On this Independence Day, I am moved to enter the next installment of my GIA essays on behalf of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and his role of King Henry VIII on the show The Tudors. As in my previous GIA post on Callum Keith Rennie in Californication, the accolade is not just for a particular actor, but also for those responsible for casting the perfect actor for the perfect part.
Regarding JRM, his King Henry really shines when you watch other movies depicting the same monarch. The simple fact is that only JRM brings the energy of the borderline-insane to the role (which is not to say the he is in such a state himself). There is a fire in his eyes that fits well with the monstrous nature of a man who could order both friends and lovers to their deaths by beheading, one after another after another. It also fits well in the portrayal of a King who was crazy enough to actually break ties with the Pope and the Catholic church, at great personal and political cost, for the sake of a ‘concubine’s’ affections. Certainly Henry was a menacing psychopath, and JRM’s eyes serve as a wellspring for the dynamic range of this volatile character.
The same cannot be said, for example, for Eric Bana, an otherwise decent actor who plays King Henry VIII in “The Other Boleyn Girl”, with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. His King Henry lacks the appropriate menace, particularly next to JRM’s version. One almost waits for the JRM King to bound around the corner and turn Bana’s King to stone with one angry glance.
One can also be sure of a superior performance when observing the same actor in a different role, such as JRM’s turn as an American diplomat in “From Paris with Love”, with John Travolta. Putting aside JRM’s failed attempt at an American accent (get back to work before you try again, Mr. Meyers), one feels the absence of King Henry’s full range. This again points to those responsible for casting: bravo for choosing this individual in this role, and bravo for JRM’s vivid portrayal.
Why on Independence Day? By coincidence, my appreciation for a show about the British monarchy dovetails with the fact that the United States is a former colony of England that threw off the yoke of monarchy in favor of the rule of law. Our way of life and government is designed to ensure due process, orderly succession, and that the state is of, by, and for the people, among other enlightened attributes. A petulant monarch whose capricious and unchecked, reckless acts is the symbol and actual fact of tyranny; the Founding Fathers said: No, we’re going to break with England and chart a higher, better path and the Citizen will reign supreme. God Bless Them, and God Bless America.