Tudors brings sexy back to 16th-century England

Alex Strachan , CanWest News Service

Published: Friday, September 28, 2007

Sex, sensuality, sedition - a heightened sense of emotion and a raw, earthy physicality: The Tudors is not your grandfather's stodgy costume epic.

"It's a soap opera," Henry Czerny said, with an easy laugh. "It's soap operatic."

And about bringing sexy back to 16th-century England.

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As envisioned by Elizabeth screenwriter Michael Hirst and personified by a charismatic, athletic Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the role of Henry VIII, The Tudors is part bodice ripper, part Shakespearean passion play.

Hirst wanted to update the historical tale of a headstrong and single-minded monarch for a modern-day audience more familiar with sex-'n'-suds epics like Rome and Casanova. The setting is a matter of historical record - The Tudors is set in the royal court of 16th-century England, where king and church would clash with cataclysmic consequences - but Hirst's intent is to work history buffs into a lather with a soapy tale about seduction and betrayal.

The Henry VIII of history is known for having had six wives; for bringing about the union of England and Wales; for ushering in the English Reformation and severing the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church; and for severing the head of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, from her shoulders.

He died without conceiving a male heir - the source of his considerable frustration and annoyance - but Boleyn would have the last laugh: Her daughter, Elizabeth, would go on to become England's most powerful and influential monarch, Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, Gloriana, Good Queen Bess, Queen of England, Queen of France - in name, if not in fact - and Queen of Ireland until her death in 1558.

There would be no Henry IX.

Czerny, the Toronto-born son of Polish-Canadian parents who established himself as an actor of no small ability with The Boys of St. Vincent, plays Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, in the 10-part miniseries, which makes its Canadian debut Tuesday on CBC.

The Tudors bowed earlier this year on the U.S. pay-cable channel Showtime, where it caused a sensation - strong reviews, solid ratings and an Emmy Award for its Canadian composer, Trevor Morris.

It has already been renewed for a second season, and will air in the new year on both Showtime and CBC.

The Tudors was filmed on lush locations in present-day Ireland, where, Czerny says, many of the rolling glens and stone spires of the time remain virtually unchanged. That bucolic, historical setting, steeped in the atmosphere of the time, made it easy to bury himself in the role of 16th-century power broker, he says.

"The Duke of Norfolk historically was a very formidable figure, a grain of sand in the oyster of King Henry VIII," Czerny said. "He was a hero to the aristocracy, being that he survived King Henry VIII and lived to be present at the christenings of all his children."

Rhys Meyers struck a formidable, and masculine pose as Henry VIII, Czerny says, as different from the historical film portrayals of Henry - the late Robert Shaw played Henry as an obese tyrant in Fred Zinneman's 1966 Academy Award-winning film A Man for All Seasons - as French cuisine is from English food.


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