Mad About the Tudors

I’ve always had a thing for costume epics — not the cheesy ones with Charlton Heston shirtless and parting the Red Sea or that ilk. But there is something timeless about a period drama that doesn’t age quite as badly as a contemporary drama seen 20 years later.

My current passion is for all things Tudor, egged on by the casual purchase of The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory. I’ve read some of her other books, notably The Other Boleyn Girl which was made into a movie last year. Mostly they are a good read but they are definitely historical fiction, not biography. Tonight I discovered that magically I have access to HBO and Showtime, perhaps because of a free weekend preview thing, and caught an episode of The Tudors which I have been dying to see. Lots of yummy costumes, gorgeous people with accents, jousting, and general drama – even if the historical framework is wrong in a lot of ways. It’s entertainment and I don’t need it to be accurate.

Back when I was in junior high, the movie Anne of the Thousand Days came out, starring Richard Burton as Henry and Geneviève Bujold as Anne. I remember it as being appropriately gorgeous and all about the tragic short 1000 days of Anne’s rule as queen before Henry had her head chopped off. Being named Anne myself, and in love with tragic romance, it was a great story.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the movie again while living in Spain during my college years. It was on a double bill with Shaft (incongruous but true). The movie was dubbed into Spanish of course, but the costume drama was the same and still looked gorgeous. What totally shocked me was the reaction of the Spanish audience to the unfolding story – which was as much the story of Katherine of Aragon as of Anne.

Katherine was the daughter of the most powerful king and queen of Spain – Ferdinand and Isabella, the same ones who sent Columbus off to find India. And the Spanish did NOT take lightly the filmed attack on their beloved royal daughter, even 450 years after her death.  When Richard Burton crossed himself in a church scene, they all started laughing. It was the weirdest thing.

I’m not completely sure what about all of this fascinates me. Today it’s the story of Anne of Cleves, Henry’s Wife #4. She is the only one who went from married to annulled and transformed into the king’s sister in a matter of six months. No fool, she knew she was lucky to have escaped with her life in the world of an absolute monarch whose whims changed in a heartbeat.

It’s much more interesting to read about it than to have lived it.