So, if you’ve had a look at my update post, I’ve not been doing much of anything lately. I’m house-bound currently because my health has been absolutely terrible as of late. My life’s on hold yet again which is very annoying because I’ve felt like it’s been on hold since university. That’s four years ago now where my luck has been terrible. Maybe’s it’s Anita Blake cursing me.
Anyway, if you know me, you’ll know that history is my thing. In fact, it’s Tudor history. I specialised in the politics of the Henrican court and I like to sharpen my brain box from time to time.
And this little show is currently up in its entirety on Netflix.
It’s rated an 8.1 on imDB and was nominated for Golden Globe awards. It was presented as being an intimate sort of revelation of the great secrets of Henry VIII’s court, the great men and great women of his life.
And this show makes me rage as only a historian can rage. This show is a burning bag of garbage that makes me incredibly angry. Not only in terms of really bad writing choices but really terrible clothing. And that there are people who made genuine efforts to try and make this accurate and include incredibly minor details of court – only for it to be absolute rubbish.
And I’m here to pour water on this burning bag of garbage. Or another, better metaphor.
Let’s throw ourselves into ‘In Cold Blood’. Our official synopsis is ‘King Henry VIII, the young and ambitious monarch of England, prepares for war with France but is dissuaded by the diplomatic manipulation of his powerful Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, who proposes that the King sponsor a “Treaty of Universal Peace.” The harmony of the King’s domestic affairs is threatened, however, when he discovers that Elizabeth Blount, the young and beautiful lady-in-waiting to his Queen, Katherine of Aragon, is pregnant with his child.’
That’s a lot of information for one episode and it really rattles through the stuff that people all commonly associate with the Tudors. It is also really badly written. Let’s begin.
A Nonsense Beginning
The episode doesn’t really start off too well. We’re heading straight to an Italian palace (even though ‘Italy’ as a specific location did not exist in the sixteenth century) and this is not a sixteenth century palace. This is really not. This is neo-classical in the most blatant style.
This is a sixteenth century Italian palace. Much more ornate and decorative.
Sean Pertwee gets out of a carriage and his costume is wrong in so many ways. English fashion in the sixteenth century is known for its many layers, the wide silhouette, and the use of slashing to display fabrics. Sean Pertwee’s style is very reminiscent of gentlemen at the court of Elizabeth I; slim and narrow, a style that has become highly feminised. These are not the clothes of a man from the later half of the sixteenth century, not from the beginning.
The men he’s travelling to meet are much more appropriately dressed – highly decorated doublets with long overgowns. Plus hats. You’d never be out in public without a hat at this point in time. And hello baby Aiden Turner. You’re going to be in one of my favourite TV shows of all time, and then be in Poldark with its really awful rape scene. Ups and downs there.
Anyway, Sean Pertwee gets brutally taken out by the French.
This confuses me greatly. It makes for an incredibly dramatic opening, that’s for sure, and sets up that England hates the French and that is mutual. There’s animosity between the two countries which is only news if you are not European. However, early modern politics was not a brutal affair. Well, all the time. There was that time that the Dutch cannibalised someone and people were thrown out of windows in Prague, but an English ambassador would not be stabbed to death by the French in public this way. It would be incredibly stupid because it would only cause war.
This also throws up many questions to me in terms of history. When is this meant to be set? There were varying times of war and peace between England and France, and a specific year is never given in this episode. This episode swings between 1514 and 1520, and six years is a long time in politics.
And there’s the issue that Sean Pertwee is supposed to be Henry VIII’s uncle.
Right. Okay. There’s a writing choice I can simply not get my head around. Henry VIII didn’t have any uncles, and giving him one doesn’t inform his fictional character or explain what happens. It makes no logical sense – his father was an only child and if Henry VIII’s mother had surviving brothers… then they would be king. Because her father, Edward IV would have passed the throne to them.
The Poor Choices of Henry VIII
The big selling point of this show was that it’s YOUNG Henry VIII. It’s Henry as you’ve never seen him before! He’s young, he’s sexy, he’s active, and not fat and gross. In pursuit of this, the writers made a huge mistake. They made him brash, rude, and frankly abusive to Katherine. He’s a slobbering mess in this first episode, and his characterisation is all over the place.
And his clothing is fucking terrible.
Our first introduction to Henry is that he’s dressed like an acrobat. There is nothing right with his clothing. Compare him to this image of a English man from the early part of the sixteenth century (it’s later than VAGUE 1514 TO 1520 VAGUE YEAR but at least it’s English).
English fashion is bulky and layered. There’s no way Henry would not have an overgown and his clothes are just too slim. And that crown looks like ass.
I like that Henry has the most Catholic underclothes it is possible to get. I don’t like the metallic popper buttons. Buttons were not especially widespread in clothing, with most items being tied or fitted to the body. Henry VIII did not have child-friendly popper boxer shorts with Catholic detailing.
