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Showtime just premiered a 10-part series called “The Tudors” starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a sexy, pompous King Henry VIII and Sam Neil as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. The series basically switches back and forth between explicit sex scenes between Henry, his boys, and the ladies of court, and the power struggles of the various Cardinals trying to keep their war-hungry kings in check.

In other words, “The Tudors” is shot almost entirely in the bedroom and the church. Neil is not quite right for the part of Cardinal–at least I can’t erase my association of him with Jurassic Park, which distorts my experience of watching him play a high church official. And then it’s hard to avoid imagining Meyers, as they were filming the series, openly complaining: “Oh shucks! You need me for yet another sex scene?” Poor Jonathan–so many naked girls to attend to.

So “The Tudors” is quite the soap opera. Between Philippa Gregory’s bestselling novel “The Other Boleyn Girl,” its various literary spinoffs, and now “The Tudors,” King Henry and his court may soon rival the legend of King Arthur in their ability to fascinate and titillate the public.
In one intense scene King Henry weeps in the confessional. He expresses fear that his marriage to Queen Catherine is somehow blemished, that she indeed consummated her previous marriage to Henry’s brother and then lied about it, making the Church’s ruling that there was no prior marriage null.

He worries that God has punished him with four children already dead (three still born and one boy who lived not even a month) and only one girl still living. King Henry asks what the Gospel says about a man who marries his brother’s wife, and his confessor responds, paraphrasing Leviticus 20:21: “If a man marries his brother’s wife, they shall die childless.” Since a girl doesn’t count as a true heir to Henry, he concludes that God must be punishing him.

And so we begin down that treacherous road that leads not only to many wifely beheadings, but also the split of Britain from the Catholic Church and the creation of the Church of England. It will be interesting to see how “The Tudors” plays this piece of Henry’s story out–or if they will instead focus more and more on the intrigue in the bedroom.

Tune in to Showtime Sunday nights at 10 p.m. for new episodes.

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