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  • Hilary Mantel's superb novels 'Wolf Hall' and "Bringing Out of the Bodies' manage to execute an extraordinary balance. On one hand, they rehabilitate the reputation of Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry VIII's advisors, who received wisdom portrays as a man of viciousness and ambition; according to Mantel, this picture dates only from Victorian times, and Mantel rehabilitates Cromwell as a surprisingly humanistic working class hero. But as the same time, she never strays into the territory of ascribing modern motives to the characters she wishes she have our sympathy, and "primitive" attitudes to the ones we're supposed to hate. Instead, she brings us inside the morality of the times: the fact that it doesn't map cleanly onto our own is precisely what makes the books interesting. This BBC television adaption can't quite replicate the stream-of-consciousness from inside Cromwell's head provided by the novels, and almost inevitably it's a bit more Tudors-by-numbers. But it doesn't do a bad job either, avoiding the obvious clichés and giving us a convincing realisation of Mantel's work that captures most, if not quite all, of its inherent subtlety. Mark Rylance is simply superb as Cromwell, and most of the other actors offer a convincing interpretation of their roles, especially Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn, the minor noblewoman who punches above her weight all the way to the chopping block. What's still to come is the third (as yet unwritten) book of the trilogy, and the fall that follows Cromwell's rise. I look forward to it as novel and television alike.
  • tom.keller22 January 2015
    I don't like giving ratings of 10 out of 10 because it implies that it can't be improved, which is never the case, but when I see drama as well written and well performed as this I want to see ratings that reflect that and respect it, and my 10/10 aims to redress some of the, in my opinion, ludicrous ratings of 1/10 that I see have been posted here. First the imperfections: I'm not sure why Peter Kosminsky, whose work I very much rate, has gone for hand held camera work in what is essentially a static shot. I have no problem with hand-held camera work per se, but the reasons for its use in a wide shot are lost on me, and the result is a slightly irritating amount of camera shake. Secondly, the time shifts could be a little clearer - blink and you miss the captions, and that's if they've actually been included. I think on one occasion the shift was implied rather than signalled. I suppose it does keep the audience on their toes.

    But now to its huge strengths. First and foremost, the acting. I've been lucky enough to see Mark Rylance on stage and on television many times over the years and I think he's a force of nature, with everything he turns his hand to innovative and mesmerising, whilst at the same time containing the actor's essential ingredient - truth. That there is always something going on in his head is evident, but what is all the more intriguing is that we can't quite tell what it is . . . The rest of the cast are brilliant too, and the brief scene between Damien Lewis as Henry VIII and Cromwell was a mini delight and leaves me drooling in anticipation of future encounters between these two.

    The costumes and locations are as impressive as ever with BBC productions, and will no doubt gather in numerous awards (although one bit of what I imagine was a CGI rendering of a Tudor village in the background didn't quite get there). There have been criticisms about the darkness of the lighting, a result of Kosminsky using lighting by candles (albeit with special cameras). I watched it in HD in a darkened room and I can't say it caused me any problems at all, and in fact I commented on how light and airy some of the daytime scenes were, showing life in the day in the same light - literally - as it would be today, as opposed to the generalised gloom in some depictions of the period.

    I thought the pace was well-judged, especially when one acknowledges the difficulties in squeezing Hilary Mantel's immense volumes into six hours of television, and Peter Kosminsky has kept events moving along without being afraid to linger a while on the subtle signals of intrigue that are never far from Mark Rylance's face. The fact that much of Kosminsky's work has been in the political arena is very obvious here, and he gives us a needle-sharp insight into the machinations of that world, indicating that in oh so many ways, things don't change that much. Apart from the costumes, of course.

    I can't wait for the rest of the series.
  • Before we watched the programme, I read a review which complained about the darkness of the screen. We turned all the lights out and were totally enthralled. Mr Starkey has blown his bombast again, not having read or seen the programme. This is television, and great television at that. There might not be documentary evidence that Cromwell was sad at the death of his wife and children, but it stands to reason that he might well have been! The programme is like a series of old master paintings, the people inhabiting these settings totally realistic and believable. Mark Rylance's portrayal of Cromwell is human, kind and unpretentious: an absolute tour de force. Minimalist, lacking bombast (unlike Mr Starkey!) and memorable. I love the whole thing.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This wonderful drama just held me spellbound from the opening sequence to the closing shots of the first episode. Mark Rylance was just mesmerising, from the moment he appeared he held me in thrall. The atmospheric lighting, the scenery, the period clothing, all a wonder, but the acting! It was a genuine privilege to see something that will be talked about for years to come. I felt I was there, in the dark recessed corridors of power, with betrayal lurking around every dark corner. Thomas Cromwell is such a fixture in our national DNA it was almost scary to see him bought to life, but he, along with Henry, laid the foundations for a Britain that was sure of its own identity and purpose. I know I will view this for many years and never tire of the many nuances and shadows. Wonderful, simply simply wonderful.

    Having now viewed the entire series, all I can say is that it is a masterpiece. I felt drawn in to the dark intrigue around the investigation of Anne Boleyn, and her execution scene was without doubt one of the most realistic and best acted scenes I have ever seen. The BBC, so often getting it wrong with their own brand of political correctness, got this bang on the money. I just wish I could award it more stars.

    For anyone who wants to watch a fabulously acted and brilliant drama, this is it.

