Henry VIII: Dressed to kill, Tower of London, London

2.00

Action hero, king of the catwalk

Even before you reach the top of the wooden staircase that mounts up and up and up the outside of William the Conqueror's White Tower, the structure by which the Tower of London is most readily identified, you begin to hear more than a bit of hullabaloo. Then, when you push through the swing doors, it hits you full in the face. This is the All-Action-Hero Henry VIII show – military man, sportsman, icon of then and now! A bit over the top? You bet!

The first glimpse of him you get, he's sitting astride a white charger, rearing over you, in top-to-toe dress armour, pent inside a huge glass display case set against a light box that flashes white, then blue, then white again. Curious, the horses in this show. They are all white, like strange, ice-stiffened soft toys. The presentation brings together several beguiling elements of our current civilisation: a Selfridges window-display; a CNN newsflash; the slinky glitter of the catwalk.

Next to Henry on horseback, there's a bit of filmic virtual reality – huge men in mortal combat; bigger, much more manly men than you could ever hope to be. And to help the deliriously excitable atmosphere along, there are tremendous noises coming from everywhere – the rake and clash of sword on sword, the earthquake-like trembling of horses' hooves. And then, of course, to top it all, there is the customary racket of schoolkids when they mooch around in packs, munching and jawing, pounding the bare boards of this ancient hall, which used to display part of the Royal Armoury Museum, now displaced to Leeds.

He spent so much money on warfare, this man – close to the equivalent of £1bn in 2009 terms. Often, it was not too well spent. How many gains did he make for all that campaigning overseas? But the armour, the swords, the jousting poles, these divine arquebuses, all this gorgeous canonry!

Yes, it has to be said that all this money and all this bought-in European expertise helped him to amass some marvellous playthings, and many of them we won't have seen before because they are from museums overseas. What is more, we quickly begin to learn all the arcane, toothsome terminology of armoury, and so many of these words are so delicious to roll around the tongue: the nine-plate "crinet" that would have protected the horse's neck, the vambraces, the crossed ragged staves, the parade armet...

But the problem with this show is that it's too distortingly narrow in its focus. In trying to turn Henry into no-holds-barred action man, it loses sight altogether of most other aspects of his life and his reign. Religion? Forget it. Wife problems? What were their names? By making him larger than life, you turn him into a grotesque, small-scale caricature of his complicated self. The film on show at the end tells it all: it's just a messy bringing-together of contemporary images, clips from feature films and other bits and pieces, to the ridiculous accompaniment of a bit of 1970s-style glam-rock noise. Who cares where truth ends and fantasy begins?

Still, by the end – and the show goes on for two and a bit floors – I'm thirsting to own something of my own, so when I spot the full-size foot combat armour in the shop, a snip at a mere £4,209, I get into conversation with the sales assistant. No, she doesn't work here, not exactly; she's in marketing, she tells me, trying to distance herself from the mugs she's busy with, but as far as she knows, they have sold a few. Just a few years back, there was a man who wanted two for his restaurant in Italy. So I ask the lad on the till. Not since he's been there, he says; something to do with transportation difficulties, perhaps. All the same, I put in a call to the wife: muzzle the Bedlington, dear; enlarge the door frame.



To 17 January 2010 ( www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon )

Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links