'The Tudors' Returns For Season and Wife No. 2
Jonathan Rhys Meyers on 'The Tudors'
But while the Henry of Showtime's historical melodrama "The Tudors," which returns for a second season on Sunday, March 30, wears many fabulous outfits, they're missing this particular adornment.
"I never wore a codpiece, love," says star Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays Henry. "Henry was famous for wearing extravagant metal ones. We really didn't go that route. It could very easily have turned into 'Ye Olde Spinal Tap.'"
Written and executive-produced by Michael Hirst ("Elizabeth," "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"), "The Tudors" has made bold choices in its oft-told tale of the six wives of Henry VIII. Chief among these is casting the lithe, brown-haired, blue-eyed Rhys Meyers to play the sturdy (eventually corpulent), ginger-haired, brown-eyed monarch.
"I had your rudimentary view of him when I first started playing him," Rhys Meyers says. "I was a little bit more nervous, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to portray the authentic physicality of the man. The physicality of someone, how they move and how they react to situations, certainly reflects how they're portrayed in history.
"So, from a physical point of view, I'm a helluva lot leaner and lighter than Henry would have been, and I move a helluva lot quicker, I suppose, than Henry would have.
"But I think, psychologically, in some places I'm quite close -- in other places, not so much."
Also, in contrast to previous film and miniseries adaptations of the saga, Hirst and Showtime have chosen to take their time over a multiseason series.
Season one began with Henry happily philandering but still locked into his long-standing marriage with Spain's Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy).
Along the way, Henry met the bewitching Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), whose social-climbing father (Nick Dunning) had high hopes that the king's attraction could take his daughter -- and thereby her family -- to the very seat of power.
The father of a sole legitimate child, a daughter, Henry was desperate for a male heir. Enamored of Anne, and chafing under the Roman Catholic Church's reluctance to grant him a divorce from the now-barren Katherine on theological grounds -- and her stubborn refusal to voluntarily give up her God-given wifely rights -- he inched closer to a complete break from Rome.
This was not yet accomplished when the season ended.
As season two opens, Henry is still struggling to free himself of both wife and pope (played by Peter O'Toole), publicly dallying with Anne and fending off expressions of concern from his Lord Chancellor, the devoutly Catholic Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam).
Meanwhile, Katherine is insisting on her rights -- and still making Henry's linen shirts.
"Who would have thought that someone like Katherine of Aragon, a middle-aged woman, would be a feminist icon?" Hirst says. "Hopefully, in the second season, we do much the same for Anne Boleyn, who herself has not had particularly good press."
Those who know the story (and if for some reason you don't, stop reading now) are well aware that Anne winds up under the headsman's ax after a reign of about 1,000 days. Again, Hirst is in no hurry to get there, and that suits Dormer just fine.
"You see the complexity of Anne's motivations," she says. "She fully is in it. A higher calling has definitely arisen in her. There's this absolute faith that she is destined to be the mother of the next king of England.
"There's absolutely, 100 percent love there for Henry, that's grown. She found herself in a situation that she wasn't expecting. Obviously, as her intellect, her power, grows, she effectively, powerwise, becomes the head of the family."
Rhys Meyers sees Henry's situation in quite contemporary terms. "He used to be quite a handsome young man, but that changes, so he wasn't anymore. So he meets this gorgeous young Anne Boleyn, and for the time, she was that beautiful girl who could take a man's soul.
"You can imagine a man in a midlife crisis. Anne Boleyn was the Ferrari. He's got the midlife crisis. He needs someone to make him feel young and handsome and virile again, somebody that will give him kids.
"He has this Utopian idea of what their marriage and their love would be like and how her body would feel, stuff like that. She was creamy, juicy youth, and he wanted to take that and devour it. That's what he felt for Anne Boleyn. She gave him all of that. ... She was the trophy."
But to win his prize, Henry has to pit his kingship against the authority of the Church in England. Turmoil and bloodshed follows in the wake of this upheaval, the reverberations of which echoed through the reigns of Henry's daughters, Queens Mary and Elizabeth I, and down to the present day.
"He may have done terrible, terrible things," Rhys Meyers says, "but great things. He may have been flawed, but all great, great men are. The nature of being great is being flawed. You learn through your failures as much as your successes.
"Who's going to remember a life of contentment? Nobody. You've got to rock the boat a little; otherwise they forget you in 200 years. How appalling! How appalling would it be for people to not be talking about you in 250 years? I mean, what else would they certainly have to talk about?
"Henry kept them talking for half a millennia."