Having already seen The Tudors finale, I can firmly announce that it is an incredible watch. You’ll see the powerful return of Maria Doyle Kennedy and Natalie Dormer, while watching King Henry in his final days. Jonathan Rhys Meyers delivers an Emmy-worthy performance and everyone involved with the show really outdid themselves for this series finale. Read on for my insights on which surprising character’s return made the most impact for me.

In the begining...

In the beginning…we knew what the story was supposed to be about… We learned it in our history books. The tiny caricatured faces of the different wives were etched into worksheets to memorize – but all we had to do was create anagrams so we could list each wife’s name in order to ace a test. We didn’t have to know anything else about them, or to even suppose there was more to know about these long-dead women. What we’d never guess was that our initial glimpse had told us hardly anything.

Once I got over the blatant sexism The Tudors had to dutifully portray, I was on heartily board with this show. While it’s sad to lose the series as it comes to a close, I think a four-year run was the perfect amount of time for Michael Hirst to execute his vision and have us get to know King Henry VIII.

I’ve never liked Henry too much, he seemed like a spirited, reckless soul with far too much ambition and a cold heart far too often. Michael Hirst has said, “There’s plenty to admire about Henry almost to the end although he becomes this monstrous figure but then his monstrosity is intriguing. He is always charismatic; you always want to know what he is going to do, partly because he has this power but also because you have followed him all this time.”

When I first started watching The Tudors, I recommended it to my friend to watch, but immediately had to warn her that there was a great deal of sexism that could easily upset her. Understanding that they can’t rewrite history just to be PC, I find that I am able to appreciate watching history unravel as an experience for me. (It’s the truest reality TV!) And I am constantly feeling inspired and sparked by the fashions I see on the show. It is easier than you’d think to sink into this world. There are so many inlets that let you feel connected to a past you might assume has nothing to offer.

king henry portraitAs we’re drawn to final year of Henry’s life, I have been able to feel moments of sympathy for him. In my opinion, the show honors him, but is more of an exploration of that time period. The Tudors revealed a lot while never forgetting to be an entertaining series. The show gave more than just facts, it attempted to give life to these historical figures so they could stand with more than just one dimension. Over time, the cardboard caricatures we’ve had of these people have gotten moldy. A life reduced to a letter in an anagram is sad. Can you imagine your entire life becoming just one letter of the alphabet for you to remember between two other’s? It baffles me that I so easily let this be part of my high school education back in the day. My K-12 education felt very much like the teachers were saying, “After we talk about the wives of Henry, we’ll cover all there is to know about Napoleon and then after lunch be guided through the entirety of the Civil War and then you’ll have a quiz about it all tomorrow before we move on to something else.” It’s difficult to condense history, but I feel more than necessary was left out in these lessons.

In “Death of a Monarch” a great tribute is paid to the friendship between Henry and Brandon (Henry Cavill). Brandon was not just the most loyal friend and alley that Henry had, he’s also been one of the only constants we’ve had through the four series of the show. And I especially loved that the two talk briefly of Henry’s sister, who was played by Gabrielle Anwar, and was a great love of Brandon’s.

I find I am not alone in never truly liking Henry VIII. The man who played him, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, explains, “He did some very, very important things for England. Most importantly, he gave them Elizabeth, who I think is England’s most important monarch. He puts things in motion that years later would come into fruition. And he was a very intelligent man — but he was racked with ego, vanity, his thoughts of his own divinity. You know, absolute power corrupts absolutely, so he was very corrupt. So on the one hand I have empathy for him and a degree of admiration — but not much. I think he makes great television; but he was not, in the final analysis, a great king.”

natalie dormer the tudors season 4Great importance in the finale was played to painter Hans Holbein, who painted the final portrait of Henry. This was very important to Michael Hirst who said, “… Holbein is me in a sense – right at the end drawing my picture and saying this is my Henry. People have got terribly confused and the wrong idea that I was doing some historical documentary. If I was doing a historical documentary I would have done it a different way, but with Holbein I’m saying that history has a lot to do with propaganda. How it comes to us is through other people, through painters, through people writing letters, it’s an amalgam of lots of things, there’s no such thing as a true picture. There are just versions you know, so it was a great delight for me to use Holbein in the end to make that point. I kind of sign off on that.”

Pay special attention to the intro credits for the show in the finale as you’ll see some familiar faces. And those ghosts don’t just stick to the credits. And the effect of what I’m saying here (without saying it!) is beautiful and touching. What would a finale be without a little Natalie Dormer and Maria Doyle Kennedy in some way? I always loved Dormer cast as Boleyn,  and seeing her again really brought the story full circle for me. She appears ghostly to Henry, and I always believed she should have been the true love of Henry’s, even though he was incapable of love. I think history has another wife (Jane) down as the woman he loved most. But, I’d debate that. I remember how passionate the relationship between Anne and Henry was, and seeing Dormer made me nostalgic for those episodes.

...and at the end. Finally, Henry and all of his wives have been revealed to us in a more intimate portrait than we've known before. Entirely true or not to every historical fact, The Tudors gave humanity back to these historical figures.

By the time you watch The Tudors finale, Henry and all of his wives have been revealed to us in a more intimate portrait than we’ve known before. Entirely true or not to every historical fact, The Tudors gave humanity back to these historical figures.

Intense and sad, this finale is one to watch with the assurance that what you’ll get is a great ending tribute to the series.

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The Tudors Death of a Monarchy airs June 20, 2010

Previously: Exclusive review of The Tudors season 4 episode 8 & 9