Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are headed to telly in the not-too-distant future. Scheduled to transmit in the UK on 21 January beginning at 9pm on BBC2 and tentatively set for its American premiere on PBS beginning March 29, 2015, the small screen adaptation of Mantel’s Tudor novels follow the meteoric rise to power of Thomas Cromwell from a blacksmith’s son to Henry VIII’s closest advisor in Henry VIII’s court. The eventual chief minister to the King was born to a blacksmith in Putney and initially came to prominence when he served under Cardinal Wolsey before rising through the ranks to become Henry’s most trusted advisor.
Directed by Peter Kosminsky (White Oleander, The Government Inspector, The Promise), Wolf Hall features an all-star cast including Damian Lewis (Homeland), Mark Rylance, Charity Wakefield (Any Human Heart, Agatha Christie’s Marple), Saskia Reeves (Lewis, Page Eight, Wallander, Vera), Claire Foye (Little Dorrit, Upstairs Downstairs), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), Joanne Whalley (Jamaica Inn) and Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife).
From what Mantel has seen so far of the BBC adaptation, she seems more than pleased. Telling an audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival that historical accuracy in fiction is crucial, the author stressed the importance of not under-estimating the intelligence of both her readers and television audience. Mantel said: “It is perfectly possible to do good history and good drama – they are not mutually contradictory,” she said. “That is vital as an understanding, as a basis to begin work. Because 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”, making reference to someone having made the decision in the American series, The Tudors, that “… 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.”
Echoing Mantel’s sentiments, the Olivier and Tony Award-winning actor, Mark Rylance, added: “I love it when an author, such as Hilary Mantel, does her research and discovers an original understanding of a very familiar piece of history. Even during our rehearsals her detailed imagination of the world of Thomas Cromwell is alive in Peter Straughan’s ingenious and faithful adaptation. I have to say, after my experience on ‘The Government Inspector’, I would gladly take part in any film that Peter Kosminsky makes. His ability to grasp complex political situations and bring them to life on film seems particularly suited for this material. Myself aside, I feel he has cast Wolf Hall with a superb eye for character and all the nuanced humanity Ms Mantel’s masterpieces deserve.”
Definitely appointment telly to start 2015 off with on BBC2 and then add to the PBS list of an amazing beginning to the new year with the return of Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge and Call the Midwife, not to mention the premiere of Grantchester!