By Peter Hummers on September 13, 2019
The Tudors (2007-2010) begins with a bang — the 1510 assassination of King Henry VIII’s uncle in Urbino, almost sparking a war with France. Not a family-friendly show, it continues with another – the young and handsome king (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) having his way with a courtier. Afterwards, he asks her, “And how is your husband?”
“He’s extremely jealous,” she replies, laughing. Later, Henry’s own wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon, asks, during a meal, “When will you visit my bed-chambers…as you used to?”
This is not the Hans Holbein portrait we are familiar with, nor Charles Laughton’s 1933 film portrayal. On the other hand, Henry’s marrying six times makes sense. The young King Harry was a buff womanizer, athlete and sportsman, but mercurial, imperious and impetuous. Thomas More (Jeremy Northam) complains to Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Niell) that he fears he has lost the King’s favor. Wolsey tells him, “You must be prepared to give him the thing you most care for in all the world.” “The thing I care for the most is my integrity,” More responds, to Wolsey’s assenting silence.
The series is a sprawling master class in international politics, intrigue, romance, cupidity, treason and revenge. It covers Henry’s marriages, especially to Anne Boleyn and the attendant founding of the Church of England, and can be seen on Netflix and Showtime with subscriptions, and also at $1.99/episode on Amazon Prime, VUDU and others. 1:42 trailer here.
In 1837, the melancholy 18-year-old niece of King William IV ascended to the crown on the sudden death of her uncle. Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent later wrote in her diary, “I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen.”
The dramatic 2016 Masterpiece Theater production of Victoria gives insight into the youngster who became another dour eminence of popular history, and her family and court. Jenna Coleman plays her similarly to Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ Henry VIII in The Tudors: an attractive youngster, in Victoria’s case a startled teenager, who has had the crown of England thrust upon her. If ever a young lady needed to grow up quickly, she did – reigning ultimately for 63 years and becoming a revered British heroine in the process. Rufus Sewell is excellent as her mentor Lord Melbourne.
Seasons 1 and 2 can be had with a subscription to Amazon Prime and for $1.99/episode at VUDU and Fandango. Season 3 (2019) is available for $1.99/episode on all those services. A two-minute trailer is here.
In 1952, another young woman suddenly faced the same task that her great-great grandmother had 115 years before. Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy – she played Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall, another miniseries about Henry VIII) and her new husband Philip Mountbatten had set out for a tour of Australia and New Zealand representing her ailing father, King George VI (Jared Harris, Mad Men and Chernobyl). They had just returned to their Kenyan digs when word arrived of the death of the King and consequently Elizabeth’s immediate ascension to the throne.
Her husband Philip, who was a political exile from Greece, was a hail-fellow-well-met officer in the Royal Navy, one of the lads. There were mild controversies of his foreign birth, recalling Victoria and Albert’s, and that he had no financial standing. His sisters had married German noblemen with links to the Nazi party. But worse to him was that now he became merely the Queen’s consort, forbidden from active service. He resented having to live in his wife’s shadow, taking up aviation and other dangerous pursuits.
She, meanwhile, bemoaned her lack of a political education and vowed to fix that. As she was also a modern young woman in 1952, she dragged the British court into the 20th century, having her coronation televised, which scandalized those who thought the Royal Family should remain aloof. One of her biggest mentors turned out to be Winston Churchill (John Lithgow in an amazing turn), who understood her and in return, she did what she could for his post-WWII career. Her uncle Edward VIII, who had abdicated to marry an American socialite, was forever trying to pry “a living” out of the Court, while cooling his heels in New York. Her sister, Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter), scandalously married a divorced man.
All this and more royal bedlam can be had with a subscription to Netflix. The first and second seasons of The Crown are up, with the third and fourth in production. A three-minute trailer is here.
I have so far covered streaming series that must be rented or appear on subscription-only platforms. There is a wealth of practically free (ad-supported) options out there that will be the subject of my next column. Email me here and follow Stream On OBX on Twitter.
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