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November 20, 2015 – Death of Keith Michell

Henry/Keith during the Blackfriars Trial

Not technically Tudor-era, but to me Keith Michell 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 Michell’s acting skills gave us the gestures and expressions that allowed us to actually see what Henry was thinking.

Michell 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 Michell’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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Published inOn This Day

10 Comments

  1. I was really sorry that Keith Michelle died recently. Like you, as far as I I was concerned Keith Michelle was the ONLY Henry VIII.
    Having been involved with the first “Six Wives of Henry Vlll, I’m afraid the second series, even with the lovely Natalie Portman couldn’t hold a candle to it.

    • It’s like baby ducks imprinting onto their mothers so they don’t follow anyone else! Though I admit I think Jonathan Rhys Meyer was wonderful as the young Henry (not as the older one)….

  2. Did Jonathan Reece Meyer ever age as Henry VIII? As I remember Jonathan Reece Meyer wasn’t even a Tudor redhead.
    I’m sorry to admit I lost patience with “The Tudors” long before the series was over.
    So many people seem to be of the opinion that Anne Boleyn was the only wife of fat Hal’s worth taking an interest in, although I’m of the opinion that Jane Seymour wasn’t at all what she appeared to be.

  3. Sheena Cairnie Sheena Cairnie

    Keith Michelle was the ultimate Henry V111.
    It is like he just walked out of the history books! I’ve read books & books on the Tudors and Keith Michelle ( I felt) portrayed his every expression & blustering ways perfectly
    Dorothy Tutin ( although a little older) did the same with Anne Boleyn

  4. Keith Michelle’s portrayal of Henry VIII started my obsession with the Tudors. I saw the series at age 12, went to England a month later, and haven’t stopped studying them since. The Tudors series with Rhys Meyer drove me crazy with its inaccuracies, and Rhys Meyer was terribly mis-cast as Henry. Keith Mitchell physically and with his acting was Henry!

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