The Tudors: When Changing History Works

While named after the Tudors dynasty, the Showtime series followed specifically only the reign of Henry VIII, a king for almost 40 years known for separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church and, more importantly perhaps, for his six marriages.

Why do I say that a private matter from the king’s life is more important than any political controversies of his life? Because the first ones (the private aspects) were the cause of the latter (the political decisions).

I also say this because these cancan subjects make a much more interesting show for the audiences than tackling with possibly controversial matters such as religion and politics. And the creator of The Tudors (Michael Hirst) knew this too and took the necessary liberties in order to attract as many fans as possible.

As a matter of fact, licenses needed to be created in order to tell the story from the first episode. How can one condense almost 40 years of reign in a show that will keep its fans for its entire duration? Thus, it is obvious from the start that the timing of the events needs to be twitched here and there.

Another concern would be not having too many characters in the story (Game of Thrones has, and it is quite difficult to keep track of all of them). That is why, for example, Princess Margaret was introduced and is in fact a composite of Henry’s two sisters. In the same way, in the series, the King’s bastard Henry FitzRoy dies at an early age, even if in reality he lived 27 years. And the list could continue.

Another interesting aspect of playing with history (and which works for The Tudors) is how certain real life characters are introduced in the series in order to make a greater dramatic impact on the viewers.  This is the case of Jane Seymour, who was a lady in waiting for more than presented in the show.

The dramatic impact can also be increased when some characters are presented to exit the stage in a different way than what happened in reality. For example, Cardinal Wolsey died of an unspecified illness, while the show implies that the historical truth is just a cover-up and that the cardinal actually committed suicide.

And there are many other examples, even ones concerning the physical appearances of the characters and even the costumes worn during those times. But everything is made with a purpose: good television.

While I am not particularly fond of how filmmakers tamper with history when telling a story (the best example that comes to mind at this moment is that of William Wallace), this trick works with The Tudors because it isn’t used lightly: the major historical truths are still there and play an important part in the story.

In the end, I can say that what King Henry VIII says in the series best resumes the show: to get to the heart of the story, you have to go back to the beginning.

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