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The Tudors: Wolsey, Wolsey, Wolsey

“Desire overcomes all.”

Another episode, another season’s worth of plot squeezed into 55 minutes. Say what you will about the writers of The Tudors, they make good use of their time. They’re not so great at killing time, however (see season four).

Wolsey desires Power

For an episode entitled "Wolsey, Wolsey, Wolsey" there isn’t a whole lot of Wolsey this week. Or, at least, there’s no more than usual. We get a brief glimpse of his home life and of his mistress, Joan. We see him frame his secretary for spying in order to save his own ass, and we get a clearer view of Wolsey’s enemies. Topping the list (for now) are the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Boleyn, Charles Brandon, and Queen Catherine. All hate him, but for different reasons. Norfolk and Boleyn seek power, but cannot obtain any without first destroying the power sucking vacuum that is Wolsey, Catherine worries that he promotes French interests over those of her homeland Spain, and Charles? I get the impression he just doesn’t like him.

I love the way Sam Neill plays Wolsey. You can tell he’s always calculating, always thinking, but you can’t ever tell what he’s thinking. Will he sell the French downriver with Mr. Pace and take the Spanish up on their offer? I quickly get bored with good, moral characters like Thomas More. Wolsey keeps it interesting.

Catherine desires Security

It took me forever to come up with the word “security” and I still don’t think it’s quite right. Catherine wants to know where she stands with Henry and she would greatly prefer if the place she were standing was not on the edge of a cliff. She is completely isolated in Henry’s court. There is no one she can trust. As we learned in "In Cold Blood", Wolsey dismissed her Spanish ladies for fear of spies. Henry’s slept with most of her English ladies. Every time she goes to her husband with her concerns, he yells at her. She obviously can’t trust Wolsey. No wonder she was happy to see Charles V.

Charles V (so called to delineate him from Charles Brandon) is in town to sign a treaty of “perpetual and everlasting peace” with Henry, uniting England and Spain against France (where, you may remember, Henry signed a treaty of “perpetual and everlasting peace” last week). Catherine takes the opportunity to recruit her powerful nephew to her cause, even confiding in him that she worries Henry will ask her for a divorce.

Anne desires the King

Anne and Henry officially meet this week. She plays it cool while he salivates over her in the way that he salivates over all pretty women. Their epic love is neither epic nor love. He has a crush; she has an assignment. She doesn’t desire Henry. She wants the power and prestige that come with the king.

I never liked the whole Anne seduces Henry in a dream sequence thing. Anne is a master manipulator but the thing that drives Henry to her is some random dream? I’m not buying it. Unless of course, she actually is a witch and planted the dream in his mind, but that doesn’t seem very likely.

Other People desire Other Things

Yeah, there’s no way I’m giving every character their own subtitle. I’m too lazy and this review is long enough as it is. Whoops. Look at me, making it longer.

Thomas More’s desire this episode is what it usually is: for Henry to be a better person. It’s not going to happen, and More should probably see that by now, but, as Wolsey pointed out in Simply Henry, More has a definite propensity to think too well of everyone. He is optimistic to the point of naïveté. He was truly proud of his sort of surrogate son for writing that pamphlet, and was truly touched by what Henry said to him about its inspiration. I think More is conveniently forgetting how fickle Henry can be.

Princess Margaret has a simple desire: freedom. She doesn’t want to be bartered off in marriage to an old man who walks like a crab. Can we blame her? By the end of the episode she seemed to come to terms with it more or less, provided Henry lets her marry the man of her choice should her conveniently elderly new husband die. Henry ostensibly nodded his assent, but didn’t say anything. From Margaret’s smile, I think she took this as a yes.

