War with France gets underway, bringing Spanish emissaries to court on behalf of the emperor. As Charles and Henry both look forward to reliving their youth in battle, Henry marries Catherine and leaves the kingdom in her charge as regent as he goes off to France.
This was another jam-packed episode that should have worked. It had it all—Henry's new marriage, large scale battle scenes in France, and a great deal of machinations behind the scenes in court. Yet this episode suffers from the same problems as recent ones—too much, too fast. And too many now, who is that again, characters.
We get more characters piled on to the story, including some historical, and some just for no good reason at all, amounting to an episode that falls short of what it could have been given the expense that was obviously lavished upon it. The writers continue to weigh these episodes down with too many short and erratic scenes. A beautiful looking muddle this time around.
War preparations are nearly complete as the Spanish make an unofficial visit to court, alarming the French ambassador. Henry appoints Charles as head of the English forces and various lords, including Surrey, get high level positions. Edward Seymour will not be accompanying the army, given his opposition to the war (he fears if Henry is killed in battle, the kingdom will be placed in jeopardy). The Spanish in court are greeted by Mary, who flatters them in Spanish and reminds them of their kinship through her much loved mother, Catherine of Aragon.
Henry weds Catherine, but it's evident his health is slowly failing, but unlike previous wives, Catherine takes his side to nurse him back to health. She is also determined to bring the entire family together, asking to have Elizabeth brought to court to be closer to her father. She also receives Prince Edward and assures him his father loves him very much and would see more of him if he could.
Bishop Gardiner, however, suspects Catherine as being a secret protestant and intends to prove it. He and his allies are alarmed when Henry leaves the queen as regent in his absence. Henry's return to health also brings more erratic behaviour, as he demands the army ready itself faster than they have planned.
We then jump to France where the army is laying siege to the town of Boulogne. As Charles comments, this war is being fought with guns, unlike the ones of his youth. Two new characters, commoners Richard and Harry are introduced, one working on a tunnel under the walls, and the other a sniper attempting to kill French officers.
Catherine appoints the former Bishop Hugh Latimer, her uncle, as her chaplain. He was removed by Gardiner for his heretical talk (that the bible should be read by all people). Catherine agrees with his views, but asks him to keep his opinions quiet from Mary who would be outraged if she learned the queen held such beliefs.
Catherine is advised by her lady, Anne, that she must keep her views discrete. Catherine knows this, but admits that while she didn't want to marry the king, she can at least use the position to further her cause...the spread of the Reformation.
The tunnel construction is the plan of an Italian advisor, and is to collapse the town wall in two weeks. The French break out through their own tunnel and Surrey is dispatched to get them. In the altercation, Charles finds a girl posing as a soldier whose father is injured. Her name is Brigitte, and he takes her back to his tent as his prisoner. She tells him the French think his king is a monster and will never surrender the town.
Catherine writes a loving letter to the king, professing her love for him. Henry is advised that dysentery has broken out in the army. As Charles and Surrey discuss the tunnel, Surrey believes the Italian advisor is mad, and perhaps the king is too.
A nice looking mess. Sadly, this episode should have been one of the best of the series, bringing more spectacle in the war with France. But what purpose was the introduction of Harry and Richard, if not to just show us the perspective of the common man in the battle? At this point, it is really irrelevant to the plot. What purpose will Brigitte serve, aside from giving Charles something to do other than skulk around at the loss of his youth? It is gratifying to finally see Charles doing something constructive.
The positive elements continue through this episode—Mary's growth and ambition, more of the entire Tudor clan, and the revelations in court that Catherine is a secret protestant and is using her new position to further her goals. Catherine is a likable character, much in the vein of Jane, so her schemes are not so harsh when viewed in the light of how genuine she is with Henry's children and in his own care. Much as she nursed her late husband, Latimer, she steps into the similar role with Henry, and provides him all the support and love he requires.
The French siege looks quite well done for television and the costuming is excellent. It's too bad the scenes were not given more time to develop, and less spent on packing as much dialogue and action into this one episode. Sadly, there are only a few episodes left, and I can grant the writers some latitude, given they have to compress so many events into one single season.