Best Tudor movies and TV shows to stream right now
Divorced, beheaded, dead. Divorced, beheaded, survived.
Gloriane. The Virgin Queen. Bloody Mary.
Just reading these words can instantly make you think of one of the most famous, outrageous and formidable families to ever rule a nation. The mighty Tudor dynasty has long mesmerized and captivated anyone who learned about their stories during history lessons. From the king who nabbed his crown against all odds, to a long-awaited male heir who didn’t live more than 15 years, to the queen who defied all expectations and reigned for 45 years, their collective reign over England from 1485 to 1603 was jam-packed with war, religious reform and betrayal at a time when loyalty, obedience and adherence to the tenets of one’s social position literally meant life or death.
Where does this allure of all these TV and film adaptations of The Tudors come from? Their mere existence. For those of us who were raised here in the United States, we never lived under monarchy. Therefore, this same precariousness of life under this type of government is something we cannot fully grasp. These stories of imprisonment, passion, betrayal and execution by the crown hundreds of years ago have hooked us. But let’s be honest: that’s only part of what keeps us coming back for more. We also love the salacious, the sex, the betrayal, the failures, the triumphs and the clothes! We all find these storied tales even more deliciously wicked when everyone is tied up in flys, doublets, corsets and farthingales.
With Starz’s Become Elizabeth now here, Tudor Fever is on the rise again. Short of finding a time machine to travel back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, below is a list of some of the most entertaining and mind-blowing portrayals of these tumultuous Tudors to encounter on the big and small screen.
While not completely true to its title, this series runs through most of Henry VIII’s tenure fairly quickly. In his ambition (employing multiple time jumps), his six marriages and virtually every significant event that occurred during his time on the throne were depicted. However, what makes The Tudors different from other series is that it has, overall, the sexiest cast and the most tantalizing love scenes. Plus, it amps up the historical intrigue, thanks to executive producer and writer Michael Hirst (who would go on to helm the hugely successful vikings).
Despite lacking hair dye or weight gain to showcase his ample girth in later years, as Henry VIII, Jonathan Rhys Meyers oozed charisma and sex appeal, exuding an unabashed swagger that channeled Mick Jagger and Robert Plant. Considering all the personalities involved, the cast is huge. As Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Natalie Dormer deliver powerful performances as Henry’s first two wives; polar opposites whose tragic fates, I believe, later influenced Dormer’s role as Margaery Tyrell in game of thrones. Extravagant, thrilling and packed with intensity, if you’re looking for the closest thing to a Renaissance and medieval soap opera, look no further.
The roster of characters in most Tudor dramas is immutable, so this series is a breath of fresh air focusing on someone on the fringes of those rogue royals. Based on the 2009 book of the same name by Hilary Mantel, hall of wolves again delves into the romance of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, but from the perspective of her chief minister, Thomas Cromwell (played by Mark Rylance).
Cromwell has to contend with both Henry (Damian Lewis, a perfect casting choice based purely on looks) and the outspoken Anne (Claire Foy, who sometimes bursts out with a fabulous French accent) regarding the “big material”, the coined term for the arduous process Henry pledged to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so he could marry Boleyn. Cromwell is caught in the middle. As a commoner who has risen to a very powerful position, he knows he could lose everything if he gave the wrong advice as Henry plans to break with Rome and establish the Church of England (a Catholic division / Protestant who would dominate the reigns of subsequent Tudor monarchs). While the subsequent books that make up Mantel’s trilogy have yet to make it to the small screen, those looking for a perspective on the Tudor court from someone outside of the family will appreciate this low-key but gripping miniseries.
The Tudors wouldn’t even have sat on the throne had it not been for the Wars of the Roses, which involved two opposing factions of the Plantagenets (the Lancasters and the Yorks). A leading writer of historical fiction, Philippa Gregory’s novels have been spun into three miniseries that span multiple generations locked in this fight.
Each series narrows down to the queens whose monikers make up the titles. The White Queen covers Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), a petty noblewoman who married Yorkist King Edward IV and is said to have possessed psychic powers. The white princess introduced her daughter, Elizabeth of York (superbly played by a pre- Kill Eve Jodie Comer), whose hand in marriage was given to a newly crowned Henry VII to secure peace in the country. Most recently was The Spanish Princess, about a young Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope), her first marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales, followed by her second to her younger brother. Perhaps you have heard of him.
The common denominator of these stories? The ultimate Lancastrian badass, the Red Queen herself: Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother (pictured in TWQ by Amanda Hale, TWP by Michelle Fairley, and PST by Harriet Walter). Indispensable, pious, and obsessed with maintaining power and control on behalf of her son, she is the consummate villain throughout.
As if viewers couldn’t get enough of the legend that was Elizabeth I, Hollywood has given us another twist on the life of Good Queen Bess.
Beginning with the Tudor Queen’s final ascension to the throne following the death of her deeply unpopular half-sister, Mary I, there’s understandably an adventure in familiar territory in Elizabeth. Directed by Shekhar Kapur and written by none other than Michael Hirst, the production value is precisely what you would expect from this type of project. Costumes, sets and everything else are just drops of richness and opulence. Cate Blanchett tears up the screen in every scene; unequivocally transforming into this woman with such finesse and strength, masterfully showing her determination to fix what her father and grandfather built, but her brother and sister couldn’t maintain.
Reprising the role in the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Blanchett’s sheer magnetism in a pivotal sequence involving an impassioned speech to her soldiers in battle against the Spanish Armada once again proved why the courage of Elizabeth I continues to influence and inspire. Naturally, in both movies, a lot of dramatic license is taken, but they’ll capture you from start to finish.
As much as we love how studios continue to crank out scripted series and movies, to me and many of my fellow history buffs, nothing beats a good documentary. For those who lean less towards fictional depictions or want more concrete facts about the real-life personalities and circumstances of these historical figures, they can rest easy. We have what you need.
Brought to you by some of the foremost Tudor historians, including Suzannah Lipscomb, Lucy Worsley and Dan Jones, a number of avenues give you countless documentary options, including PBSYouTube channels history blow, true royalty, Chronologyand certainly Brit Boxand acorn tele. All the amazing and insightful documentaries out there are sure to satisfy your curiosity about Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I, all of their extended relationships and members of their court.
Who better to tell their stories than those who have studied them for a long time?
Massachusetts native and 80s kid Katy Kostakis writes about arts and entertainment, lifestyle, food and drink, consumerism and culture. His work has appeared in Film Inquiry, YourTango, Wicked Local and Patch. Check out his jokes and rants on Twitter @KatyKostakison Instagram @katykostakisand on its website, katykostakis.com
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