Wolf Hall: Entirely Beloved

“Some debts are not to be reckoned.”

Wolf Hall

In the second episode of the BBC’s adaptation of Wolf Hall, politics continues to happen.

That’s about all, really. Our Hero Thomas Cromwell navigates the murky waters of Henry VIII’s court, liaising with various parties, including but not limited to Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy’s rather whiny Anne is unfortunately not a patch on Natalie Portman’s performance in The Other Boleyn Girl), the chaplain Dr Cranmer, the King himself and, rather incongruously, Mark Gatiss in a very strange costume. There appears to be a goal to his various machinations, but I’m not sure what it is. Mark Rylance remains eminently watchable with his strangely compassionate Cromwell, silent but not judgemental, and Charity Wakefield makes a very moving appearance as Mary Boleyn, but I still have no idea where all of this is going. It’s a very open-ended episode; there’s no particular “hook” which tells us why we’re watching.

The one thing that did strike my interest, though, is Cromwell’s discussion with the King about the apparent corruption of the monasteries. The English education system tends to teach the Dissolution of the Monasteries as a huge cultural tragedy, smashed stained-glass windows, works of art melted down, devotional icons whitewashed, etc., and it’s interesting that Wolf Hall is advancing actual, understandable human reasons for such an apparently tyrannical act of cultural vandalism rather than just painting the King as impetuous and childish. Damian Lewis’ Henry is an experienced statesman; he’s been King for twenty years, he knows how kinging works; he’s not stupid, and he’s not childish. Brutal, perhaps. Easily led by men he likes, yes. But not stupid or entirely without humanity.

I’m not sure why this slow-moving, intricate dance of politics continues to fascinate me, but it kind of does. It’s like Game of Thrones without the dragons or the incest (or the sex, or the violence, come to that), and if it’s not exactly suspenseful, well, it’s interesting for how it thinks about history. I’ll probably watch another one, if I remember to, but I’m not going to lose any sleep binge-watching it. (As if I lose any sleep binge-watching anything.)  

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