Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Wolf Hall: Episode 5- Crows

"You are not a gentleman born. You should not meddle in the affairs of those set over you."

It's 1535. Charles V is being difficult and no son is forthcoming. Henry is not a happy bunny. And the scavengers are circling: the title says so.

Still, there's Jane Seymour. Henry likes her, and whatever thoughts Cromwell may have had about being in with a chance are well and truly dashed. It's a slow-burn affair, with Jane (with family collusion, of course) being careful to appear chaste during the beginning of the affair. But an affair it is, and Anne knows it.

And so she lashes out against Mary, against the dying Katherine of Aragon, against everyone. She becomes insufferable, and a serious rift develops between her an Cromwell, which becomes of huge dramatic import after Henry's near-death in that famous jousting accident.

On top of this, there is the matter of the small fire caused by an unexpected candle in Anne's chamber. Does this imply a lover? Cromwell is beginning to gather evidence against her in case he needs it.

All this comes to a head with the King's accident. Cromwell is at first concerned about the safety of his son, but when it seems that the King is dead everything seems to fall apart. Cromwell depends utterly on his king. If Anne is now to be regent, he faces ruin and probable death. So does Mary. So do many. The wheel turns and runs many people down with it.

Except it isn't, as Cromwell's rough and ready CPR seems to save the day and the King recovers. But that few minutes exposes the fragility of English society in 1536. Will a woman be accepted as reigning monarch? Mary or Elizabeth? Anne or the Duke of Norfolk as regent? Perhaps, after fifty years of peace, a return to civil war? 

It us now crystal clear: Anne is a danger to Cromwell and to others, constantly turning the King against people in ways which, in Henry's court, mean death. The only course of action is to move against her, and Cromwell has increasing support. A stillborn birth seems to convince Henry, too, that he should never have married her: he was "misled", and God has cursed their coupling so he will have no heir.

All this intrigue is briefly interrupted by Gardiner; it seems a lad he knifed in his unruly youth subsequently died. He didn't know it, but he is literally a common murderer, and this has a profound effect on his sense of self. Is this going to further embolden him to move coldly against Anne in acceptance of his "nature"?" All this is masterfully plotted, and the unity of plot and character is superb.

The episode ends with Henry bollocking Cromwell for overreaching his position with regards to Chapuys and Charles V, and reminding him of his humble origins. Suddenly everyone is quite snarky to this blacksmith's son, until Henry realises he needs Cromwell and frantically backpedals. But this dynamic will inevitably continue to and fro.

We end with Henry and Cromwell as friends again, and Cromwell instructed to discreetly find a way to get rid of Anne...

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