The Tudors: The Complete Third Season (Paramount) – England’s young King Henry VIII works his way through wives three and four in the third season of Showtime’s rather lusty take on the historical drama. This isn’t the rotund, boorish glutton as defined by Charles Laughton. As incarnated by Jonathan Rhys Meyers he is a robust, virile, hearty young king with a lust for life, power and women. The British/American co-production was made for Showtime as part of their strategy to challenge HBO’s primacy in original programming, and the pay cable venue means that it can indulge in the lustier aspects of this slice of old England: the affairs, the dalliances, the seductions in fleshy detail.
But while the sex is the lure, the show is all about power and politics: the jockeying for influence in the court, the behind-the-scenes scheming to keep Henry’s favor, the treaties and royal marriages engineered for European alliances, and the increasingly tense relationship between the monarchies and the Vatican, which wields a power almost of powerful as that of royalty… until now. Henry makes himself head of the Church of England and brings the country to the verge of civil war. Meanwhile he grieves over the death of this third wife, Jane Seymour (Anita Briem), due to complications from childbirth and gives up on Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone), an unsophisticated German aristocrat to whom he is betrothed sight unseen, without ever consummating the marriage (his displeasure at the his advisor’s poor judgment – Henry finds Anne homely and unappealing in every way – has fatal consequences for the unlucky matchmaker). And, of course, there are the various mistresses along the way. A king has needs. Max Von Sydow co-stars this season as a Vatican Cardinal scheming to return the Catholic Church to power in England. Eight episodes on four discs, plus a featurette on the historical timeline. The fourth and final season begins on Showtime in 2010.