Johnny Be Good: Violence and Celtic Tiger Irish Masculinity in The Tudors (2007-10)
National University of Ireland, Maynooth
(at time of presentation)
My name is Liz Carville and I’m a research candidate at NUI Maynooth under the supervision of Professor Luke Gibbons and Dr. Denis Condon. My research concerns the representations of Irish masculinity in Hollywood during the Celtic Tiger period, most specifically in terms of the popularity of metrosexual Irish actors such as Colin Farrell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Cillian Murphy in the U.S. during this period.
Arguably remembered as one of the most violent men to have existed, Henry Tudor was infamous for marrying and executing multiple wives in succession and severing all religious ties between England and Papal Rome. On being approached by US Network Showtime to create a series based on the Tudor dynasty, writer Michael Hirst agreed, on condition that he could rewrite Henry VIII, not so much by altering the king’s character, but by seriously rebranding his appearance. What is noteworthy is that of all the British (or even American) actors available, Hirst selected Irish actor, Jonathan Rhys Meyer, for the part. Irishness and Irish masculinity has long been employed by Hollywood to speak of a set of characteristics, most notably those of the ‘barbarous Celt,’ prone to volatile demonstrations of anger, usually, though not always, related to a zealous appetite for alcohol. What is significant in this case is how Meyers’ Irishness, while still rooted in the classical stereotype of Irish savagery, betrays a particular kind of ferocity that is influenced by the very specific economic, social and cultural climate of Celtic Tiger Ireland. By selecting Meyers as Henry VIII, Hirst availed of the attributes associated with Irishness to sublimate the dark and inauspicious side of the English monarchal past. Hirst delivered a monarch who appealed to a contemporary US audience while still remaining, according to his own approximation, around 85% faithful to historical truth. By drawing attention to the immaturity, the appetite for bloodshed, and the interior rather than somatic locus of the ‘new’ Henry’s ire, this paper shall isolate the aspects of Celtic Tiger male violence, and the traits which made Meyers ‘instinctually’ the choice for Hirst’s contemporary historical drama.