King Henry VIII the virile babe?

CanWest News Service
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Tudor England in recent TV/film productions: bodacious women, a virile handsome king, and nightly feasts of lovemaking.

Tudor England in recent TV/film productions: bodacious women, a virile handsome king, and nightly feasts of lovemaking.

Tudor England in reality: people disposing of their waste in pots, a grotesquely obese king and a strong spice trade to cover the stench of rotting meat - not to mention the complete lack of dentistry.

Two recent recreations of life in England during King Henry VIIIs reign depict a royal court full of frocked, cleavage-popping babes, and roguish fur-collared men who are more bejewelled and have more shine and gloss than the best of todays hip-hop royalty. The stories unfold through many erotic scenes, and plentiful bedmates for anyone with a Lord, Sir or Duke before his name.

But how is it that weve come to represent the people who gave us the Anglican Church, lace collars and lead glass windows in such a glamorized and frankly sexed-up way?

In Michael Hirsts TV series The Tudors, Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays King Henry as a hot, randy, rockstar-like beast, while Eric Banas Henry in The Other Boleyn Girl is grisly, sexy, and prone to intense, manly staring.

In both cases, King Henry VIII is portrayed as a young, handsome charmer. But were he alive today, Henry would probably be on Dr. Phil talking about his weight issues and his phobia surrounding monogamy. Or hed be in jail for murder.

As history books and old paintings tell it, King Henry became a stout, sickly, overbearing ruler who disposed of his wives as easily as the bones of his leftover chicken legs.

During his almost 40-year reign (1509 -1547) he married six times, beheaded two wives, and had two marriages annulled. (Of the remaining two wives, one died post-childbirth and one outlived King Henry).

So why the discrepancy between the reality of a tyrannical and murderous era and its glossy, glamorized film version portrayals?

Productions like The Tudors and The Other Boleyn Girl may actually have more to say about our society and its interests than they do about historical accuracy, says Robert Thompson, a pop culture and media expert at Syracuse University.

Its not about Tudor England, its about 21st century contemporary life in the form of Tudor England, Thompson says.

Were in a time when theres an interest in political power, and the scandal and human drama that goes on within that... After going through the time of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal, all of a sudden the Tudors is contemporary.

More recently, adulterous suggestions surrounding U.S. presidential hopeful John McCain have sparked drama and controversy in the political sphere again.

Out of specific stories come these universal ideas: we are lustful, we are corrupt, we are outrighteous, Thompson says.

In other words, we love a scandal - especially when it involves sex and deceit. While Tudor England had its share of of both, history suggests that the surrounding circumstances wouldnt have been quite so stylish and gregarious.

In the end, Henry died of health-related problems - he possibly suffered from gout and syphilis, and had an infected leg due to a jousting accident - in a time of bubonic plague, typhus, boorish behaviour and dining without utensils. Maybe its for the best that directors are opting to clean up the past.

In 300 years, who knows how the media will portray the Charles/Camilla story or, even better, the Mulroney/Schreiber affair?

The Other Boleyn Girl opens Feb. 29. The Tudors airs March 2008 on Showtime and on CBC in fall 2008.

Organizations: Anglican Church, Syracuse University, CBC

Geographic location: England, U.S.

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