Henry is wearing only the most fashionable in cheap and common leathers! This looks like foot soldier armour. It is not anything a nobleman in Tudor England would wear. Also Katherine’s dress is terrible, but I’ll be going into the women’s fashion in a bit.
Henry VIII is FLORAL SOFA MAN!
Who doesn’t want to do physical exercise in a full suit of leather?
Love that fisherman jumper, Henners.
Throughout this episode, Jonathan Rhys Meyer makes just the weirdest choices for his performance. Ignoring the fact that he is blatantly wrong for this role, he just does weird stuff. He’s loud and obnoxious and plays Henry as a complete idiot. And the episode ends on this image. Just Henry, his pathetic little beard, staring madly at you. Thanks, director. I needed that.
A Decorated Skirt Does Not A Period Costume Make.
I get it. Tudor women’s fashion does not appear sexy to modern audiences. You have to balance out the ‘sexy’ lead and make the women appear sexy. They do this by making the worst attempt at Tudor costumes for women I’ve ever seen.
The first female character we see is in The Corridor (c) that we see consistently over the first season. They show the vast wealth and grandness of the palace of White Hall with the same terrible brick background over and over.
For a start, her waist is too high. English fashions are conical at this time, with hemlines square and farthingales round like an ice cream cone. Her hair is also loose under what appears to be a piece of lace.
‘I have a necklace in my hair for no apparent reason. Also my hair is loose, which no grown woman at the English court would ever have. Because my hair would be really fucking long and I don’t want lice.’
Katherine of Aragon, an incredibly proud and proper queen, is just lazing around with her hair loose and a nightgown. For the record, here’s Katherine at this time –
Gable hoods and trumpet sleeves. They may not be sexy but they were at the time.
I don’t know I don’t even. This screams 17th Dutch more than anything else with the huge white collar and huge great big stomacher. This is especially egregious as this is Thomas More’s wife and there’s an incredibly famous portrait of her. She should have a hood on, great big trumpet sleeves, and no huge white weird collar that is attached to her dress and not the shirt underneath which appears to also be a dress.
This dress has some huge great big puffy sleeves are are hideous. They also don’t come into English fashion for another fifteen years. The attempt at a French hood is also… weird. For a start, they’re not around at the English court from this point for about ten or so years (depending on whatever vague year this is), and what the hell? What is with all this loose hair? She’s got beautiful flowing locks that do not work with a French hood.
That’s how a French hood works. Your hair is covered because all women pretty much had their hair covered in public at this point in time and you don’t want nits. Long loose flowing hair? THAT’S HOW YOU GET NITS.
I don’t even with this. Not only is her dress terrible, with an overgown that wouldn’t be introduced to the 1550s, but what is even with that headdress? What is it meant to be? You can’t just glue fake pearls to something and call it a headdress.
So, left dress: fine, I guess, as a common gown for when you’re at home not seeing anyone. I don’t like the bustle thing at the back. It could be a bumroll, but her skirtline would be much higher and if you’re relaxed at home without a farthingale, why would you have a bumroll?
Right dress; whaaaaaattttt. That’s very Italian. The lose, low sleeves are continental and the bust line, shoulders, and curled hair make me think of Stuart/Restoration fashion, not 1510s/1520s. And that’s not even getting into whatever the bodice is. It’s a bodice for a dress, not a front-opening bra.
Everyone’s Evil Henny
Fashion aside, the point of this episode is that Henry is stupid and everyone around him is evil. No matter where he goes, from fucking (there are far more sex scenes in this episode than necessary), to playing tennis, or to the daily joust, there is someone being evil and making use of how lazy and stupid Henry is to get across their evil doing. FYI, Henry VIII was an incredibly intelligent and busy man. He did not just spend his time at the apparently daily joust.
The Duke of Buckingham is evil and planning a rebellion. He also actually looks like Henry VIII and did not launch open rebellion in real life. He wears all black throughout the show so we know he’s definitely evil.
Cardinal Wolsey is also evil because he wants peace (boo!) and is pro-French (boo!). He’s conducting what appears to be the Treaty of London, but that was 1518 and there’s stuff that takes place in varying years. Pick a date, guys. Pick a date and stick to it. He beats a guy up. It’s weird.
Thomas Boleyn is introduced and because he’s actually wearing the right clothing out of all the characters, you can tell he’s evil. Because, yeah, I love that cheap idea that terrible fiction authors peddle that the Boleyns were evil schemers working their way to the top that flies in the face of just about all knowledge of political power in the period.
Why is there straw just thrown around this floor? I saw extras struggling and just kicking it into the air. It’s weird. This is the grandest palace in England. I have no idea why there’s straw everywhere.
Look at Henry mangle this pomegranate. For symbolism. And because he’s a big gross child.