Blood, Sex & Royalty Review 2022 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
Idon’t know how optimists manage, I really don’t. Surely having your hopes constantly dashed – by life, humanity, and rail timetables – is a wearying way to move through the world? A constant abrading of the soul. Pessimists, however, have got it made. We go through life either having our worldview satisfyingly confirmed or delightfully overturned. Honestly, it’s great! Join us! Low expectations are the key to happiness.
For example – when you greet me with the news that Netflix is dropping a three-part docudrama called Blood, Sex & Royalty, dramatisng all the sexiest parts of the Henry VIII-Anne Boleyn saga and documenting the facts via historian talking heads, I naturally assume the cringe-making, effortful, down-with-the-kidz worst of both worlds. I expect fatuous reconstructions of key moments in history by actors embarrassed to be there, in costumes one notch up from school-play quality. I anticipate them spouting lines typed by a monkey who has seen a few episodes of The Tudors and been given a banana and an hour at a desk to do its best. I am certain that there will be interviewees trying to hide their expertise and knowledge – as instructed by the producers – so as not to frighten the horses. I presume that there will, in short, be badness.
Well. Well! Consider my worldview delightfully overturned and my low expectations joyfully exceeded! Blood, Sex & Royalty is terrific. No, it’s not Wolf Hall meets AJP Taylor (and thank goodness – who could possibly have the mental bandwidth to cope with that in the year of our Lord 2022?). But the drama bits are intelligent, vivid, energetic, funny, full-blooded and good-hearted, with almost universally brilliant performances. Amy James-Kelly as Anne is the standout, making Boleyn fresh, hilarious and credible. She is enabled and supported by a script that, like Blackadder in a minor key, manages to modernise and distil the essence of people, politics and plot in a way that snaps you awake and makes you see the old story anew. “King of France, patron of the arts,” she says wryly, looking over at Francis I disporting himself in a manner unbecoming. “And banging my sister.” The options on offer for women are swiftly encapsulated. “Everywhere I looked women were getting screwed. By cheating husbands, controlling husbands, gambling husbands. Or you could be a mistress. Screwed with no husband.”
I’m not going to quote any more lines out of full context. I worry that they sound merely glib when, in fact – embedded in the scenes amid the explanations and expansions provided by the likes of professors Tracy Borman and Suzannah Lipscomb, and doctors Lauren Mackay and Owen Emmerson – they work as brilliant evocations of huge chunks of knowledge. They build fine portraits of the characters and all the relationships that will eventually save or damn them as the series goes on.
Who cannot love, for example (and yes, I’m about to quote again because I am as villainously two-faced and untrustworthy as Lady Rochford), Anne’s description of the two people who were to become her greatest obstacles? Particularly given the succinctness with which they capture the essence of the individuals and why they became such enemies to her success. There’s Cardinal Wolsey as “King Henry’s work wife”, and Anne’s thumbnail sketch of Catherine of Aragon: “Commanded an entire army on horseback, while pregnant. Respect.” Masterpieces of compression, both. And funny, especially in James-Kelly’s capable hands. At its best, the script reminds you of the scene in Shakespeare in Love, when Joseph Fiennes as the bard asks the name of the boy in the street who is torturing mice. “Webster,” says the boy, looking briefly up from his work, to reveal himself as the youthful incarnation of a dark Jacobean playwright. “John Webster.”
Purists will of course have plenty to complain about. Purists always do. This is the feminist interpretation of Anne, with her modern, egalitarian instincts emphasised (much is made of her wide-ranging reading and pro-Tyndale position, which coexist happily with her hots for Henry Percy and patient tolerance of Mary’s muck-ups). In Blood, Sex & Royalty she is at worst a strategist rather than a sorceress, and Henry (played by Max Parker) has been made properly hot for once and is not her pawn or plaything but a man who let his penis guide him more than he should have. Though it manages to pack a lot in, experts – of the armchair variety, particularly – will doubtless shout about how much has been left out. Of course, of course, of course.
But, on its own terms it’s an absolute triumph. Warm, witty and accessible, with the factual sections and their fictionalised counterparts twining supportively round each other rather than cancelling each other out or annoying alternate halves of the viewership. Optimists: enjoy, as you always do! Pessimists: will you trust me? Do try it, please. If I may be so bold – I think you will be very pleasantly surprised.