Six Wives with Lucy Worsley

TV’s latest flick through the most thumbed chapter of English history started with Lucy Worsley turning over playing cards of Henry VIII’s wives and listing their strengths and weaknesses like a game of Tudor Top Trumps: ‘Catherine of Aragon: the bitter, abandoned first wife. Anne Boleyn: the original other woman. Jane Seymour: bit of a doormat. Anne of Cleeves: the ugly one. Catherine Howard: the one who slept around. Catherine Parr: the saintly nurse.’

Well, it’s better than the one word obit – divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived – they usually get, I suppose. But it’s still a reductive way to view the complicated, turbulent lives of six very different individuals – a slight Worsley is on a mission to redress in this three-part series by elbowing Henry to one side and putting his wives firmly centre stage.

Plus, of course, it’s a chance for her to raid the dressing-up box. No TV historian enjoys a bit of cosplay as much as Worsley – you won’t find David Starkey as keen to pop on a mobcap or a periwig at the drop of a bonnet – and, true to form, it took less than a minute for her to slip into something more Tudor.

From that point on, we switched between modern Lucy – describing life in Henry’s court with her trademark, head girl enthusiasm – and historical Lucy, lurking in the background of various historical reconstructions in the guise of, say, a midwife or nursemaid. It was a fun way of bringing the story alive (as long as you could put French and Saunders’ smirking background artistes out of your mind).

The reconstructions themselves felt more Horrible Histories than Wolf Hall – Henry looked like a 14-year-old in a joke shop beard – and, adhering to the unwritten rule of drama-documentaries, featured no-one you’d ever seen on TV before.

Back in the 21st century, meanwhile, Worsley became the first historian granted permission to film Henry’s handwritten love letters to Anne Boleyn. It was quite a coup – but you could tell she was itching to get back into a bodice and a bumroll at the earliest opportunity.

TV extra: 

This Is Us

This likeable new US drama, about a couple (Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore) who lose one of their triplets at birth and decide to adopt an abandoned baby born on the same day, is not without moments of mawkish melodrama (including an actual ‘when life gives you lemons’ homily). But, as it traces the three siblings’ fortunes into adulthood, there’s enough salty humour to un-sweeten the pill. And besides, in these turbulent, divided times, I’m sure we’re all in the market for a bit of heartwarming.


In Plain Sight

Based on the true story of Peter Manuel – the 1950s Scottish serial killer dubbed ‘the Beast of Birkenshaw – In Plain Sight successfully sidesteps the hoarier clichés of the crime thriller by largely sticking to the facts of the case. Martin Compston is terrifyingly convincing as the cocky psychopath who delights in taunting his enemy, gentleman copper William Muncie (Douglas Henshall), and there’s an almost suburban ordinariness to the tragic events that’s somehow more disturbing than the baroque, operatic nonsense of Hannibal Lecter et al.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, December 8, 2016

(c) Waitrose Weekend