Well. Wolf Hall came to an end last night and I am still REELING from the final, brutal, awe inspiringly bleak episode, which charted Cromwell’s part in the swift and shocking demise of Anne Boleyn. What an absolutely wonderful series and almost certainly one of the best that I have ever seen. As you know, I had really high expectations for the adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s brilliant novels and I have to say that they have been completely surpassed by Wolf Hall. Yes, it started off slowly (which I think lost some viewers right at the very outset), but it quickly built up to become a compelling, tense and often moving drama as Thomas Cromwell pitted his considerable wits against his enemies at court, while at the same time steadily worked towards fulfilling his promise to get revenge against those implicated in the downfall of his beloved Wolsey.
As you may recall, I wasn’t totally sure about the casting of Mark Rylance as the charismatic Cromwell, but he did a wonderful job and I’d pretty much entirely lost my heart to him by the end of the series. It didn’t matter that he was lacking Cromwell’s physical presence, he still completely nailed it so that now I can’t imagine anyone else playing him. Let’s hope that if Hollywood get their grubby mitts on Wolf Hall (I foresee a film version after The Mirror and the Light comes out), they retain this piece of casting as it really was perfect.
On the whole, the rest of the cast was also flawless with the only weak link, perhaps surprisingly, being Damian Lewis as Henry VIII. Kudos to the BBC for casting a red haired actor for once but I just didn’t really warm to Lewis’ performance as Henry although I did laugh rather a lot at a tweet that likened his relationship with Cromwell to that of Ralph and Ted in The Fast Show. So apt. In the books, Thomas More likens Henry VIII to petting an apparently friendly lion while all the while thinking ‘those teeth, those teeth, those teeth’ but I never really got a sense of the menace beneath Henry’s selfish buffoonery. Like Cromwell, he seems desperate for a father figure but unlike Cromwell, he never seems to really develop and remains intrinsically shallow in both character and vision throughout.
Claire Foy’s Anne Boleyn was a superlative performance though. I already knew that she’d nail it thanks to her turn as the horrible Lady Persephone in Upstairs, Downstairs and her Anne Boleyn was every bit as brittle, scheming and petulant as she is in the books. Her performance in the final episode, however, was astonishing and truly tremendous though as she took Anne from her final desperate days at court, through her tense candlelit trial to her last appearance on the scaffold. I have seen more than my fair share of execution scenes in my time and was actually moved to tears by Foy’s interpretation of the now vulnerable Boleyn’s final moments, where she finally abandoned her sophisticated veneer and looked so genuinely terrified that it was actually really difficult to watch. In Bring up the Bodies, Cromwell remarks that ‘it is a pleasure to see Anne thinking’ and I have to say that it was a pleasure to see Foy acting last night. Bravo.
Although I feel completely emotionally wrung out by the closing scenes of Wolf Hall (Anne Boleyn’s terrified whimper as they cover her eyes and leave her alone at the front of the scaffold; her ladies in waiting shouting that her body is not to be touched by men before they gingerly transfer her bloody and mangled remains to a makeshift coffin; Gregory’s ashen and traumatised face as he witnesses his first execution; Henry’s indecent joy as all is literally returned to sunshine in the wake of his wife’s death and Cromwell’s empty eyed stare over his shoulder as he hugs him, as if, like Voldemort, he has actually finally lost his soul thanks to the great and terrible things that he has wrought), I’m going to REALLY miss my weekly dose of Thomas Cromwell and am now eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bluray, which I intend to devour in one sitting. Yes, it was THAT good.
Now back to impatiently waiting for the release of The Mirror and the Light…
Set against the infamous Jack the Ripper murders of autumn 1888 and based on the author’s own family history, From Whitechapel is a dark and sumptuous tale of bittersweet love, friendship, loss and redemption and is available NOW from Amazon UK, Amazon US and Burning Eye.
‘Frothy, light hearted, gorgeous. The perfect summer read.’ Minette, my young adult novel of 17th century posh doom and intrigue is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US and is CHEAP AS CHIPS as we like to say in dear old Blighty.
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