Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Wolf Hall on TV

The contrarian (and BBC-basher) in me protests, but I have to admit that the consensus view on the TV Wolf Hall is right - it is pretty damn brilliant. Peter Straughan and Peter Kosminsky's dramatisation of Hilary Mantel's two (so far) Thomas Cromwell novels is up there with the very best historical dramas. Having said which, I should hastily add that it is not, of course, history; it is a fiction that plays out in a historical framework. Mantel is clearly in love with Cromwell, has a huge soft spot for Wolsey, and cordially loathes Sir Thomas More, so as history it is definitely not to be trusted. However, as a human drama, and a picture of what Tudor court life must have been like, it is entirely convincing. It benefits from three extraordinary performances - Mark Rylance's Cromwell (a masterclass in 'less is more' acting), Claire Foy's Anne Boleyn and Damian Lewis's Henry - all of which deepen and strengthen as the series nears its end. As does the menacing and oppressive atmosphere of the court, a precarious world in which advancement and disgrace, life and death can hinge on a word, a gesture, a look. (This sense of deadly peril lurking beneath oppressively sumptuous appearances reminded me of the feel of some of Walerian Borowczyk's films, particularly Blanche.) By the time of the final episode (which, thanks to the wonders of technology, I have seen) the tension becomes almost unbearable as events build to the inevitable climax. When it comes, it is almost impossible to watch. And there's a brief, brilliantly staged final scene that is every bit as disturbing. In fact it's probably the greatest TV ending since The Sopranos.Yes, Wolf Hall is the goods. The fifth episode (of six) is on BBC2 tomorrow night.

7 comments:

  1. Unlike you, Nige, haven't seen the end (how do you do that?). Have to agree with you entirely. Damien Lewis's menace and the slowly detonating plot are gripping. What' s best for me is that every scene looks like a Holbein and, indeed, the great man is seen in action painting that portrait of Cromwell. Waldemar Januczek (bound to have spelt that wrong) did a great programme on him recently. He reckoned that Holbein's portraits of Moore and Cromwell tell you exactly what HE thought of them- the reverse of Mantel.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Absolutely Mark - and the odd thing is that Rylance looks very like Holbein's More and totally unlike his Cromwell.And then they cast the never likeable Anton Lesser as More...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Both of us having trouble with names here, Nige. And yet More was torturing those who espoused Tyndale's Bible which provided 80 or 90% (unacknowledged) of the King James. Isn't life complicated? Complicated times.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hear hear! It's superb. I love Mantel's alternative take on Cromwell and More, even if it is historical nonsense. As an aside, it also gives you an idea of how oppressive it must have been to live when the only light you had at night was whatever candles you could afford.

    ReplyDelete