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Not a patch on 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' and 'Elizabeth R'
'The Shadow of the Tower' came to my attention as a recommendation, having been so taken with both 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' and especially 'Elizabeth R' with Keith Michell and Glenda Jackson giving unforgettable portrayals as Henry and Elizabeth.
Finally seeing 'The Shadow of the Tower' it was intriguing certainly, but it was also somewhat of a let-down. It is definitely worth seeing for anybody who wants to learn more about King Henry VII, most famous for being Henry VIII's father and defeating Richard III at the battle of Bosworth (signalling the end of the "Wars of the Roses") and until seeing that was pretty much all that was personally known about him. To see 'The Shadow of the Tower' giving him much complexity and making him a richly and vividly drawn character was really wonderful to see, and is one of the series' biggest selling points.
As is the nuanced, understated, while still giving the character plenty of juice, and altogether marvellous performance of James Maxwell, one almost on par with Michell's Henry VIII and Jackson's Elizabeth I and definitely the best thing about 'The Shadow of the Tower. The acting other than Maxwell very much varies, the performances of Perkin Warbeck and Earl of Warwick (the best developed supporting characters too) come off best and are strong portrayals. Too much of the rest of the acting is either too overwroughtly hammy or too staidly stagy. Don't know what the writers and casting directors were thinking with that out-of-place and offensively stereotypical Jewish Spanish Ambassador character.
Production values, writing and storytelling also varies. The costumes are accurate, evocative and attractive and the photography is skillful, unfussy and attractively done, but too much of the production values have a shoe-string budget and confined look that rob the locations and period detail of their grandeur and expansiveness, the sets look like they were worth less than one pound or something. The music is beautifully composed and never intrudes, used at minimum in fact.
Some of the writing is very good, credit is due to making Henry, Warbeck and Warwick well-drawn characters and it is very literate and thought-provoking with no obvious factual distortions, so it will be no doubt fascinating for historical buffs. In other places though, a danger this said for script-writing so heavy in detail, it is a bit too rambling and wordy, with some scenes having too much talk that undermines the momentum. Some of it has lapses in continuity and clarity of where and when everything took place, as well as having some convoluted and clunky exposition.
In 'The Shadow of the Tower' there is a good deal of compelling storytelling and one is fascinated by a monarch that is much more interesting and complex than the two things that he's most well-known for. Some of the storytelling later on after starting grippingly does suffer from lack of narrative link which harms the continuity and causes confusion and some too staid pacing (yes 'The Shadow of the Tower' was a series where slow pacing was necessary, but it does feel dull and has too much of a drifting feel when there is a lack of dramatic conflict and a lot of talk).
On the whole, worth watching but disappointing. Nothing is done disastrously, but at the end of the day the development of Henry VII and James Maxwell are the only truly outstanding things, everything else is variable. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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