A lady unlaces the front of her dress, a crown lies still on the throne and a body lies motionless on a marble floor, to which Jonathan Rhys Meyers intones is his gentle British tenor: “You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends. To get to the heart of the story, you have to go back to the beginning.”

Sarah Royce
In “The Tudors,” Meyers beheads unfortunate women with due flair. (Courtesy of Showtime)

Welcome to “The Tudors.”

A lush, bloodthirsty rendering of Henry VIII’s reign, “The Tudors” is Showtime’s answer to HBO’s popular period dramas (“Rome,” “Deadwood,” “Carnivale”) with Meyers (“Match Point”) well-cast as King Henry VIII, the most notorious in England’s history.

Some critics have already dismissed Meyers’s “phoned-in” performance, but the confident, sexy star does evil remarkably well. While scheming and ranting with his advisers, something dark and malicious sparkles in his eyes. He speaks forcefully, with a biting, self-important tone that makes him a perfect fit for the role of a king with an insatiable appetite for power, prestige and sex.

The show’s unchecked jolt of hyper masculinity is undeniable. In just the second episode, Henry challenges the King of France to a wrestling match after the latter claims that France boasts Europe’s best wrestlers – and the two of them immediately strip to the waist.

Needless to say, if the real Henry VIII had taken on the King of France, it would have been more like a sumo match than a hot-body contest. In fact, this King Henry’s pretty face and ripped physique are the only obvious problems with the show, since the real monarch was a large man with facial hair and a famously imposing belly – nothing like the model-esque Meyers. Doubtless the decision to avoid starring a fat brute with a turkey leg was based on the ultimate TV king: ratings.

But if you can forgive this and some of the other superficially miscast roles, there are plenty of redeeming qualities. In addition to the visual feast provided by the show’s gorgeous set design, rich costuming and opulent jewelry, you get to watch Mary Boleyn, sister of the infamous Anne, go down on King Henry.

It might not be as saucy as non-fiction orgy “Rome,” but there’s plenty of sex in “The Tudors,” and enough intrigue to keep each episode moving nicely. In the pilot, Henry wastes no time impregnating one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting in his furious quest for a male heir to the throne – a necessity his barren wife could never provide.

After reading Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” Henry remarks the author asks an important question: whether it is better for a king to be feared or loved. In Meyers’s case, evil is made more palatable (and marketable) via great abs and an overcharged sex drive. Let the heads roll.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The Tudors

Sundays at 10 p.m.
Showtime

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