The Shadow of the Tower s01e06 – The White Hart

The episode starts with guys conspiring to overthrow Henry VII (Robert Maxwell) with the help of foreign money and a pretender king… in other words, “In the Shadow of the Tower” feels like itself again. If itself again means it feels more like the first three episodes than the two before this episode. It’s actually not a return to that original form, even if some of the same pieces are in play. For example, Queen Norma West returns, just with zilch to do. She’s scenery in Marigold Sharman’s scenes, something for Sharman to talk off.

The main story—and where the episode gets very different from anything coming before, especially the episodes with the same type of stakes—is about Sir William Stanley, who’s almost definitely a traitor of some sort. A conspiring one. Maxwell’s on to him, slowly but surely because Maxwell’s too trusting—the scene where Maxwell tears Stanley (John Franklyn-Robbins) down is fantastic. It’s just a shame Franklyn-Robbins isn’t any good. He’s very close to actively bad, hurting the many scenes he’s in this episode.

So Franklyn-Robbins is Sharman’s brother-in-law and Sharman is Maxwell’s mother and the King’s mother doesn’t want her in-law executed or even threatened with execution for treason. Maxwell doesn’t agree with her assessment of the situation, which doesn’t lead to a rift, just an oft-repeated exposition dump about Maxwell’s responsibilities as king.

It should be a great episode. If Franklyn-Robbins were any good, it’d be a great episode. Instead it’s just pretty good, with John Elliot’s script sometimes a little slow but a really good performance from Maxwell this time out. Even though the scripts aren’t giving Maxwell explicit character development, his character is developing through the performance as the series progresses. There’s definitely a “don’t question the Tudor king” attitude about the show, which is kind of weird but then the English have bought into the idea of not questioning their history just like the rest of Western civilization so maybe it’s not.

The Shadow of the Tower s01e01 – Crown in Jeopardy

In 2019, some forty-seven years since its first airing, “The Shadow of the Tower” feels like “Game of Thrones” without blood, booze, boobs, rape, battle scenes, dragons, prominent female characters, butts, zombies, and CGI. Oh, but it does have historical accuracy. There’s something really interesting seeing this “game of thrones,” specifically King Henry VII’s game for the throne, play out. Dramatized ingenuity is far more impressive than workshopped ingenuity. Even if they’re the same ingenuities. It’s kind of like Borges’s Don Quixote.

But it’s also might play more accessible these days because of “Thrones.” Amid everything else, “Game of Thrones” did teach modern audiences how to listen to plotting, something no one had been able to do since the British in the seventies with stuff like “Tower.” And they couldn’t hold that audience. At least not in America.

Anyway. This first episode introduces Henry, played by James Maxwell, who seems like he could go Bond villain at any time, making the whole thing a little disconcerting, and it introduces all the people pissed off or happy about him all of a sudden invading, killing the king, taking the throne. There are the armed insurrection guys plotting, there are the middle-of-the-road guys trying to figure out if they can work with the new king, there’s the princess—Norma West—who was promised to marry Maxwell when they were kids only she never thought it’d happen—trying to figure out her feelings on everything.

Now, “Tower” is bad at Bechdel. West’s got nothing to talk about but men and boys. Sure, it’s a patriarchy but… even with the limited expectations for a seventies dramatization of fifteenth century royal history, “Tower” doesn’t give West a lot to do except fret. West’s able to do something with it, which is impressive as hell, but it takes a while.

The episode’s got a good pace. Rosemary Anne Sisson’s teleplay is like a great lecture, the way she paces and plots the conversations and reveals. There’s no action, of course, no battles, barely any corpses, barely any crowds. It’s just about the cast providing a reasonable facsimile of their historical figures, reasonable but to the general viewer and, presumably, the informed. I didn’t do fifteenth century English history; it’s all going to be a surprise to me.

It’s very interesting.

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