If you’ve read “About the History Lady” on this blog, you’ll know the BBC dramas The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R captured my attention as a 10-year-old and launched an interest that has held ever since. The Shadow of the Tower is the third installment of the BBC’s series that was not (I believe) ever shown in the US. It is every bit as good as the first two, but it focuses on the less glamorous (or less famous) of the Tudor monarchs, Henry VII. But Henry VII is important not just as the founder of the Tudor dynasty but for his own achievements, probably too often eclipsed by his larger-than-life descendants, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
The Shadow of the Tower follows the reign of Henry Tudor from his victory over King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry united the warring houses of Lancaster and York by marrying Elizabeth of York, Richard’s niece and eldest daughter of Edward IV. Despite securing the crown and uniting the country, pockets of rebellion and dissent continue to plague him throughout his reign. Henry lives in the shadow of the Tower, aware of his tenuous hold on the throne. As Henry VII, all he wants is to keep the realm at peace, fill the depleted royal coffers, secure the Tudor dynasty and be loved by the people. None of that is easy. He is beset by royal competitors and pretenders (Lambert Simnel, Perkin Warbeck), uprisings (Cornwall) and sundry traitors—real or imagined—from the Duke of Suffolk to the Earl of Warwick. He keeps the Tower and its executioners quite busy.
It is actually a very good series, though you have to approach The Shadow of the Tower with an understanding of its limitations—some of which are glaring. You have to get past the really quite awful opening music and accept its set production is not of the 21st Century. The screenwriting is very good—as is the acting, in particular James Maxwell plays Henry VII beautifully, trying hard to be a good, benevolent beloved king but having to continually to mete out the King’s Justice.
I nearly gave up on it after the first DVD with three episodes, at least two of which dragged a little, but persevered and was rewarded (perhaps I got used to the clunky sets and music). The Perkin Warbeck episodes have terrific scripts, are well-acted and full of dramatic tension. I finished the series, all 640 minutes of Tudor-loving viewing, very satisfied. Yes, the story could use a remake, but it is still worth the screen time.
If you have not seen the two other dramas in the series, you must. Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth R has not yet been surpassed even by Cate Blanchett or Dame Judi Dench (as terrific as they were). Keith Michell in the Six Wives of Henry VIII is probably my second favorite Henry ever (I give top marks to Ray Winstone in Henry VIII).
A couple of Tudor links you might find interesting:
- Winter King: Masterfully Crafted (tudortutor.com)
- The What Ifs of History (wordwenches.typepad.com)
- The enigmatic Richard III (plantageneta.wordpress.com)
- The “I”s Have It (tudortutor.com)
- Oxford historian claims the ‘Tudor’ era never happened (theweek.co.uk)
- Top ten Henry VIIIs on screen (telegraph.co.uk)
- Today’s Birthday: Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443) (euzicasa.wordpress.com)