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Blood, Sex & Royalty, Netflix review - yo, bros, get down with the GOAT, Henry VIII | reviews, news & interviews

Blood, Sex & Royalty, Netflix review - yo, bros, get down with the GOAT, Henry VIII

Blood, Sex & Royalty, Netflix review - yo, bros, get down with the GOAT, Henry VIII

Netflix aims a hip hop historical drama about Anne Boleyn at the Young Adult audience

Embracing her inner feminist: Amy James-Kelly as Anne BoleynNetflix

“It was like Woodstock on steroids,” opines an expert in Netflix’s new release about the doomed marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (yes, another one).

Not sure you remember anything of that description from your history lessons? That would be the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the lavish spectacle staged near Calais in 1520 for a summit between Henry and François I of France. 

This remark should tell you the key thing you need to know about Blood, Sex & Royalty. It’s probably not for you, unless you are vetting it on behalf of teenage offspring. Its mesh of costumed soap with documentary intentions is firmly aimed at that lucrative tranche of viewers dubbed the YAs (young adults). At least, I hope it is. Presumably Netflix needs more of them, to prop up its stalling audience figures. They won’t get what that come-on of a title promises in episode 1, though, which is low on the sex and blood elements.

The focus here is on the young Anne, who could easily have stepped out of the cast of Clueless, headstrong and intelligent and clearly riding for a fall. She “changed the whole course of history” (episode 1 gives the uninitiated few clues as to how), according to one of the academic talking heads who pop up to sketch in the bare bones of the historical background, while actors recreate scenes from the couple’s relationship. 

There’s a modicum of historical ballast on show. Not too much ballast, mind. Historical accuracy here means mapping out in simple form the basic political and cultural issues of Tudor England, and how rebellious Anne (Amy James-Kelly) will be tripped up by them. Influenced by François I of France’s sister, Marguerite of Angoulême, she has "embraced her inner feminist” and refuses to be a mistress, even to the macho King of England (Max Parker, pictured below). Worse, she is passionately interested in heretical religious ideas (ie Protestantism) and thus is set on a collision course with Catholic England and, in particular, with Cardinal Wolsey and the Tudor suits. Try to imagine a woman with the campaigning grit of a Greta Thunberg but the sexual desires of a Kardashian.Blood, Sex & Royalty, Netflix Although much of the series seems to have been shot in Lithuania, it does offer some real locations too, such as Hever Castle, home of the aspirational Boleyns. What historical accuracy here doesn’t mean is giving these 16th century characters the anachronism-free speech patterns and vocabulary we have become used to in period drama. There isn’t even a classy Tudorbethan soundtrack, with sackbuts and viols. Instead, the action plays out to French hip hop and American soul tracks while the script would be at home in a teen soap.

This mashup of periods isn’t thrillingly innovative, as it was in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette, soundtracked by leading punk bands. And the music doesn’t ramp up the drama as Nick Cave songs did in Peaky Blinders. It just feels incongruous. Worse on the ear is the dialogue. When we first see Anne, she is in the Tower being interviewed by Martin Bashir… sorry, by a serious man who is usefully inquiring about her past life. “There was such a buzz” at the French court, she recalls, and Marguerite “was a geek, chic goddess” who showed her that women everywhere were being “screwed”. Her “bestie” in London is Lady Worcester, her first object of lust Henry Percy (aka the Earl of Northumberland, whom she pertly addresses as “Mr Percy”, as if in a Jane Austen makeover); when Wolsey puts a stop to this romance, she complains she is being "grounded" at Hever, while her sister Mary is “banging” the king. Particularly treasurable is the moment when Anne’s dad begins an announcement at the family dinner table with, “News just in.”  

Not for this crew the pewter tankards, goblets and whole suckling pigs of the bog-standard props department. They seem to be drinking out of glasses, studying themselves in serviceable mirrors and reading modern-looking large-format hardback books.

Anne becomes one of the followers of William Tyndale, creator of the first English-language bible, who are “religious nutjobs” according to a stuffy courtier who insists the Bible was written in Latin. It wasn’t, but the lecturing experts don’t go into that, or any deeper explanation of the Protestant Reformation and how it will split the country in two. (Maybe the script is saving that for episode two?). They just keen on about how incredibly dangerous Anne’s ideas are; for Anne, the court unsurprisingly has “hostile vibes”.

Blood, Sex & Royalty, Netflix You won’t be surprised either to see Anne overtly Fleabagging. She has mastered the confessional to-camera aside, and also the spiritedness and lusting after inappropriate men of the genre’s creator. She even has a competitive older sister.

If this is what it takes to make young teenagers engage with Anne Boleyn, maybe we have to say so be it. Most are hardly likely to plough through the Wolf Hall trilogy, in any of its multiple formats – how many grown-ups actually did? – though there is always the box set of The Tudors for a more detailed rundown of the era, which devoted an episode to Anne’s trial and execution that was, um, a cut above.

How this Netflix series in turn handles Anne’s fall from grace isn't clear as the final part of the three isn’t available for review yet. The inherent pathos of her demise probably won’t be soft-soaped. At least, I hope so. But let’s look forward to more racy royal intrigue from the Blood, Sex & Royalty producers – me, I can’t wait for their Boy George IV and Victoria’s Secrets, a steamy take on the sex life of that mother of nine and her budding Elon Musk of a husband, the entrepreneurial Albert.

The soundtrack is French hip hop and American soul tracks while the dialogue would be at home in a teen soap


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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