Anthony Knivert and William Compton desire favor from their king and friend. They’re jealous of Charles and his new dukiness. They want titles, land, or possibly just more to drink. While Wolsey’s all-consuming ambition is always interesting, here Anthony and William just seem greedy. And it’s boring. Fortunately, the writers don’t stick to using Henry’s buddies like this. Doing so might have resulted in a Tudor-time version of Entourage. You know, I wrote that last line as a joke, but I would totally watch that show. And I’d probably love it.

Finally, Henry desires Anne. Not in a meaningful, love you forever way, but in a slightly more complicated way than the various blondes he’s slept with over the past three episodes. His infatuation with her should pass over like all his previous infatuations, right?

Random Historical Facts:

The historical Henry VIII loved throwing and appearing in masks like the one shown in this episode. Despite his mask, he was easily recognized due to his height (and later, weight). Regardless, people typically pretended to be surprised when the giant man in the middle of the room was revealed to be the king, because he liked it that way.

Despite being King of Spain, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, was born in Flanders. Not only did he not have a Spanish accent, he could barely speak Spanish.

Costumes of the Episode:

Margaret Tudor
Anne Boleyn


In the mask, Anne plays Perseverance, which makes perfect sense. Henry plays Honesty, which makes less sense.

I love Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona in Burn Notice, but she just wasn’t working for me here. I don’t think that much collagen should be allowed in a period piece.

This week we see a fuzzier, less horrible side of Henry. He can be very generous. He makes Thomas More a knight and Charles Brandon a duke. He’s a good friend to have, until he isn’t...

Despite his infatuation with Anne Boleyn, Henry appears to still have a thing for blondes.

I will say this as loudly as I can (by which I mean, in all caps): NO GOOD CAN COME OF BURNING BOOKS.

Most Illustrious Quotations:

Henry: “I need someone I can trust.”
Charles: “You trust me with a beautiful woman?”
Henry: “With my sister? Of course I trust you, why shouldn’t I?”

More: “My king is writing a pamphlet.”
Such a sweet moment of fatherly pride.

Norfolk: “They do say the sharpest blades are sheathed in the softest pouches.”
I’m not touching this one.

Anthony: “Imagine what he’s going to be like now.”
William: “I’ll wager he’s already ordered a bigger codpiece.”

Henry: “Now, don’t be too modest, Thomas. You’re not a saint.”
Cheesy, but I’ll forgive them their prescient inside joke just this once (Thomas More was sainted in 1935).

Henry: “I like you already.”
Charles V: “Except for the chin, what is there not to like?”
Charles’ facial...oddness is sometimes called the Hapsburg Jaw because of its prevalence in that family. Marie Antoinette also had one, although it was much less severe than Charles’.

Boleyn: “The king makes no obvious declaration of interest, but it’s possible to detect it in the way he glances at her, as if, in his mind, he could see her naked.”
Norfolk: “Yes, well, he looks at most young women that way.”
Dude, that’s your daughter! What is wrong with you!?

better, still not as fantastic as it gets
three out of four bigger codpieces


  1. I will say this as loudly as I can (by which I mean, in all caps): NO GOOD CAN COME OF BURNING BOOKS.

    I am with you all the way. That scene really bothered me, although it is relatively mild and short. I thought Northam did a great job at showing how reluctant he was to be taking this step. Of course, it is only a matter of time before Henry breaks with the church, but neither he nor More are aware of it now.

    I continue to be amazed at how people manipulate to be part of this court. I would run far, far away, live in one of my comfortable palaces and spend a quiet life NOT being branded a traitor because it suits someone else.

  2. When Sam Neill was in my hometown filming The Hunter, he would go to the cafe where my friend works and she served him honeycomb and banana smoothies.

    I actually liked Compton and Knivert; maybe it's because I love Callum Blue, maybe it's because I like the lighter tones compared to the oncoming storm of Henry and Anne.

    Despite the historical inaccuracies in the costumes, I really do love the clothes on this show.

  3. Wow, your reviews are extraordinary!

    I love the Tudors and your reviews are really making me yearn for a rewatch.

    Keep this up, it´s great work!


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