Every monarch, just like every war,
tends to be followed by another one.
So it's perhaps appropriate that famous TV series about royalty
conflict have both spawned descendants
decades later. ITV1's Henry VIII
is the heir to the 1970s BBC legend
Six Wives of Henry VIII, while the same
channel's P.O.W. - set in the Stalag 39 camp - follows down the
great BBC escape drama of the same period: Colditz.
With Henry VIII, in particular, you
see the gains and losses for the
viewer across three decades. When it comes to images, we're spectacular
beneficiaries of the time-lag. The use of studio sets and videotape
that even classy drama of the past - which Six Wives was - has
feel now, even though its six-figure budget seemed indecent at
In contrast, the £6m spent on
ITV1's version has allowed director Pete
Travis to operate as a kind of Rolf Harris, creating instant
great paintings: in this case, Holbein and contemporaries. It
hard to find anyone except a cricket umpire who had paid quite
attention to the light. If the characters aren't illuminated
torches or flickering candles, it's slanting shafts of sunlight.
inevitably, you see much more detail than in 1971 of the methods
- such as
sex and death - which the monarch used to secure the succession.
But, if the camerawork takes advantage
of the passage of time, the speech
is the loser. It's well-known that television has lately developed
terror of posh characters - largely because the top soaps are
- but you'd think an exception might be made for a king. Ray
successfully suggests Henry's intimidating size but has played
working-class characters and gangsters that he trails those associations
behind him like a cloak.
It's true that we don't know how Henry
would have sounded - and it
certainly wouldn't have been like Prince Charles - but accent
such an indicator of class in Britain that any departure from
tradition needs to be consistent across the cast. Here, while
Bonham-Carter as Anne Boleyn is giving it the full Merchant-Ivory,
Winstone just sounds merchant trader, which occasionally gives
impression that Henry's tragedy was to fancy his social superiors.
a man who likes posh birds, when surely he was a posh rooster
The script further complicates the sense
of hierarchies in this court. A
modern dramatist working in this period has two dialogue options:
mock-Tudor (ie cod-Shakespeare) or contemporary. In Henry VIII,
Morgan has compromised somewhere between stage and street. For
we guess that Anne has tried to give
Henry a blow-job when he roars: "Do you
think I like the filthy elaborations that you learned in France?
True to modern sexual politics, Morgan
is hard on Henry: women beware a
guy with commitment issues, a beard and ready access to a guillotine
soft on Katherine of Aragon and Anne, who are both given Joan
declarations of integrity before they are dragged to their fates.
is best on the scenes of ecclesiastical intrigue - the cardinals
in the shadows - which may be no surprise as he scripted the
Blair-Brown drama, The Deal. If you've done Mandelson and Brown,
and Cromwell must come fairly easily.
Finally, both Morgan and Winstone seem
uncertain how to view Henry. He's
initially motivated by the need for an heir: just a twitch of
the DNA when
he slept with Katherine and he might have died a one-time husband
Catholic country. But it's gradually intimated that he's more
in getting his end away than in starting a church. Anglicanism
is just a
by-product of one man's wandering eye.
The structure - two two-hour sittings
- sometimes seems lumpy. In 1971,
BBC1 gave an edition to each missus, which felt neat. ITV1 allows
almost a whole movie and then rattles through the final four
The original writer on this project
was Alan Bleasdale, who apparently
left after the rejection of the idea to begin the series with
arriving in Hell. Strangely, there's still a hint of that brave
the flames which blaze under the opening credits. I'd love to
what Bleasdale made of the characters: "Gissa son. Go on,