Magazine article The Spectator

Television Desperate Wives

Magazine article The Spectator

Television Desperate Wives

Article excerpt

The Tudors have invaded television. Everywhere you look, it's Henry VIII this, Henry VII that, Anne Boleyn this, Anne of Cleves that. On BBC2 is the continuing drama series The Tudors, whose Henry VIII looks like the lead singer in a boy band who's stumbled on to the wrong film set. At any moment, you expect him to announce the execution of Anne Boleyn with those jabbing-the-air hand gestures that boy-band members use to semaphore emotion.

Lushly soap operatic, The Tudors depicts the royal court not so much as a place of high political intrigue but as a hearth for dynastic family troubles where improbably goodlooking people have lots of sex. Racy, pacy, lacy, the show takes a Desperate Housewives' view of Henry's household - not entirely off the mark, if you think about it.

There's also been A Tudor Feast, which served exactly what it promised; The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England;

Henry VII: Winter King; Henry VIII's Enforcer (that's Thomas Cromwell); and The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England (William Tyndale in a crowded category). It's all part of BBC2's Tudor Court Season, with even comedies such as Blackadder II apparently dovetailing along.

The documentary that was most arresting (in every sense of the word) was The Last Days of Anne Boleyn. The leading lights of Tudorology - David Starkey, Hilary Mantel, Philippa Gregory & co. - all tumbled out from behind the arras to say their pieces.

'People like to think of Anne Boleyn as sexually out of control, ravenously ambitious - a she-wolf, ' said Gregory. 'In the end, it's a story about a man and a woman, ' offered Mantel.

Everyone sifted the evidence of Boleyn's alleged crimes against the Crown; everyone said there was not enough evidence to support the others' arguments. Author Alison Weir said Cromwell plotted Boleyn's downfall; Starkey said Henry was the mastermind;

Mantel said we do no justice to Boleyn by regarding her as a victim.

Professor Greg Walker said Anne and George Boleyn probably didn't commit incest - 'No matter how desperate, you don't have sex with your brother.' Gregory said they might have. Walker said there was something suspect about all the suspicions.

Historian George Bernard said Anne probably committed the hijinks with her courtiers that she was accused of. (Good for her. …

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