Historical dramas are all the rage on TV these days, from Showtime’s The Tudors and upcoming The Borgias to Starz’s Spartacus. Forty years ago, BBC already was forging the genre with their acclaimed series about the history of British royalty. First came The Six Wives of Henry VIII in 1970, chronicling the same time period The Tudors later would cover, and focusing on a different wife of Henry in each of its six episodes. Elizabeth R followed in 1971 with a recounting of the rise and reign of Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I. The Shadow of the Tower aired in 1972 as the third series, a prequel to the first. More than twice as long as each of the first two series, The Shadow of the Tower tells the story of Henry VII in its thirteen episodes, detailing a less frequently dramatized era of the Tudor dynasty.
James Maxwell stars as Henry Tudor, and the series opens with his rise to the throne upon defeating Richard III in battle at the conclusion of the War of the Roses. Henry VII was the final British king to secure the throne through combat, and one of the struggles shown throughout The Shadow of the Tower is his attempt to hold onto the seat and power he won. We also see Henry’s courtship of and eventual marriage to Elizabeth of York, played by Norma West. Their children will be familiar to nearly anyone who has heard of the Tudors as the series depicts the birth and early life of Henry VIII and his siblings. Behind all the family drama and history is a rich history of royal politics and post-war power struggles.
The story of Henry VII usually takes a backseat to that of his more notorious and flamboyant heir, so a lot of The Shadow of the Tower may be new even to those previously interested in the Tudors. The series characterizes Henry VII in a balanced manner, showing him at his best and at his worst, and delivering some believable period settings that probably feel even more authentic thanks to the age of the production itself.
BBC has issued a new DVD release of the series in a four disc box set. Along with the 13 episodes of the main series, the DVD set includes several notable extras:
- The Tower of London: The Innocent – An additional drama starring James Maxwell as Henry VII that is set prior to the events of The Shadow of the Tower. It was produced in 1969 and runs nearly an hour in length.
- Hooray Henry! – A historical featurette focusing on the fall of Richard III and the rise of Henry VII.
- 24 page booklet with production notes.
The Shadow of the Tower released on DVD on January 25, 2011.