“As soon as you decide it’s too complicated for the viewer or history is an inconvenient shape, you fall into a cascade of errors which ends in nonsense“, author Hilary Mantel said to the audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Referring to her novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and their upcoming BBC adaptations, Mantel stressed the importance of not under-estimating the intelligence of her readers and audience, reports Radio Times. “As soon as you decide this is too complicated for the viewer or history is an inconvenient shape – ‘I’ll just tidy it up’ – you fall into a cascade of errors which ends in nonsense“, citing Showtime’s The Tudors as the perfect example of how simply combining history and drama does not always make for good telly.
Historical accuracy in fiction is crucial, Mantel also told the audience. Referring to what she called the “…big, all-singing, all-dancing American TV series The Tudors“, the Showtime drama starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers which aired between 2007 and 2011 on HBO and BBC2, Mantel said: “There was a great puzzle there because it was like good angels and bad angels. Someone had done the most terrific amount of research – it showed in small details – but the bigger picture… At some point, for instance, someone had decided it was too complex for Henry VIII to have two sisters so they rolled them into one. Then they had to find a fictitious King for her to marry so I think they invented a King of Portugal unbeknown to history. It all stems from not trusting the intelligence of the viewer. I think the problem was they thought there were too many Marys in the story.”
Wolf Hall, the lavish six-part series set for broadcast in 2015 on BBC2 and on PBS as part of the Masterpiece series, was adapted from both of Mantel’s books and filmed in the UK in May and June with the author involved in the scripting process. Featured alongside Damien Lewis are Mark Rylance (playing Thomas Cromwell), David Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Pryce, Jessica Raine, Joanne Whalley and Thomas Brodie-Sangster.