Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review: The Tudors "Secrets of the Heart"

Non Spoiler Review:
It's 1545, and the aged king presides over a divided kingdom where religion remains the most polarising  force. Political machinations begin to coalesce around the heretics in court—the Hartfords and the Queen, while Surrey begins his own conspiracy to ensure he has a say in who controls the country after Henry's death.

This was a very beautifully directed episode. Visually, it was as vibrant and compelling as ever, and a very sombre instalment in which it is apparent this era is ending. The kingdom remains broke from Henry's war, conspiracies thrive behind the scene, and the Catholics in court secretly work to ensure that Henry's reforms will not outlive him.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers successfully pulls off the aged and infirm monarch. In fact, it's hard to believe how young he actually is. The change has been so gradual. Though the characters have abruptly gotten more grey hair and wrinkles since last week, it all contributes to give the whole kingdom a tired and weary feel.

Surrey's plotline, however, does not deliver on the whole season of build up, leaving me curious as to what we're to take from him character. It's unfortunate that this erratic plotting/writing uses up what has been a significant character this season.

Spoilers Now!
1545. Whitehall Palace. Henry is looking much older than last we saw him. Edward, Lord Hartford, advises him Surrey has lost 600 men in a rash attack against the French, including many nobles and gentlwmen he placed in the front ranks. Henry is infuriated and commands Surrey to return and have his conduct examined, while Edward Seymour is sent to replace him. There are also rumours of a French fleet being assembled, while the emperor has ordered English ships to be seized in the low countries. Henry can only reflect on the betrayals of his friends.

Catherine hopes to cheer up her husband, and has dedicated a book she has written, praising him for delivering them from the tyranny of Rome. Henry gently chastises her for being a bit too hard on the clerics in her writing.

Bishop Gardiner arrives to see Henry, asking permission to arrest a heretic named Anne Askew who may have friends at court. We next see the woman preaching in church against the idea of holy communion, and she's arrested and taken to the tower. Sir Richard, recently elevated to the privy council, and an ally of Gardiner, interrogates Anne with the bishop. They ask about friends in court, and monies being sent to her in her support. It is illegal to rack a woman, but they torture her anyway, despite the warden's protests, who even goes to see the king. The king advises that in cases of extreme heresy anyone can be racked, but he is absolved of any responsibility. Anne confesses Lady Hartford (Edward's wife) sent her the money. 

Surrey returns to his cross-examination by the privy council. The council removes him as captain of Boulogne and orders him not to return to France, and he's refused an audience with the king to plead his case. Later, with Charles, Surrey says he was  continually denied reinforcements, and now warns that Seymour will suffer for taking his place, and that the king will most certainly die before Edward is mature, which means Seymour will be governing the realm. Pensive as always, Charles listens to what he says without comment.

Charles advises his son Henry that Brigite is now his official mistress and will be attending court with him, despite that it makes his mother unhappy. But since she's made his life miserable, it's only fair. Henry is quite fine with this, and says whatever makes his father happy, makes him happy as well. Later, Brigite asks why Charles is so pensive, and he realizes that the machinations of court nolonger involve him. People are vying for control over young Prince Edward as they will control the state, but it is all beyond him now. Asked if he still loves the king, he gives no response.

Mary is devastated when informed by Sir Richard that Chapuys died soon after returning to Spain. Sir Richard advises her she still has friends in court, including Bishop Gardiner who share the Catholic faith, as well as him. Gardiner needs to know he has her support in order to ensure the heretics are dealt with and young Edward is not brought up a protestant. She is in complete agreement with him.

In December 1545, Henry addresses Parliament, chastising everyone and warning of divisions in the clergy and the laity. Henry vows to see the divisions corrected, as God's vicar in the realm. Later, Thomas Seymour, who has returned to England, advises Catherine of the king's address. Catherine believes the break from Rome is only the beginning of the reforms, not the end, and believes they must continue to pressure for continued changes in the church.

Edward Seymour is visited by the French ambassador, who speaks of England's dire straits, not the least of which is a bankrupt kingdom, and suggests peace might be negotiated between them. Later, Edward Seymour returns with an offer of peace from France—handing back Boulogne in eight years time in return for payment of two million crowns. The king is pleased with the arrangement. Henry is then advised that Gardiner wants to arrest three of the Queen's ladies, including the Queen's sister, Anne. 

