Not technically Tudor-era, but to me Keith Mitchell was the ultimate Henry VIII. His portrayal is what drew me into the Tudors – indeed, his Emmy-winning performance created an entire army of lifelong Tudor fans.
Yes, yes, an enormous share of the credit must go to the amazing writers who delivered the context and story and dialogue – but these changed from episode to episode. The magic spark that held it all together came from the man who looked like he had just walked out of the Holbein portrait and acted like it too. Keith Mitchell’s acting skills gave us the gestures and expressions that allowed us to actually see what Henry was thinking.
Mitchell showed us the darkest side of Henry’s personality, the sudden hardening of his face into sly interest as when Cromwell mentions that he had found potential “causes” to dissolve Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. He also showed us Henry’s self-righteousness as when Cromwell reminds him that he had himself considered bigamy to resolve the Catherine of Aragon situation (“There were Biblical precedents”) and self-absorption as when he is courting Katherine Parr and sings to persuade her of his love (“I wrote that. I can’t remember who for”).
Admittedly, I was less convinced of Mitchell’s portrayal of the innocent Henry in love with Catherine of Aragon (“Yes, but they’re your friends too, that’s what makes it so wonderful”), but it was an important glimpse of Henry’s early idealism and a hint at the vulnerability he tried never to show – except when he apologized to Jane for threatening her after she pleaded for the Pilgrims of Grace (“Am I right…in my mind?”).
Rest in Peace.
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