Friday, 9 October 2015
Wolf Hall: Episode 1- Three Card Trick
"Never mind who that is. It's nobody."
So, how many different TV series am I blogging at the moment? Anyway, here's another one.
It's somewhat odd watching this so relatively soon after I blogged The Tudors, covering roughly the same historical period and therefore consisting of much the same event and the same characters portrayed by a different cast. There are significant differences, though. This is no melodrama but a serious adaptation of two works of literary fiction, and there's a more realistic attitude to sets and costume, and a. much artier directorial style. The use of candlelight for the indoor scenes is particularly superb.
This episode, centred on the beginning of Wolsey's fall but using extensively non-linear storytelling to make heavy use of flashbacks, introduces us to both Thomas Cronwell the fascinatingly nuanced character and to Mark Rylance, an actor of the very first rank who rarely deigns to appear on screen. He's every bit as good here as his theatrical reputation. Other stand-outs are a world-weary Jonathan Pryce as Wolsey and a delightfully sinister Mark Gatiss as Stephen Gardiner.
There's a lot of emphasis on class, Cromwell's humble beginnings and his lack of nobility- we even meet his abusive and very working class father. Indeed, it is Wolsey's earlier snobbery towards the Boleyn family that ultimately causes his downfall, or so it is strongly implied, although on the other hand we also get a rather handy bit of exposition from Gardiner about Charles V's Habsburg hordes marching on Rome to make the Pope their bitch, ensuring Henry VIII has sod all chance of divorcing Charles' aunt.
I'm sure this theme will continue to develop, as well as the obvious theme of the upcoming English Reformation. Cromwell's Protestant leanings are hidden for now; the irony of his being so loyal to the Cardinal is, I'm sure, not lost on a single viewer.
The main "event" of the episode is, of course, the sudden and horrible death of More's wife and two daughters from the sweating sickness. This is shot and acted in order to give us maximum sympathy for Cromwell. I hope none of us ever have to imagine such suffering. It's a superb sequence of scenes.
Things end on an uncertain note. Wolsey us, of course, finished, but has Cromwrll somehow saved his career by impressing the King by some intelligent cheekines? We shall see how it happens. But what is certain is that this promises to be a very impressive little series.