A gathering at court provides the venue for a host of schemes. Catherine advises Lord and Lady Hartford her sister has been arrested by Gardiner. Across the chamber, Mary begins conspiring with Gardiner, and is advised Anne Askew is to be burned, while searches of the Queen's ladies have found suspicious books in their company. Meanwhile, Surrey embarks on a plot to abduct Prince Edward at Windsor so that he can control the fate of the country upon the king's death. But this scheme is quickly quashed and he's arrested.

While Anne Askew is led to the pyre, Lady Hartford gives the executioner a bag of gunpowder to tie around her neck to end her suffering. While they watch the execution, Lady Hartford is advised that Gardiner now wants to see her. The gunpowder explodes, killing Anne quickly before the fire can.

Edward Seymour advises the king that Surrey's plan was to kill the council and assume control of the prince. Henry is saddened by Surrey's betrayal, but always knew he was proud and foolish. In the tower, Surrey is visited by a friend who brings him a knife with which Surrey can pry open the toilet and escape into the river that flows beneath, leaving him to meet with a boat and make his escape. But even this plans fails as Surrey is found out before he can take his leave.

At his trial, Surrey confronts his accusers as failing the king's government. He pleads not guilty, and believes that there is no crime that he can be convicted of. However, Sir Richard and Edward Seymour realizes they do share some common ground in regards to Surrey's mutual hatred of both of them. Though the court is finding little evidence to convict him, Edward tells the forman of the jury the law is whatever the king says it is. Later, the jury finds Surrey guilty.

Charles watches, and appears saddened by the spectacle. Surrey says the king wants to get rid of all the noble blood around him and employs only the low born people. The court reacts violently, protesting the decision, and Charles watches grimly as Surrey is lead out to be hanged and burned.

Catherine consoles her sister after she is released. Later, she notices Mary is less than friendly to her, and Mary admits bitterly to hearing rumours that the king is looking for a new wife given she has not presented Henry with a child. Catherine sees through her vitriol, and admits that she still loves Mary as a dear friend, but something has happened with Mary to make her hate her stepmother.

At a party including the privy council and the bishop, Catherine and Henry play cards, and the two discuss the queen's writing. Catherine thrives to bring books to the English people. Henry wants her to be cautious about encouraging the people to try to read the gospels, which prompts Catherine to encourage him to finish his work by purging the Church of England of its dregs and the vestiges of Catholicism.

Henry is too weary, he does not even seem angry, and he sends everyone away, including Catherine. Only Gardiner remains to hear Henry lament being lectured to by his wife. It's the perfect opportunity for Gardiner to chastise the queen for arguing with him. In fact, those people in the land who have argued similar points have been executed for it. Gardiner says he has proof to put the queen on trial for heresy. Henry admits she could be tried for what she's said, but Henry is also fully resolved to spare her life. Gardiner agrees with whatever Henry desires.

So we have the penultimate Tudor's episode, setting up the final plot points of the series—Catherine's trial. It was a very sombre episode, weighed down by the sense of age and death that has permeated the atmosphere for most of the season.

Charles seems relegated to silent observer, whether privy to Henry's innermost thoughts and unbalanced decisions, or Surrey's treasonous observations. But why would he have any sympathy for Surrey, as is implied? He's not only disagreed with the decision to put him in charge of Boulogne, but he's listened to Surrey rail against the new nobility all season—and finally this episode, to actually consider the king's death (which we've learned over four years is treasonous). So what are we to take of Charle's sympathy?

Surrey's character has been erratic all season. The viewer is privy to his secret meeting to conspire to seize Prince Edward and thereby control the country, yet later we're shown it's all a frame constructed by Sir Richard and Hartford. What? He's guilty! It appears we're supposed to feel sympathy for him, yet he comes across as no different than Hartford—a braggart and generally ignorant oaf unworthy of his royal blood.

All that said, everything else about Secrets of the Heart was very satisfying. The religious schism makes for compelling viewing, comparable to the end of the first season when Henry was first beginning to make his break from Rome. The English reformation was sparked by Henry's desire for Anne, and now the country is in a complete mess as he makes it up as he goes along.  The Hartford/Catherine faction plays a dangerous game with the Gardiner/Richard/Mary faction, and the king is in the middle, now too old and weary to make a firm decision as attentions turn to who will have control over the young prince.

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