Monday, 23 March 2015

WOLF HALL BBC TWO / Wolf Hall: Trailer - BBC Two

On 23 August 2012, BBC Two announced several new commissions, one of which was Wolf Hall. According to The Guardian £7 million was to be spent on the adaptation. BBC Two controller Janice Hadlow said it was "very fortunate to have the rights" to the two novels and called Wolf Hall "a great contemporary novel".

Peter Kosminsky, the director of the series, said:
 This is a first for me. But it is an intensely political piece. It is about the politics of despotism, and how you function around an absolute ruler. I have a sense that Hilary Mantel wanted that immediacy. ... When I saw Peter Straughan's script, only a first draft, I couldn't believe what I was reading. It was the best draft I had ever seen. He had managed to distil 1,000 pages of the novels into six hours, using prose so sensitively. He's a theatre writer by trade.

The drama series features 102 characters and Kosminsky began casting the other parts in October 2013. Although originally set to film in Belgium, most of the filming took place on location at some of the finest British medieval and Tudor houses and buildings – Berkeley Castle, Gloucester Cathedral and Horton Court in Gloucestershire, Penshurst Place in Kent, Broughton Castle and Chastleton House in Oxfordshire, Barrington Court, Cothay Manor and Montacute House in Somerset, St Donat's Castle in the Vale of Glamorgan, and Great Chalfield Manor and Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.The series was filmed in May–July 2014. The series, which was made in association with Masterpiece Entertainment and Playground Entertainment, consists of six episodes and was broadcast on BBC Two in the UK from 21 January 2015.

As Straughan and Kosminsky worked on the same series, it has been suggested that a harder take on British history is what the BBC wants, rather than series such as The Tudors or The White Queen. Mantel called the scripts written by Straughan a "miracle of elegant compression and I believe with such a strong team the original material can only be enhanced."

The decision by Kosminsky to film many of the interior scenes by candlelight, led the actors to bump into things and to fear they might catch fire.

Critics have been "almost unanimous" in their praise of the show. Sam Wollaston in The Guardian called it "sumptuous, intelligent, event television." Will Dean, writing for The Independent, gave it four out of five stars. He did not believe it compared favourably with the stage adaptation of the book, yet predicted it would "secure a devoted following." James Walton in The Daily Telegraph gave the first episode five stars out of five, commenting: "it’s hard to see how this one could have been done much better.". Audience figures did not reflect this, however, with a substantial fall between the first and second episode and complaints about the slow pacing.

Many authors and historians have criticised the historical veracity of the narrative in Wolf Hall and the BBC adaptation, for "perversion" of historical fact, and misrepresenting the key historical figures. The author Hilary Mantel has openly expressed anti-Catholic views and is on record for saying that she has a very negative view of the Catholic Church and that "the Catholic Church is not for respectable people". When the series aired in Britain Catholic Bishops severely criticized the depiction of Saint Thomas More as 'perverse' and 'anti-Catholic'. Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth said there was a "strong anti-Catholic thread" in the series. Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury said:

 Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell

Damian Lewis as Henry VIII of England
 Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn
David Robb as Thomas Boleyn
Bernard Hill as Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk
Anton Lesser as Thomas More
Mark Gatiss as Stephen Gardiner
Mathieu Amalric as Eustace Chapuys
Joanne Whalley as Catherine of Aragon
Jonathan Pryce as Thomas Wolsey
Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Ralph Sadler
Tom Holland as Gregory Cromwell
Harry Lloyd as Harry Percy
Jessica Raine as Jane Boleyn
Saskia Reeves as Johane Williamson
Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn
Supporting cast[edit]
Joss Porter as Richard Cromwell
Emma Hiddleston as Meg More
Jonathan Aris as James Bainham
Ed Speleers as Edward Seymour
Kate Phillips as Jane Seymour
Hannah Steele as Mary Shelton
Richard Dillane as Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk
Florence Bell as Helen Barre
Iain Batchelor as Thomas Seymour
Paul Clayton as William Kingston
Jack Lowden as Thomas Wyatt
Felix Scott as Francis Bryan
Luke Roberts as Henry Norris
Alastair Mackenzie as William Brereton
Max Fowler as Mark Smeaton
Robert Wilfort as George Cavendish
Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Elizabeth Barton


1          "Three Card Trick"     Peter Kosminsky        Peter Straughan          21 January 2015        

2          "Entirely Beloved"     Peter Kosminsky        Peter Straughan          28 January 2015        

3          "Anna Regina"           Peter Kosminsky        Peter Straughan          4 February 2015         

4          "The Devil's Spit"       Peter Kosminsky        Peter Straughan          11 February 2015      

5          "Crows"          Peter Kosminsky        Peter Straughan          18 February 2015      

6          "Master of Phantoms"            Peter Kosminsky        Peter Straughan          25 February 2015       

