The Power of Creating Male characters Defined by the Women in their Lives
by Dr. Rosanne Welch
I had too much fun catching up with The Tudors on Netflix over the past few weeks. I highly recommend watching the series merely for the writing and acting. Yes, I know, I’ve read where they took liberties with historical detail and I forgive them for that. I’m a grown-up and I know how to research things online in an actual books. In fact, I’m in the middle of a book on Anne of Cleves because I was fascinated with the fact that she avoided beheading and became like a sister to Henry for the rest of his life — and rather than return to Germany and live under the thumb of her brother, Anne stayed on in England and lived single — and in control — of the rest of her life on quite a nice estate.
Along with the quality writing what I deeply enjoyed about The Tudors was adding King Henry VIII (as played by John Rhys Meyers and written by Michael Hirst) to my list of male characters defined by the women in their lives. It’s a list I started years ago, while falling in love with the film Prince of Tides, adapted from the novel by Pat Conroy. While we most remember the film as having been directed by Barbra Streisand, the screenplay was co-written by Conroy and Becky Johnston, who were nominated for an Oscar for that collaboration in 1992). So there were female fingerprints all over this thing once Mr. Conroy sold it to Columbia Pictures.
Though the movie is about the journey on one Southern man, played by Nick Nolte, to forgive his own mother for the offense of ignoring his traumatized sister, the IMDB logline references the two women of import in the film in this way: “A troubled man talks to his suicidal sister’s psychiatrist about their family history and falls in love with her in the process.” Further, the summary of the storyline mentions all 4 of the major women in one man — Tom Wingo’s — life.
“Tom Wingo is unhappy with his life. His wife doesn’t understand him and he also doesn’t get along with his dominant mother. When his sister attempts suicide, her psychologist Susan Lowenstein consults him. Patiently and cautiously she uncovers the terrible secret hidden in Tom and Savannah’s childhood. On the other side she’s unhappy too and so both help each other to find their way back to life.”
That concept fascinated me in 1992 when I saw the film and marveled at the dual themes of forgiveness but also of how one man’s life was being definedu by the women in it — from his mother to his sister to the wife that was trying to help him through his own unidentified trauma to his daughters and, finally, to the psychiatrist played by Streisand. AND I loved how the story explored the idea that there is more than one life we can lead in this world but it’s up to us to make choices as to when and to whom we commit. THAT idea really struck with me as a late twenty-something person sitting in the darkened theatre.
In light of our discussion of the Heroine’s journey in the last episode, the journey in Prince of Tides seems to also be one of a male character coming to terms with the feminine in life, which is often dramatized as coming to terms with a mother figure. But in Prince of Tides the male character is also coming to terms with how his life, the life of a football coach, was formed and continues to be formed based on his relationships with women, not all of which need to be romantic. The deep love he shows for his sister is powerful to watch — the fact that he delves into his own psyche because he is willing to do anything to help her, really made him a hero.
Back to Henry VIII. Yes, the series was advertised in terms of the sexual titliation of how many wives he had — and the convergence of how many he had beheaded (only 2 actually). But the reality of the way the series was written is that each wife was shown to have her own particular power over the king. Part of this came from his deep desire to have a son to stand as heir to the throne — an heir and a spare actually. Also each wife was portrayed as having her own particular political agenda, granted most of those agendas revolved around advocating for their own particular religion, but religion was political back in the day. Deeply political. Catherine of Aragon so staunchly supported Catholicism that she refused to acknowledge the divorce Henry engineered when he made himself the head of the Church of England — and her daughter lady Mary, stayed true to that commitment all her life and into her own reign as queen. On a side note, I read that the nickname “Bloody Mary”, given to her when she tried to turn the realm back to Catholicism and killed so many heretics wasn’t fair considering her father had killed thousands more Catholics in his quest to create the Church of England. So he should be Bloody Henry before we smear Mary’s name with that moniker.
Back to Henry’s wives… Anne Boleyn was an advocate of the Reformation, and her daughter Elizabeth when she became Queen — and the namesake of Elizabethan England — would be the first protestant Queen of England, thereby giving life to her mother’s religious agenda.
So here was a man truly defined by the women in his life. In fact one character actually has a line that says if only lady Mary had been born a boy then Henry would not have had to divorce Catherine, and therefore the Church of England might never have been born. That is power.
Then there is Lady Jane, who finally gave Henry the son he dreamed of but died herself in the process so we don’t get to know all her strengths, yet the memory of the happiness she gave him haunts all the rest of his relationships. Yet another demonstration of power.
Lady Jane is followed up by the aforementioned Anne of Cleves, who sadly goes down in history as being ugly when she was just “Not Jane” — because as we all know the rebound relationship can never live up to a lost love.
The show punched up this theme in the series finale as Henry slowly deteriorated — he saw hallucinations of Catherine and Anne Boleyn berating him for his false treatment of them and reminding him that he would live on in his brilliant daughters more than in the younger, weaker, son — as did in fact happen. the writer, Michael Hirst, had the benefit of historical hindsight to artistically craft Henry’s last thoughts, that artistry underlined how much Henry was defined by the women in his life. And I haven’t even gone into the story of his mother, which is told so well in The White Queen from last season. I recommend watching that series as well.
Lest you think the list of men defined by women begins and ends with Prince of Tides and The Tudors let me divest you of that opinion. One of the most popular, long-running cop shows on television today is built around a man defined by the women in his life — Castle. Think about it. As played by the brilliant Nathan Fillion, successful novelist Richard Castle lives with his mother and college-aged daughter while writing about a female detective and researching that character by trailing a real-life female detective, Kate Beckett who (spoiler alert) he marries after several seasons.
So as mentioned earlier, narratives about these men are truly blending both the Hero AND the Heroine’s journey in that the characters are not complete until the reconcile with the feminine in their lives — which makes each of these men as sexy as they can be on so many more levels than just the physical.
Doing this essay let me discover a few fun things, one was that the Daily Mail considered The Tudors raunchy, which I did not and the second interesting thing was Barbra Streisand has her own archive online so no one else can write the story of her directing career. Smart, smart lady.
If you have any comments or ideas to share, let me know via the comments,
email at Mindfull@3rdpass.media or via Twitter @MindfullMedia and we’ll develop your ideas as we go.
— This Article was written by — Dr. Rosanne Welch
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