It’s clear that cable networks (FX, HBO, Showtime, etc.) have managed to steam past network TV. 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 people of England’s suffering seems less important to The King who is busy demanding the church annul his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon. While 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 second season doesn’t skip a beat picking up where season one left off. The King, determined to have an annulment despite the Catholic Church’s refusal, makes himself the head of the Church of England. Meanwhile, Anne Boleyn feels threatened by the Queen’s presence and demands Henry remove Catherine from their home. Of course, Anne Boleyn has other troubles to worry about when she gives birth to a daughter Elizabeth, instead of a son.
When Henry marries Anne, the Church refuses to acknowledge it as legitimate and Henry removes anyone who gets in his way. Meanwhile, Thomas Cromwell (James Frain) is busy spreading the English Reformation, creating a greater divide between the Catholic Church and the Church of England. This season sees the rise of Anne Boleyn to the position of King Henry’s wife, to a sentenced woman who cannot bare a son or keep the King’s affection. The King has his sights set on yet another woman, Jane Seymour (Anita Briem) who he hopes will bare him a son and be seen as his true wife. The dark, powerful ending of the season sees the king attempting to start anew, but at a tragic cost.
The series costume design, production design, score, 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. Again, Meyers performance here is his best, and Dormer’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn is heightened here. Peter O’Toole as Pope Paul III was stellar. With incredible acting, writing and enough dramatic history to work with, it’s easy to see why “The Tudors” remains a cable favorite.
Set includes all ten episodes of season 2.
(Tudors Game: www.whothetudorareyou.com
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: “The Tower of London”
Natalie Dormer and historian Tom Stammers visit The Tower of London where Anne Boleyn was sentenced to death to discuss Anne’s time spent there. They discuss Anne’s first visit to the Towers of London and her last and discuss comparisons between the two. They also visit the rooms inside the tower and the tower grounds to get a better understanding of what Boleyn was going through. They also visit St. Peters where Anne was put to rest.
“Descendants of Henry”
A more lighthearted feature, “Descendants of Henry” has a genealogist track down some present day descendants of King Henry. The descendants try to figure out how they’re related through the long, long lineage. Some seem more interested than others in this short documentary.
Also included in this Season 2 set of “The Tudors” are several episodes of other Showtime series including: Premiere episode of “This American Life: Season 2” and the Premiere episode of “Californication: Season 2” Additional features are available on PC including: Premiere episode of “Dexter: Season 3”, the first two episodes of “United States of Tara” and more.
There is also a mini written biographies of actors from “The Tudors”, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery and a short advertisement to win a trip to Ireland.
Final Thoughts: "The Tudors" offers stellar performances, marvelous visuals and compelling, intense historical drama. 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. Recommended.