by James Peacock
Last night on BBC2 saw the premiere of the six part drama Wolf Hall, based on the best selling award winning novels by Dame Hilary Mantel (CBE), Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies, both awarded the Man Booker Prize, Wolf Hall in 2009 and Bring Up The Bodies in 2012.
The novels tell the story of the life and career of Thomas Cromwell, a man infamous as a lawyer, statesman and chief minister to King Henry VIII of England, famous for his role in the dissolution of the monasteries and the establishment of the Church of England and the break with Rome.
Early reports of the drama where promising, with Peter Kosminsky (best known for political dramas such as The Government Inspector and The Promise) named as director and that filming would be taking place in England, in some of England’s finest Medeival and Tudor houses- Penshurst Place in Kent, Berkelely Castle in Gloucester, Montacute House and Barrington Court in Sommerset, Broughton Castle and Chastleton House in Oxforshire, and St Donat’s Castle in Wales — along with the casting of actors such as Mark Rylance, Damien Lewis, Claire Foy, Mark Gatiss and Joanne Whalley, to name just a few.
Tonight saw the long-awaited debut of the first episode. Immediately viewers are thrown into the drama of the cut-throat politics of the Tudor court, with Wolesey’s downfall and his subsequent surrendor of the Seal Of Office at York Place (which later went on to become the Palace of Whitehall). Here we are first introduced to the lead character in question, who appears faithful and loyal to his master Wolsey. Viewers are reminded (and many most likely discover for the first time) that Cromwell has risen to from the backstreets of Putney, with a drunken abusive father- largely thanks to Mantel.
This first episode mainly builds the scene of dark, sinister and intrigue, which future episodes will unravel, the mysteriousness of Cromwell. Why is he staying so loyal to Wolsey, now his failure to secure a divorce for the King? Is it out of decency or is there a cunning plan in the long run? Perhaps the series will make the viewers ask questions and seek the answers themselves. Time will tell.
The authentic setting of the scenery adds to the atmosphere of the series, and it is refreshing to see Cromwell the man portrayed, rather then Cromwell the politician who ruthlessly brings down those who chose his path. Scenes with his family are impressive. By all accounts he was a family man, with a close relationship with his wife. Early in the episode, we see the deaths of his wife and two young daughters, and the effect this had on him.
Unfortunately the downsides so far is the portrayal of Anne Boleyn- who, although really in one scene of a few minutes, comes across similar to the one-dimensional portrayel of Philippa Gregory’s version, rather then the political savvy, intelligent Anne we get from records. Though viewers are shown that she can speak French very well, and did live in France, that is all that is positively shown. In a recent “tweet” to BBC2 in a “Q and A” session on Twitter after the episode ended, I was told that we are indeed going to see more layers to Henry’s second wife.
The Boleyn’s humble background is drawn attention to early on, which is interesting, as is seeing where they take the Anne and Henry Percy relationship- which so far has a hint of, yet again, The Other Boleyn Girl, of already married. Mary Boleyn is portrayed as a sort of bitchy, jealous, scorned sister- which may as well have been the case, especially if Henry had dropped her for Anne. She also lost everything with her husbands death in the sweating sickness that also Cromwell’s wife and daughters- and nearly took Anne herself. Hopefully they will show Anne taking Mary’s son Henry in as her ward, out of kindness and not manipulation.
Interestingly, so far it appears on the mini-series, Cromwell has little time for the Boleyn’s, when actually he worked quite closely with them-particularly with Anne, in the aftermath of Wolsey’s downfall. There are nice, humanely touches to the characters, such as Anne’s dog Pourquoi and the re-telling in court of the late Prince Arthur’s comments after his wedding night to Katherine of Aragon.
The pacing seemed just right for the introductory episode, now that viewers have been introduced to the characters in question, and the scene has been set, next weeks will hopefully build upon the foundations of the episode- the early signs certainly seem promising, in what looks to be an unmissable and compelling drama.