‘The Tudors’ versus ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’



There will be a hiatus in posts to my blog for a couple of weeks as the marking season is upon us and all distractions must be minimised.  So if you have an alert for new posts, it won’t have packed up, there just won’t be much new for a couple of weeks.

Before plunging into the annual festival of marking, though, I wanted to mention finding the BBC’s very old Six Wives of Henry VIII on DVD in the bargain bin in Sainsbury’s the other Saturday.  I was astonished to find that this came out in 1970.  I watched it with my parents as a very impressionable young thing; I think that’s where my lifelong guilty pleasure in all things Tudor comes from.  I even made my parents take me, with my best friend Irene, to an exhibition of the costumes in Birmingham.  At the time there was great interest in the making of the series, and I remember reading somewhere that they had made the oak panelling very pale because it would have been a honey colour when it was new and not the dark brown we see now as it has aged.  That sort of  application of historical accuracy felt very new.  But there was also quite a lot about how cheaply the costumes had been produced to such sumptuous effect.  A lot of the damask for example was gold paint sprayed on through lace, and the rich jewellery was made up of bits from a ironmongery.  When we saw the costumes close up this was highly evident.  They looked like they had been furnished by a plumbers’ merchant.  I was surprised, then, on reviewing the series (which are very much about historical processes and politics rather than royal romps in the bedchamber) that the costumes still work on the screen.  You can just about make out the odd sink chain but all in all they look pretty magnificent.



The contrast with the recent Tudors, though, is striking.  I understand that they are made for different audiences in different times with a breathtaking forty years between them, but you watch the Six Wives if you want to know something about one take on what happened in England in the sixteenth century, whereas you watch The Tudors for the frocks and beautiful young things.  Hence:



Keith Michel became more hamstery with increasing amounts of cotton wool in his cheeks, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers grew a beard and got more Irish as they played the older Henry.  I read an interview with the costume designer for The Tudors in which she said that they had made the costumes more renaissance that medieval because that gave them more scope to make a spectacular and photogenic wardrobe.  It’s certainly true.  A lot of the Six Wives costumes are rather dowdy – but they do stay on the actors, but poor old Dorothy Tutin only got one dress as far as I could see for the whole Anne Boleyn episode.  Ms Tutin, by the way, is an example of the inspired casting.  Cranmer will always be Bernard Hepton for a generation of us.

So, The Tudors for glorious glossy entertainment and stunning visual and tactile costumes.  The Six Wives for an elegant history lesson, great acting, and a bit more realism.  Even the Medieval Historian who was passing through remarked of The Six Wives, ‘Good, isn’t it?’  Praise indeed.

One thought on “‘The Tudors’ versus ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’

  1. am jealous, I’d love to watch the six wives again, I remember staying up very late to watch it, and elizabeth r.

    there was a huge argument with an awful chavvy cousin who came for a sleepover cos I wanted to watch six wives and it clashed with something like eurovision. must have been watching a repeat cos I was born in 70

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