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – review
Christopher Tayler

Thomas Cromwell, the chief minister to Henry VIII who oversaw the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries, was widely hated in his lifetime, and he makes a surprising fictional hero now. Geoffrey Elton used to argue that he founded modern government, but later historians have pared back his role, and one recent biographer, Robert Hutchinson, portrayed him as a corrupt proto-Stalinist. He's a sideshow to Wolsey in Shakespeare and Fletcher's Henry VIII, a villain who hounds Thomas More to his death in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons. Law and financial administration - his main activities - don't always ignite writers' imaginations, and in the pop-Foucauldian worldview of much historical fiction since the 1980s, his bureaucratic innovations would be seen as inherently sinister. Then there's the portrait of him, after Holbein: a dewlapped man in dark robes with a shrewd, unfriendly face, holding a folded paper like an upturned dagger. He looks, as Hilary Mantel has him say in her new novel, "like a murderer".

In Wolf Hall, Mantel persuasively depicts this beefy pen-pusher and backstairs manoeuvrer as one of the most appealing - and, in his own way, enlightened - characters of the period. Taking off from the scant evidence concerning his early life, she imagines a miserable childhood for him as the son of a violent, drunken blacksmith in Putney. Already displaying toughness, intelligence and a gift for languages, he runs away to the continent as a boy of 15 or so (his date of birth isn't known, and in the novel he doesn't know it himself). At this point, only 16 pages in, the action cuts to 1527, with Cromwell back in England, "a little over forty years old" and a trusted agent of Cardinal Wolsey. His life-shaping experiences in France, Italy and the Netherlands are dealt with in flashback here and there: he has been a soldier, a trader and an accountant for a Florentine bank; he has killed a man and learned to appreciate Italian painting.

Mantel's Cromwell is an omnicompetent figure, "at home in courtroom or waterfront, bishop's palace or inn yard. He can draft a contract, train a falcon, draw a map, stop a street fight, furnish a house and fix a jury." Fluent in many languages, learned, witty and thoughtful, he's also an intimidating physical presence; Wolsey fondly compares him to "one of those square-shaped fighting dogs that low men tow about on ropes". This makes him an ideal emissary for Wolsey's project of liquidating some smaller monasteries to fund a school and an Oxford college. But self-advancement isn't Cromwell's only motive. He's disgusted by the waste and superstition he encounters, and takes a materialist view of relics and indulgences. The feudal mindset of Wolsey's rival grandees seems equally outdated to him: jibes at his lowly origins bounce off his certainty that noble blood and feats of arms now count for less than lines of credit and nicely balanced books.

The first half of the novel, built around Wolsey's fall from power, details Cromwell's domestic setup at Austin Friars and introduces the major players in Tudor politics. Without clobbering the reader with the weight of her research, Mantel works up a 16th-century world in which only a joker would call for cherries in April or lettuce in December, and where hearing an unlicensed preacher is an illicit thrill on a par with risking syphilis. The civil wars that brought the Tudors to the throne still make older people shudder, bringing Henry's obsession with producing a male heir into focus. And the precarious nature of early modern life is brought home by the abrupt deaths of Cromwell's wife and daughters, carried off by successive epidemics in moving but unsentimentally staged scenes. Cromwell asks if he can bury his elder daughter with a copybook she's written her name in; "the priest says he has never heard of such a thing".

Grieving, he thinks of Tyndale's banned English Bible: "now abideth faith, hope and love, even these three; but the greatest of these is love." More, he knows, thinks "love" is "a wicked mistranslation. He insists on 'charity' . . . He would, for a difference in your Greek, kill you." In the second half of the novel - which charts Cromwell's rise to favour as he clears the way for the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn - More emerges as Cromwell's opposite number, more a spokesman for another worldview than a practical antagonist. Shabbily dressed, genial, yet punctiliously correct on politically controversial points, this More is a far cry from Bolt's gentle humanist martyr. He's made repulsive even more by the self-adoring theatricality behind his modest exterior than by his interest in torturing heretics and contemptuous treatment of his wife. He ends up stage-managing his own destruction out of narcissism and fanaticism, or at best a cold idealism that's contrasted unfavourably with Cromwell's reforming worldliness.

For all its structural and thematic importance, however, Cromwell's conflict with More is only part of a wider battle caused by Henry's desire to have his first marriage annulled. Much space is given over to court politics, which Mantel manages to make comprehensible without downplaying its considerable complexity. Central figures - the Boleyn sisters, Catherine of Aragon, the young Mary Tudor, the king himself - are brought plausibly to life, as are Cromwell's wife, Liz Wykys, and Cardinal Wolsey. Determined, controlled but occasionally impulsive, and a talented hater, Mantel's Anne Boleyn is a more formidable character even than her uncle the Duke of Norfolk, portrayed here as a scheming old warhorse who rattles a bit when he moves on account of all the relics and holy medals concealed about his person.

