The Tudors: Season Three Premiere

The Tudors reminds us that, like Islam and Judaism today, Christianity has had, and undoubtedly continues to have, its own fundamentalists, ideologues, and terrorists.

The Tudors

Airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET
Cast: Jonathan Rhys Meyers Annabelle Wallis, Max Von Sydow, Henry Cavill, Charlotte Salt, James Frain, Gerard McSorley, Sarah Bolger
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Season Three Premiere
Network: Showtime
US release date: 2009-04-05

The promotional poster for the third season of The Tudors, the one you've seen everywhere, features a broody Jonathan Rhys Meyers as King Henry VIII perched atop a throne constructed out of carefully positioned nubile and naked young men and women. It's an apt visual metaphor for the reign of Henry VIII as represented by Showtime full of illicit goings-on and considerable promiscuity of the king and his court. Here, King Henry's throne represents a kind of erotic tableaux of domination worthy of Sade, and demonstrates the prerogative presumed in the late Middle Ages of the King's total access to the bodies of his subjects.

Season Three of The Tudors offers plenty of salacious details. The first episode found King Henry marrying Jane Seymour (Annabelle Wallis), having dispatched Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) in the hopes of finally securing a male heir to the throne. That doesn't mean the king has stopped looking for his next wife; as he tells Jane near the end of the first episode, he's already "disappointed" that she's "not yet with child," and as we know, Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone) is off somewhere in the wings, waiting for her cue.

Henry's license isn't just about securing the Tudor line, though. It's also about sating his own estimable sexual desires. Newcomer Lady Ursula Misseldon (Charlotte Salt) quickly attracts his eye in the second episode (airing 12 April), and Henry wastes no time relieving Sir Francis Bryan (Alan Ban Sprang) of his mistress and making her the king's own.

That image of King Henry atop his fleshy throne, however, gestures to more than the sexual excess of the Tudor court. It gives visual form to the relationship between his power and his capacity to suppress and exploit his subjects. Here, the sumptuousness of Henry's dress is indicative of his supremacy, while the naked bodies of his subjects show their penury and submission.

This relationship between king and subjects is the driving concern of Season Three, and marks a welcome departure from the show's previous focus on the personal drives and desires of Henry VIII. At the beginning of this season's second episode, he's confined to bed rest because of the flare up of an old jousting wound in his upper thigh. Juxtaposed to his muscled and so very white body is an angry red suppurating ulcer on his leg. In the Middle Ages, of course, the King was considered the direct embodiment of the State, and so the health of his body represented the health of the nation. Henry's wound, festering from within, denotes s a similar disturbance in the state of England.

That disturbance is the commoners' response to the King's "Reformation," masterminded by Henry's chief minister Thomas Cromwell (James Frain), that is, his establishment of the Anglican Church and subsequent desecration of the Catholic abbeys and monasteries of England. Led by Robert Aske (Gerard McSorley), the peasantry of the Northern provinces has taken up arms in open rebellion against the King. Though the commoners' grievances include disgruntlement with the King's taxation policies and manipulation of Parliament, their rebellion is primarily driven by anger over the persecution of their religious practices and principles.

The rebellion is received sympathetically by the Papacy and in particular by Cardinal Von Waldburg (Max Von Sydow), who ordains the English priest Reginald Pole (Mark Hildreth) a Cardinal and sends him to solicit financial and mercenary support from Catholics in France, Spain, and the Low Countries. Such religious fundamentalisms (the Protestants across England and Europe accused the Catholics of idolatry and mysticism, while the Catholics insisted the Protestants were heretics) are here shown to be central to state and inter-state politics.

It hardly needs pointing out that this disturbance connects as well to global struggles today. Both the rebels and their mercenaries in their wildcat attacks on the gentry, as well as King Henry's minions' destruction of Catholic properties, might be easily tagged as "terrorists."

The peasant rebels, who dub their mission the "Pilgrimage of Grace," will eventually become the Christian sect, the "Pilgrims," persecuted throughout Europe and driven to the American colonies. In its engagement with this historical rebellion, The Tudors reminds us that, like Islam and Judaism today, Christianity has had, and undoubtedly continues to have, its own fundamentalists, ideologues, and terrorists.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.