Upon release, and even later on, most of the criticism brought to The Tudors kept reminding everybody that the show wasn’t historically accurate and that it was sanitizing history in order to make it more appealing to the masses. The critics were even bringing Homer and his Odyssey into their discussion, as if the poet had some theologists taking notes and telling him we aren’t so sure Gods do exist, so maybe you shouldn’t mention them at all.
As with The Odyssey, the point of The Tudors wasn’t to tell exactly how things happened: just imagine 40 episodes, each lasting almost one hour, of historical psychoanalysis, and then ask yourself what kind of audiences it would attract. More importantly, if the “televisionization” didn’t happen, did the series have any chances of lasting even 10 episodes?
So you are obviously going to twitch a few things here and there in order to make it work. And the first thing to do is choose the right actors.
As Henry VIII looked in real life, the actor to be playing him should have been a little chubby, with a rather untrimmed beard, and which would have been successful with the ladies only because of his social status. For example, this was the perfect role for John Rhys-Davies (of Gimli fame). But what would happen if a younger actor played it, an actor that would actually look good in the more intense/sensual scenes?
Enter Jonathan Rhys Meyers, of Match Point fame at that time, a clean-cut male actor who certainly struck a chord with the female audiences. He had nothing in common (as far as the physique goes) with the real Henry VIII, but boy, did he look good on the tube.
But, as Jonathan Rhys Meyers said, a character shouldn’t be defined by the way he looks, but by the way he acts or reacts in a given situation: to act as if having absolute power. And he is very believable when doing so, in showing how absolute power can actually lead to insanity (if I may call it so).
In the end, I can say that this was the perfect show for today’s audiences, when it comes to actually teaching a bit of history, and that beautifying it actually worked, because the real life characters were presented exactly how they were: they wanted more power, they fought for it, they had sex and then they died.
They just weren’t as pretty as today.