It’s Not TV

Last night, I have to say, was a heck of a night of television — the second-to-last episode of The Sopranos (EVER, as the trailer for next’s week’s episode informed us, in case we hadn’t been paying attention), followed by the second-to-last episode of the first season of The Tudors. The two episodes make for an interesting pairing; one could imagine Melfi’s dawning awareness of the manipulative uses of talk therapy made by the sociopath just as easily coming from Thomas More, with the substitution of piety for psychoanalysis.

R. and I just started watching The Tudors this last week, however, and went on a fairly minor binge, watching the re-airings of season one’s first eight episodes over the course of the week, leading up to last night’s episode nine. There are some fairly significant tinkerings with the history involved in the series, not least some key deaths that are shifted around for narrative effect. Henry Fitzroy, for instance, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, died when he was 17, but the series kills him off as a toddler. I get the dramatic impact there: just at the point at which Henry is rolling out his “God is punishing me for having married my brother’s wife” argument, his one acknowledged son dies, a harbinger of the plague that follows. But others of the changes are less easily understood. The series’s Margaret Tudor, for instance, dies of consumption in 1533ish (after having killed her first husband, the king of Portugal, and remarried Charles Brandon, the first duke of Somerset) — when, in fact, it was Mary Tudor who married Somerset and died in 1533; Margaret Tudor married James IV of Scotland and bore a line of Stuarts, living until 1541. (So far as I know, none of the Tudors killed the king of Portugal, though I could well be wrong, and wouldn’t be a bit surprised.) Why substitute Margaret for Mary here? Did the producers just like the name better?

Such changes to the historical narrative, however, are relatively superficial; the series strikes me as a compelling reimagining of the period, if through a somewhat presentist lens. That, The Tudors shares less with The Sopranos than with Deadwood, with which series I’d also be willing to swear The Tudors also shares the producers of its opening titles, as well as the composers of its title music, though I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of that hunch.

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