestuous. But for the fact that the current pope, Leo X, was being held under house-arrest by Catherine’s nephew, the Emperor Karl, this most staunchly Catholic of princes would have obtained his divorce and history would have taken a remarkably different turn.

  6. Well, Mark, thanks for the compliment. Nice to see you still have some respect for me.

    I read “History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire” as well as Plutarch’s and Suetonius’ biographies of the Roman emperors as a youth, and Augustus is described as almost utterly vile with very few redeeming qualities. But you’re right about Augustus’ portrayal in “Rome”. So let me make an ammendment: they overemphasized his qualities to a hyperbolic degree, while desmphasizing his vileness to an extreme. For instance, when he becomes consul and makes that speech in the Senate, the show portrays him as being filled with confidence and assertveness. In reality, Suetonius in his “The Twelve Caesars” describes him as being trembling with anxiety and fear before the Senators. Then there is an episode that happened when he was 11. He gave one of his family rings to a slave so that he could clean it. The slave also worked the kitchen, and by an accidet he let the wring slip into the boiling oil. Well, the boy made the slave dip his hands inside the boiling oil to pick the ring as punishment, instead of throwing the oil away to pick it. What a nasty bastard.

    I guess the reason why Augustus was portrayed in such manner is because the show was made by HBO, a pay-per0view American channel that catters to a mostly upper middle-class, conservative audience which still values Republican values greatly. Showing Augustus raping little boys for fun, ordering the execution of his cousin and genociding wholesale populations just doesen’t make for good T.V. Yo be accurate, they should have portrayed him as less talented and deeply flawed – which he was. That would actually be more politically correct, since we live in an era when being vastly superior to common people in intellect, courage, fortitude and determination is extremely unpopular: you are not supposed to be that much better than average, because the greatness is too dangerous and generates too much instability.

  7. Uroskin: ‘inspiring’ in the way you found “Lock Stock” inspiring? Today’s Cantona would be a good and, er, substantial, choice for later Henry, but less so perhaps for young Henry. But I guess it all depends on which end you’re interested in. Of his reign, that is.

    P: Once again the breadth and detail of your reading impresses. I thought though that “Rome” did present Augustus as something of a cold and rather ill fish, even if they didn’t perhaps fill in all the details. But, yes, it is perplexing that today’s TV and film does tend to render the great men of history as either metrosexuals you would want to shag or decorate your home with, or unfathomable supermen that you would probably want to keep a wide berth from.

  8. Good post. As for “Rome”, they made the boy, Augustus, far more titanic than he really was. In reality, Augustus was a cowardly, cold, calculating mass murderer and genocidist – he ordered the ethnic cleansing of Bithinia using the excuse that they were all pirates – with no empathy for anyone. He deflowered his own sister when she was 12, and they had sex from that age on almost every day. During battles, he would sit in his tent writing poems about the cruelty of war and let his lieutenants risk their lives in his place, and then would enter Rome as a hero and take all the glory. It is rumored that he was raped by a drunk Marc Anthony when he was 17 and serving at Caesar’s side as optione. This is the reason why he would pursue the destruction of that man to the very end, forcing him to committ suicide with Cleopatra in Egypt. And speaking of the queen, apparently, she had to committ suicide because she failed to seduce him like she had done to Caesar and Marc Anthony. Besides his own sister, Augustus didn’t seem to feel lots of attraction for women. Sure, he married Livia, but it seems his marriage was more to maintain social appearances than because she loved her – he didn’t love anyone, not even himself. It’s interesting that, in current T.V shows and films, the great men of history are portrayed either as metrosexuals, as in the case with Henry, or as super-human titans even if they were short, ugly, cowardly and ignoble – Augustus was of short stature, of sickly health and had very little if any talents besides ruthless cunning.

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