Wolf Hall: Three Card Trick

“A strong man acts within that which restrains him.”

Wolf Hall

I should probably mention that I haven’t actually read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, of which this is an adaptation, which probably makes me a bad reader or something, but it’s rather a relief to see something on iPlayer that isn’t a Murder Mystery or a soap.

Actually, this is quite hard on the BBC’s effort to screen New Things, but you get the idea.

Anyway, Wolf Hall turns out to be mildly compelling, in a Game of Thrones-y type way (which was undoubtedly the motive for commissioning the series in the first place). It follows Thomas Cromwell, advisor to Cardinal Wolsey, as he navigates the murky political waters around the time of Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon. The narrative has a tendency to jump between historical moments – the fall of Wolsey, eight years before the fall of Wolsey, two weeks afterwards, etc. – which, while it never becomes exactly tricky to follow, is nonetheless a little hard to follow, as well as a little inexplicable as a device. I’m not sure what it adds to the story – and yes, if you choose to play with narrative structure there should be a reason for it, not just Because You Can.

Apart from that, however, the thing is quite watchable. Certainly Mark Rylance is excellent as Cromwell, bringing a sort of impenetrable humour to the role – at one point the King asks whether he should stay at home “like a child” during wars, to which the incorrigible Cromwell answers “From a fiscal perspective, that would be ideal.” There’s a sense that none of Cromwell’s contemporaries really know what to make of him, and neither do we, really. And the dynamic between Cromwell and the Cardinal (played by Jonathan Pryce, the governor of Port Royal in Pirates of the Caribbean) is interesting, too, and looks to be elaborated in further episodes.

I feel I should have more to say about this, but my brain is fried after a week’s work. I’d not be averse to watching Wolf Hall again, though.

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