I've discussed in past reviews of cable shows how the cable networks (FX, HBO, Showtime, etc.) have managed to steam past network TV. This was once again confirmed the night before this review, where the only award for a network series went to Tina Fey for "30 Rock". Networks like Showtime have also gained a larger audience due to shows like "The Tudors", a mildly controversial drama that did well for the network both in terms of the series ratings (the series was the highest-rated Showtime debut in three years) and another instance of the network's profile raising.
The series stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("Match Point") as King Henry VIII, an incredibly powerful ruler who finds that with great power comes great conflict. As the series begins, Henry prepares for war with France, only to find battle averted by the decision to act diplomatically instead of with force. However, things turn sour at home when he finds out that Elizabeth Blount (Ruta Gedmintas), the lady-in-waiting to his Queen, Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy), is pregnant.
The King also falls for the young Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) and pushes for a divorce - despite protests from his wife and many others - from Catherine of Aragon, who he continues to grow more distant from as the series progresses. The show does take some liberties with history, but while I didn't feel that these elements veered too heavily for comfort from historical accuracy, the drama of this era doesn't exactly need much of a boost.
The series does succeed in its casting, as while I've never been greatly impressed with Meyers, he does surprise with a fierce, bold performance that's unlike anything I've seen from the actor. Also terrific in supporting performances are Sam Neill (as Cardnal Wosley), Dormer and Kennedy. The film's costume design, production design, cinematography and other tech credits are all outstanding, showing that, as cable television becomes a more powerful industry and ratings turn higher and higher, the shows within have a greater array of resources and money at their disposal.
The set includes all 10 episodes of the first season.
VIDEO: "The Tudors" is presented by Paramount in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is fine, but not remarkable. Sharpness and detail are mostly terrific, but while scenes are generally crisp, the picture can sometimes slip into mild softness. Some slight instances of artifacting are occasionally seen, as are a few minor moments of edge enhancement. Colors remained rich and bold, and flesh tones generally looked natural.
SOUND: The show's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is reasonably good, and about what one might expect from this kind of program. While surrounds do kick in here-and-there, the majority of the audio is spread nicely across the front speakers. Audio quality is fine, with crisp dialogue and score.
EXTRAS: A commentary by the show's advisor or creator or cast on one or more episodes would have been terrific, but unfortunately isn't included. What is here is pretty good, though: we do get a trio of free episodes for other shows ("This American Life", "Penn and Teller BS" and "Californication", "Dexter"), as well as featurettes on the show's production, costume design and locations in London.
Final Thoughts: "The Tudors" offers stellar performances, marvelous visuals and compelling, intense historical drama. While it may not be one of the strongest new offerings from cable programming in recent years, that's still saying something, given how outstanding many new cable shows have been. This is definitely a series worth looking into for fans of historical dramas. The DVD presentation offers satisfactory video quality, fine audio and a few reasonably good extras.