lost_spook: (james maxwell)
[personal profile] lost_spook
(I started writing this post a while ago as I was going to cover more things I've watched over the last couple of months, but a) this bit got overlong and b) [personal profile] liadtbunny told me to post my thoughts on BBC HVIII now, and since doing what Liadt told me worked yesterday, that seemed like a plan.)

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (BBC 1970)

It was really interesting to finally complete the BBC's classic 70s Tudor trilogy - I watched the all-conquering Elizabeth R in 2011 and Shadow of the Tower the following year, during my David Collings period because he was in both (being a naive traitor and getting tortured in the Tower both times, as you do). Of course, that introduced me to James Maxwell as Henry VII, a thing that is to blame for an awful lot of my life and viewing choices ever since. Elizabeth R is the classic one for a reason: it's made with assurance, it's well-written, and it's got Glenda Jackson out-Good Queen Bessing everyone else in existence. The Shadow of the Tower is a low-budget shock afterwards, with a return to the more standard 50 min ep format (I wonder if perhaps unexpectedly, given that the first four eps are paired two-parters) and it's highly theatrical and much more experimental.

Six Wives, the first one made, falls somewhere between the two. It's early BBC colour (and anyone who's watched too much old TV will know what that means; it took a year or two for the BBC to adjust to the concept). The format - 1 hr 20 mins per wife, which then dictated the odd format of Elizabeth R, which does, I think, work even better here where it makes more sense. It lacks some of the best writers of the other two serials, though, (notably Hugh Whitmore and John Elliot), although on the plus side, more women writers, which makes sense (although it does not even touch SotT's female directors score of 10 out of 13 eps), and it's even slower than some of the slow parts of Elizabeth R, and, as ever, with all of these BBC historical & classic adapations, essentially theatre-for-TV, especially with everyone being aged up and down all over the place. (Spoiler: nearly everyone dies. Some of them lose their heads. *nods*) So, as ever, with old stuff, YMMV.

The casting was great, as ever, though: Annette Crosbie as Catherine of Aragon, being excellent, although that was probably the least satisfactory episode in some ways. Dorothy Tutin was too old for Anne Boleyn, but completely perfect anyway, and it's always a good dramatic episode when it ends with people getting their head cut off,* but all of them gave really strong performances.

In many ways, I was most intrigued by Anne of Cleves's episode, which (after a worryingly shaky start) had a really interesting take on her, and I realised I don't really know enough about her to know whether it was fact-based, or they had so little facts, they just went for their own interpretation, but it left her as the one who knew how to get what she wanted out of the situation and escape relatively unscathed.

Some of the continuing characters couldn't help but be scene-stealers: in particular, Patrick Troughton as Norfolk, Wolfe Morris as Cromwell, and Bernard Hepton as Cranmer. Everybody wants Cranmer to comfort them when they're in the Tower. Even Cromwell needs to hold his hand at the end.

And, look, Liadt made a gif to prove it!

(Not that he holds hands with people as much as BBC Henry VII; that would be silly.)

And, of course, Keith Michell gives an excellent performance as Henry, aging up from shiny but selfish prince to full-on monster, to a weakened ruin by the end.

Anyway, I enjoyed it, was glad to have seen it, and feel like a better person for it. Heh. It got all the BAFTAs back in the day and I can't say I'm surprised. I had to stop myself going on to watch Elizabeth R straight after. One day, I'll have to do all three one after the other, though...

I was disconcerted in episode 1 by John Woodnutt as Henry VII, because obviously the proper BBC Henry VII is James Maxwell. Not that he's bad or anything, but it's like James Maxwell's own previous turn as HVII in The Tower of London: the Innocent; the complexity and depth of SotT's Henry isn't there, so it feels odd when you've already seen the prequel.

It did make me think how differently each lead is taken: Keith Michell as Henry is the one constant but is backgrounded to each wife in turn (and seen slightly differently by each one, which then shapes his performance, which is v clever), Glenda Jackson's Elizabeth is front and centre of her own story (and stormingly good in every way, both fearsome and terribly alone), while Shadow of the Tower follows the uncertain reign more widely, with James Maxwell's Henry always something of an enigma to many of the other characters (and so in some ways playing to us, the viewers, instead of his contemporaries). And over all is the danger of giving any one person that much power as well as the effects it has on that person. (Different in each case, but even in ER, still terrifying at times.)

Anyway, I have thoughts; I can't express them because of lack of brain, but it's probably as well.

tl;dr: It was interesting. ER is the best, SotT is still my favourite, but Henry is also much worth watching for history/stage buffs, too.

(My one disappointment is that I didn't spot anyone who was in all three, although I feel certain if I study IMBD closely, there will be! Certainly plenty of people were in 2 out of 3 and James Laurenson managed 2 out of 3 plus Wolf Hall, which must earn him an honourable mention in Tudor telly appearances. Plus, all three of the leads played their roles twice. See: British film & TV is a very incestuous world. Once a Tudor king or queen at the BBC...)

ETA: Also look at this pic from The White Queen found on tumblr:

If that didn't originate in some old BBC or similar 60s/70s historical thing, I'll eat my hat. It's got just the right made from curtains look.

* I don't watch these Tudor serials for nothing.
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