Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, are headed to American telly this Sunday (as in, tomorrow) on PBS. This nothing short of brilliant small screen adaptation of Mantel’s Tudor novels will chronicle the meteoric rise to power of Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) from a blacksmith’s son to Henry VIII’s closest adviser in Henry VIII’s court. The eventual chief minister to the King was born to a blacksmith in Putney, rose through the ranks and then initially came to prominence when he served under Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) who was the principle adviser to King Henry VIII (Damian Lewis). Sounds simple right? Grab a chair, we’re just getting started!
You can’t tell the players without an official Wolf Hall scorecard…
For those that are facing the reality that there’s no way to speed read the 800+ pages of Mantel’s Wolf Hall absolutely riveting novel prior to Sunday, here’s a quick Cliff Notes version. Cardinal Wolsey’s ultimate fall from grace coincided with his failure to negotiate an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Then, in 1534, the Pope refused to pave the way for Henry to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy). Enter, Thomas Cromwell…
Cromwell, who had survived when Wolsey failed, engineered a plan to where King Henry would say “to heck with this” and, combined with Parliament’s blessing, become the Supreme Head of the Church of England. How did this contribute to Cromwell’s rise in the eyes of the King, you ask? Well, this allowed him the ability to annul his own marriage, of course. Another of King Henry VIII’s most trusted advisers, Sir Thomas More, you may remember, opposed the King’s separation from the Catholic Church and publicly labeled King Henry a bigamist for marrying Anne Boleyn. As you might guess, bad move as Sir Thomas More was tried for treason, convicted and beheaded. Several years later, Cromwell turned on Anne Boleyn and engineered the King’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. That 6-month disaster, however, led to Cromwell’s meteoric demise as he was tried for treason and heresy and executed. Still with me, right?
Wolf Hall is made for PBS viewers…
Telling an audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival that historical accuracy in fiction is crucial, the Wolf Hall author stressed the importance of not under-estimating the intelligence of both her readers and the 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.”
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 Foy (Little Dorrit, Upstairs Downstairs), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), Joanne Whalley (Jamaica Inn) and Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife).
Wolf Hall premieres Sunday, April 5 at 10:00pET/9:00pCT on PBS. This is prime viewing that needs to get on your calendar for Sunday!.***Note that the first episode is 68 minutes in length so if you’re recording to DVR, don’t forget to add a little extra time to get the entire episode. You’ll thank me later….