There’s a new queen, new political intrigue, and a new big-name actor playing one of the Catholic clergymen opposing King Henry VIII in the third go-round of “The Tudors” — a sumptuous Showtime drama that remains lusty good fun, if not a completely worthy claimant to a seat among cable royalty. Perhaps that’s in part because as the series continues and time passes, Jonathan Rhys Meyers seems more and more like a kid flopping around in over-sized clothes — convincing enough as a handsome boy king in year one, but less so with each passing season.
Then again, Henry’s travails would exact a toll on anyone. Sure, he has a beautiful new wife, Jane Seymour (Annabelle Wallis), but she’s yet to bear him a son. Jane also proves surprisingly headstrong — especially given where his past wives’ heads have wound up — by urging Henry to embrace his daughter from his first marriage, Mary (Sarah Bolger).
Meanwhile, civil rebellion is brewing in the north, supporting the church and resisting the Reformation, while sowing seeds of conflict between Henry’s advisor Sir Thomas Cromwell (James Frain) and the king’s friend the Duke of Suffolk (Henry Cavill), who is charged with suppressing the insurrection. Finally, the Catholic Church continues to chafe against Henry’s rule, as Cardinal Von Waldburg (Max Von Sydow, picking up the over-sized headpiece from Sam Neill and then Peter O’Toole) dispatches an English cleric (Mark Hildreth) to plot the Reformation’s downfall.
And so it goes. Even those whose historical knowledge goes no further than the whole “six wives” thing can ascertain that the future doesn’t bode well for poor Jane, but the particulars remain fascinating amid all the bodice ripping, torture and jockeying for the king’s favor.
Juggling an enormous cast of players, the first four episodes (all written by series creator Michael Hirst) are largely dominated by the uprising triggered by Henry’s break with the church — stoking the tensions surrounding Frain and Cavill’s characters, while incorporating several splendid actors in supporting (if mostly ill-fated) roles.
Showtime’s past promotion borrowed an old Mel Brooks joke — it’s good to be king — and the story of the Tudors is certainly rife with the makings of good drama, in much the way that NBC’s “Kings” sought to capitalize on the Bible’s blood and bed-hopping. Watching the king also remains a pretty good time, but like Henry, never quite the regal presence it could have been.