Review

More comes into play on 'The Tudors'

Ellen Gray
Philadelphia Daily News (MCT)

THE TUDORS

9 p.m. EDT Sunday

Showtime

In its first season, Showtime's "The Tudors" so often strayed into romantic fantasy that I developed one of my own.

In my version of the oft-told tale of the king who took six wives, Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) comes to his senses and finds his way back into the arms of Wife No. 1, Katharine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy).

Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) never becomes queen and so gets to keep her head.

Not that Anne's head should much concern anyone who met her in "The Tudors," which last season mostly painted her as a pouty social climber with a nasty streak.

Kennedy, though, endowed Katherine with so much more than history generally has: mature sexiness, undeniable magnificence. The man who once loved her might have been a king worth knowing, though Meyers' Henry still seems too petulant and too pretty for the job.

But then as Season 2 opens Sunday, the romance of "The Tudors" is pretty much over.

This is a season of politics and principles, of might and martyrdom. If you're here just for the sex, you're likely to be disappointed, unless the trysts of relatively minor characters interest you as much as Henry's.

The king, more eager than ever to marry the woman he's sure can produce a son, is pushing hard for the recognition of his supremacy over the church in England, setting in motion a train of events that can't help but overshadow everything, including Henry's prodigious sex life.

Katherine is rapidly running out of cards - though Kennedy still has a few scenes left to play - so it looks as if this season, the king's most intriguing opponent may be one with whom he never comes face to face: Pope Paul III.

In bringing Peter O'Toole aboard to play the pontiff, "Tudors" creator Michael Hirst fudged history just a little: Though Paul did do many of the things attributed to him in the five episodes from Season 2 I've seen, it was his predecessor, Clement VII, who was pope at the time England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and Henry and Anne married.

Looking into O'Toole's steely blues, you're probably not going to care.

"What of this girl, this putane, the king's whore?" he demands at one point, irritated that the English king's libido is proving such a headache to his church. "Why doesn't someone just get rid of her?"

Let's just say that, like Henry, he's used to being listened to.

And he's not the only one who thinks poison's as good a method as any for the removal of political obstacles. So keep an eye on the soup.

Henry's obsession has also put him on a collision course with his old friend and mentor, Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam), whose attempts to avoid offending either the king or his own conscience can only become more futile as the king's new friends do whatever it takes to root out the old ones.

Meyers, still too chiseled for a role that seems to cry out for heft, continues to play the king as a monster in the making - Tony Soprano-light, if you will.

And Dormer, while never very compelling as a spider, is more than up to the lesser demands of playing the fly caught in a web not of her design.

The arc of this season is no doubt shaped like the sweep of the sword that sooner or later is going to sever Anne's head from her shoulders, but it's More, whose faith ultimately outweighs his pragmatism, who's the real figure of romance.

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