Blood, Sex & Royalty Season 1 Review – An interesting approach with disastrous execution

Season 1

Episode Guide

Boleyns For The Win
Never Let Them See You Cry
Somebody Wants Me Dead


King Henry VIII is one of history’s most intriguing monarchs, but probably not for the right reasons. Henry VIII ruled England for 36 years, and lead his country towards the Protestant Reformation. He had six wives in his quest for a political coalition, marital pleasure, and a strong male heir. His determination to dissolve his first union without the sanction of the Pope resulted in the formation of an independent Church of England. His unions ended with him getting two annulments, two of his wives had natural deaths, and two of them went through mass executions for infidelity and treachery.

The reign of King Henry VIII has been beautifully depicted in several shows. However, this show made the intriguing choice to recount the tale from the viewpoint of one of his wives, Anne Boleyn, which is an interesting direction to pursue given how prolific she is.

Anne Boleyn gave birth to the iconic Elizabeth The First, who went on to become one of England’s greatest monarchs. Elizabeth’s reign was referred to as the Golden Age, and she was referred to as “Gloriana” and “The Virgin Queen”, in numerous sonnets, poems, and epics. King Henry’s decision to leave the Catholic Church was also influenced by her.

Blood, Sex & Royalty is a Netflix docu-drama that adequately provides us with a glimpse into Anne Boleyn’s journey as one of the most important English queens in history. The title of the Netflix Original docuseries, which dramatizes the world of Anne Boleyn, suggests that it will walk us through the most violent and exciting aspects of the Queen’s life. Throughout this three-episode plotline, testimonies by royal experts as well as narration that takes place during Anne’s life at court are interwoven.

We follow Anne’s journey, commencing with her early years when she’s wooing the monarch, moving on to her reign as queen at her power peak, and ending with her tragic downfall as she is unable to bear an heir to the throne while the privy council rebels against her and she is ultimately put to death for treason.

Since we get to view events through Anne Boleyn’s perspective, the show’s approach is compelling. Sadly though, the attempt to modernize the 1550’s by employing hip-hop background music, using current terminologies like “date”, and basically adding heaps of needless components causes the intriguing plot to lose its core and it just falls flat.

Although the docudrama is labeled as a docuseries, it is simply a dramatization of Anne Boleyn’s journey, with the odd inclusion of experts providing background information for the unfolding narrative. While the storyline is decent, the tone of the tale appears to be all over the place.

Anne’s ascent to fame employs various plot elements, the most prominent of which seems to be the “looking at the past” ploy. In the year 1536, while confined inside the Tower of London, Anne testifies about her background and actions. Along with that dramatization, some real historians and professionals give additional information and facts regarding Anne and her background.

The depiction of Anne’s life is intended to be smart and witty, and it emphasizes Anne’s informed and vocal opinions on marriages and church reformation as expressed by herself. However, the tone fluctuates a lot when we transition to the professionals who provide precise justifications and historical context of the Tudor era.

Sadly, the tension is constantly broken as the show cuts away from all the intensity it has built up by using professionals to explain what’s happening.

Furthermore, the show intertwines scenes from Anne’s earlier years, which have a fun, vivacious tone as she breaks the fourth wall to deliver comments to us in the Fleabag head-turn style in a bid to add extra flavor to the narrative. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit the historical context of the events and seems really forced.

On one such occasion, Anne looks towards us and calls Cardinal Thomas Wolsey Henry VIII’s “work wife” as soon as the camera presents him as one of the king’s valued religious advisors. As there is so much happening and since so many devices are being employed to tell this tale, it rarely comes off as witty, usually leaving one to scream internally.

The show’s title mentions “blood”, sadly though very little bloodshed is showcased in the drama series. The drama provides no evidence of Henry’s brutality or cruelty as a ruler. It might be because almost all of his violent episodes occurred following Anne’s execution, and as a consequence, the documentary doesn’t stress that, but again it’s simply a case of failing to meet the high standards set by its own title.

James-Kelly gives one of the most memorable performances in the show as Anne Boleyn. She portrays the historical character as witty, sarcastic, hilarious, and attractive because there seems to be a razor-sharp wit about her.

Overall, Blood, Sex and Royalty may have a decent premise, but the route the show chooses to take ends up as a bit of a tonal mess. The show had a lot of potential but all of that is squandered long before the final credits roll.

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  • Verdict - 4.5/10

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