Friday, 23 January 2015


1529 in the Tudor Court of Henry VIII. Cardinal Wolsey couldn't get the annulment of the King's marriage from the Pope. Thomas Cromwell, his lawyer, assists the cardinal as his master's fall from grace begins.

Wolf Hall, the highly anticipated six-part adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, started this week on BBC Two.

« Well, these days 24 hours feels like a victory. »

Adapted by playwright and scriptwriter Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and directed by Peter Kosminsky (The Promise), Wolf Hall is one of these dramas for which you can only expect the BBC to deliver the goods. The source material of this £7m production is a best-selling historical novel and its sequel. It was filmed in England with a top-notch cast (over 100 characters) headed by Mark Rylance (The Other Boleyn Girl) and Damian Lewis (Homeland).

Some of the key roles are played by Bernard Hill, Claire Foy (Going Postal, Little Dorrit), Anton Lesser (Game of Thrones, Endeavour), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), French actor/director Mathieu Amalric (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Joanne Whalley, Jonathan Pryce, Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife), etc...

« At last, a man born in a more lowly state than myself. »

The premiere episode is perfect beyond expectations. It starts in October 1529 when the thuggish Dukes of Norfolk (Hill) and Suffolk (Richard Dillane) arrive to tell Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Pryce), one of the most powerful men in England, that he has been dismissed as Lord Chancellor. Thomas Cromwell (Rylance), the cardinal's discrete right-hand man, enters to buy his fatalistic master some time. Later, he remembers when Wolsey appointed him eight years earlier.

« Master Cromwell, your reputation is bad. You don't defend yourself?
- Your Majesty can form your own opinion. »

Mark Rylance is formidable in the role of Thomas Cromwell, a man of humble origins, son of an abusive blacksmith, who spent 12 years abroad before returning to England. Fluent in French, Latin and Italian, Cromwell is intelligent and he remains loyal to the cardinal at the time of his downfall. He's also a devoted husband and father. While he pleads the cause of Wolsey, he ends up being noticed by Henry VIII.

« She lets him pull down her shift and kiss her breasts.
- Good man if he can find them. »

The narrative patiently unfolds around Cromwell back and forth from 1529 to 1521. He carries his sadness through the corridors of power, where he uses his sharp mind and his wit to deal with political, religious and intimate royal matters. We meet his antagonists: the sinister Stephen Gardiner (Mark Gatiss), Thomas More (Anton Lesser) and the dangerous Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy). Damian Lewis's Henry VIII appears only towards the end of the 60 minutes.

« God damn it,  Cromwell. Why are you such a... person? »

Wolf Hall brings a fresh perspective and a modern appeal to the well-known Tudor saga. This first hour has some great scenes: the card trick, the death of Cromwell's wife and daughters and the hammer. The locations are classy and the much talked-about use of candlelight makes the cinematography of Gavin Finney (The Fear) superbly atmospheric. The music of Debbie Wiseman (Father Brown, Jekyll) is both magnificent and poignant.

«  You look like a foreigner.
- I am a foreigner. »

Wolf Hall will debut on PBS in April. It is a co-production of Company Pictures and the US company Playground Entertainment (The White Queen, Dancing On The Edge) for BBC Two and Masterpiece, in association with BBC Worldwide, Altus Media and Prescience. The executive producers are John Yorke (Company Pictures), Colin Callender (Playground), Polly Hill (BBC), Rebecca Eaton (Masterpiece), Martin Rakusen and Ben Donald (BBC Worldwide), and Tim Smith (Prescience). Mark Pybus is the producer.

Arte will air Wolf Hall in France and Germany.

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