Before he donned Clark Kent’s glasses or the Man of Steel’s cape, Henry Cavill was Charles Brandon to Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s Henry VIII on The Tudors (2004-2007.) Rhys Meyers is undoubtedly the breakout star of the Showtime period drama, but, for many, particularly on this side of the pond, the show was their first glimpse of Cavill. Cavill plays the young king’s wingman and childhood friend, Charles Brandon, whom Henry names the first Duke of Suffolk. Both men grew up together at court, and Charles’s father was Standard Bearer to Henry’s father.
In the fictionalized court of The Tudors, Cavill and Rhys Meyers are well-matched as rich, handsome, and titled (read: entitled) young bon vivants. Cavill’s quiet restraint (and height) serve as a foil to the fiery Rhys Meyers, who portrays Henry with an aggressive overindulgence that, even before the king’s famously disastrous jousting accident, is always teetering on the verge of disaster and mayhem.
In “His Majesty, the King” (Season 1, Episode 4), Charles is instructed by the king to escort the king’s sister, Princess Margaret (Gabrielle Anwar), to meet her future husband, the aging king of Portugal. Viewers get a literal glimpse of Charles preparing for bed when the Princess peeks through a fortuitous crack in the doors between their cabins on board the ship bound for Portugal.
Once the journey has begun, Charles joins the princess in her cabin for a game of cards. “I don’t like to be teased,” she says.
“Will you like it when an old man tries to make love to you?” he responds.
When Margaret dismisses her ladies-in-waiting, she might as well say, "If the room is a-rockin', don’t bother knocking." Their first kiss is illuminated by a flash of lighting on the stormy seas. In a show well-known for its bodice-ripping, the first coupling of Charles and Margaret is notable for its lack of skin but makes up for it with the unsteadying pounding (ahem) of the storm. The whole room is shaking, the lights are flashing, and the storm rolls on outside. Each piece of the production puzzle underscores the passion between the two.
Cavill and Anwar in The Tudors, Season 1, Episode 4
The seas have calmed when the two arrive at the princess’ new kingdom. Charles accompanies her to meet the king, who can barely walk and literally licks his lips at the sight of his betrothed. Charles catches her when she swoons, and we know, at that moment, that the affair between the two is far from over, marriage or no marriage.
“What are you doing?” Margaret says, in a whisper as Brandon walks her down the aisle.
“What the king ordered,” he says.
They share a final dance the night before Charles' departure, and even the King can see the connection between the two. Margaret silences Charles' teasing with one phrase: “You love me.”
Cavill’s Superman has been criticized as being cold and, even worse, dull. But his performance on The Tudors was anything but. Rhys Meyers and Henry VIII’s succession of wives, most notably Game of Thrones’ (2011- ) Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn, get the headlines on The Tudors, and rightly so, but Cavill and Anwar brought a different type of passionate affair to the court and earned their all-too-limited screen time as a couple.