Making characters of all these people is, of course, a big risk. How do you write about Henry VIII without being camp or breathless or making him do something clunkily non-stereotypical? Mantel attacks the problem from several angles, starting by knowing a lot about the period but not drawing attention to how strenuously she's imagining it. Meaty dialogue takes precedence over description, and the present-tense narration is so closely tied to the main character that Cromwell is usually called plain "he", even when it causes ambiguities. Above all, Mantel avoids ye olde-style diction, preferring more contemporary phrasing. Small rises in the level of language are frequently used for comic effect, as in: "Well, I tell you, Lady Shelton, if she had had an axe to hand, she would have essayed to cut off my head." The effortless-seeming management of contrasting registers plays a big part in the novel's success, as does Mantel's decision to let Cromwell have a sense of humour.

"Love your neighbour. Study the market. Increase the spread of benevolence. Bring in better figures next year." If not a man for all seasons, the book's heroic accountant is surely the man for his season. Mantel keeps too close an eye on facts and emotions to make her story an arch allegory of modern Britain's origins, but her setting of such unglamorous virtues as financial transparency and legal clarity against the forces of reaction and mystification is interesting and mildly provocative. At the same time, sinister grace notes accompany Cromwell's triumph. Wolf Hall, the Seymour family seat, is a site of scandal in the novel, a place where men prey on women and the old on the young. It's also where Jane Seymour first caught Henry's eye - an event that falls just outside the book's time scheme, but which serves as a reminder that, whatever their status in 1535, most of the major characters will end up with their heads on the block.

Mantel is a prolific, protean figure who doesn't fit into many of the established pigeonholes for women writers, and whose output ranges from the French revolution (A Place of Greater Safety) to her own troubled childhood (Giving Up the Ghost). Maybe this book will win one of the prizes that have been withheld so far. A historian might wonder about the extent to which she makes Cromwell a modern rationalist in Renaissance dress; a critic might wonder if the narrator's awe at the central character doesn't sometimes make him seem as self-mythologising as his enemies. But Wolf Hall succeeds on its own terms and then some, both as a non-frothy historical novel and as a display of Mantel's extraordinary talent. Lyrically yet cleanly and tightly written, solidly imagined yet filled with spooky resonances, and very funny at times, it's not like much else in contemporary British fiction. A sequel is apparently in the works, and it's not the least of Mantel's achievements that the reader finishes this 650-page book wanting more.

Wolf Hall finale, review: Simply brilliant TV

‘She kneels’, says the executioner. ‘There is no block.’ The executioner who later would slip off his shoes so that Anne could not hear his footsteps behind her. Subtle, brutal, elegant – Wolf Hall embodied in one moment. Cromwell said nothing, moved not a single muscle in his face, but his eyes spoke of indescribable sorrow. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

After six hours of Rolls Royce television, Wolf Hall has to come to its inevitable, bloody end. The final hour, the show’s and Anne Boleyn’s, saw the Queen unravel entirely as Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) greased the wheels for Henry’s marriage to the pliable Jane Seymour. Among a cast so heavyweight it could sink the Mary Rose itself Claire Foy has been magnificent, showing what a huge fierce heart lay beneath that famously flat chest.

Anne’s demise was hard to watch. From the moment she began publicly goading her lovers – poor lute player Mark Smeaton (Max Fowler) got a particularly rough ride all round – to the final grasping gesture of giving out money to the poor and praising her husband to the highest of heavens, Anne’s fall was as pathetic and unspectacular as could be. In one beautiful moment, just before she was arrested, Anne sat while her maids cleared away the remnants of a meal. Eventually all that was left in front of her was a plain, wooden table. Nothing more.
However, before the royal head could be lopped from its regal shoulders, evidence was needed. Well, ‘evidence’. This is Cromwell after all. The naughty gallants who had lain with Anne (and a few who’d just glanced at her portrait in a corridor) were rounded up, mainly on the say so of sister-in-law Jane Boleyn (Jessica Raine) and via the confession of ‘pretty boy’ Mark Smeaton (and, no, the Duke of Norfolk did not refuse the opportunity to crack a gag about fingering lutes). Jane even incriminated her own husband George, the Queen’s brother. They kiss with tongues, Jane says. ‘Do you want me to record that?’ asked an incredulous Cromwell. ‘If you think you’ll forget it’ sniffed Jane. She was deadly serious.

The trial, which resembled an especially downbeat Mason’s initiation ceremony (all hats and candles and gout), was a sham. Anne got to understand how betrayed she had been by literally everyone, and the bravado of her alleged lovers drained as they too grasped the situation. ‘'I need guilty men’ Cromwell had told Harry Norris. ‘So I’ve found men who are guilty.’ Guilty of? Of adultery with the Queen. Of insulting Cardinal Wolsey. Of looking at Cromwell funny. Of being in the way.

Before Anne’s dramatic haircut, Cromwell walked the gallows himself (historical spoiler alert) and made sure the executioner hadn’t forgotten anything. He seemed haunted. In the final moments, caught in the suddenly single Henry’s triumphant bear hug, he was shattered. This was simply brilliant television.

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