    I felt it right to update this having now read the books Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. This is a superlative adaptation of the books and I would recommend reading them as it really enhances the enjoyment of the drama production.
  • Having only seen this really from Thomas More's perspective in 'A Man for all Seasons' (a brilliant film) I was intrigued to see it from the 'villain's' point of view which is what Cromwell was in the film. This has been quite an eye opener for me and I am absolutely hooked on the BBC series right now. It got off to a fairly slow start in episode 1 in setting the background for the story but it has just got better and better, the acting from Rylance and Lewis etc is superb and Mark Rylance is not too dissimilar in appearance from Cromwell's actual appearance. Another superb costume drama from the BBC and long may it continue if this is the standard we can expect for future productions.
  • I rate this 10/10 to counterbalance a couple of people who, perhaps used to watching flat TV shows, have given a most unfair 1/10 rate to a magnificent mini-series.

    The acting is impeccable. Mark Rylance plays a remarkable Cromwell, completely taking over the audience with a subtly nuanced character composition. I've always enjoyed Damian Lewis, so it is no surprise his Henry VIII hasn't disappointed me in the least. But Claire Foy, what a talented, lovely interpretation! They, together with Saskia Reeves (an excellent actress), Jessica Raine and a constellation of great actors make Wolf Hall a truly powerful experience to view more than once.

    The production boasts of a marvelous attention to detail, from indoors decoration to costumes, behaviours and dining-- a pleasure to relish on.

    But what most impressed me (other people have hated the show for this) is the dim, realistic candle-lit night scenes. I have always deplored movies with fake candle-lit interiors which are an insult to viewers' discerning ability. Now you watch Wolf Hall and you can almost smell the dripping burning candles!

    The action is very well plotted, considering the books are quite lengthy. There is nothing boring in this 6-episode great TV show and much to enjoy and admire. When episode 6 gets to the closing scenes, you end up wishing there were a second or third season (though, the truth must be said, no one would like to see Cromwell's ill-fated decapitation in Rylance's human and favourable depiction).

    In short, if you appreciate exquisite direction and photography, excellent acting, a great script adaptation and a lavish historical production, you will find this show second to none.
  • Pickwick1225 January 2015
    10/10
    Superb
    A loving and faithful screen rendering of one of the most remarkable novels published in recent memory, Wolf Hall brings to life the gripping story of Thomas Cromwell, whose story unfolds in front of the backdrop of Tudor England with its mercurial personalities and ever-changing political fortunes.

    There's nothing artificially showy about this drama. It's pure excellence, a production that unites an unparalleled cast with an exquisitely intelligent script. As a fan of the book, I'm not sure how this will strike those who haven't read Mantel's work, but those who have will be more than satisfied.
  • This production is first class, there is not one jarring note anywhere. The acting is finely drawn and deeply layered and I am transfixed from the opening to closing credits. The director and production team have done a fantastic job bringing this novel to life. I truly believe this is the best drama I have ever seen on television. It feels like I have stepped into a time machine and am witnessing these events of Tudor England first hand. I sincerely hope that the whole ensemble stay together in order to bring other productions to life and if so, I will be the first in line to watch them. In the meantime, I will be incredibly sorry when I have finished watching the end of the series. Many congratulations to all involved.
  • Wolf hall tells a tale that most watchers will already be familiar with, it is after all essentially a historical drama based around the reign of a famous English king, the fact that it never bores or fails to entertain is testament to the brilliance with which the story is told, i would compare this to another brilliant and much lauded bbc drama i Claudius, long held up as the best of British drama, the story is intelligently written and beautifully paced, the acting is perfection throughout, it is filled with political intrigue and family rivalries of the rich and powerful, this is no bawdy sexed up rendition such as the Tudors for example, it is a serious thoughtful study of the events in king Henry 8 court, and the fall out from the demands of a monarch who is at once both charming and erratically dangerous to be associated with,if you want action and fanciful dialog then go elsewhere but for deep meaningful drama with beauty and power look no further, for people who have given this drama low ratings they are of course entitled to, but i am mystified by this and really the average rating should be around 9 for this work of genius.
  • Prismark1018 October 2015
    Peter Straughan condenses Hilary Mantel's award winning historical fiction novels for television. Peter Kominsky gets all the candles he needs for gloomily lit interiors but more importantly gets out great performances from his actors and a wonderful paced drama. There is little here that is stuffy or po faced.

    Damian Lewis is a thinner, youthful and more athletic Henry VIII here. Claire Foy (Ann Boleyn) is the chancer who uses her body to enchant Henry when almost everyone is against her. Thomas More is portrayed as a religious zealot here happy to torture and kill in the name of Rome, far removed from 'A man of all seasons.'

    Holding everything together is an understated but riveting performance by Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell. A social climber, a fixer, the son of a Putney blacksmith adept in the shadowy world of political intrigue and planning. Cromwell literally lurks in the shadows helped with all that candlelight. Cromwell is loyal too as he is with Cardinal Wolsey even after his fall from grace.

    The kernel of the story is familiar although it is easy to forget that this is an adaptation of historical fiction. In short it is not all true.
  • As a life long Anglophile - with a special passion for the Tudors, I could not wait for this series - after only the first episode, I was not disappointed. Wolf Hall is the story of a (not so well known) Tudor personage Thomas Cromwell - lawyer and confidant of Cardinal Wolsey - who at one time early in Henry VIII's reign was "the most powerful man in England." After Wolsey's decline (none of them stay on top forever), Cromwell worked with King Henry VIII directly.

    The fascinating thing about Cromwell is that he was a lowly born commoner, but possesses a quick mind, a sharp tongue and is utterly fearless. Mark Rylance is a great Cromwell - not striking in appearance - quite ordinary in fact, yet possessing the qualities that took him far. Even though after only a short glimpse of Damian Lewis in the first episode, I believe he will be a great Henry (based more on his past performances than anything else.)

    Aside from being about one of the most interesting families and time periods in history, Wolf Hall's writing scintillates. These types of dramas are long on dialogue and short on action (so Fast and Furious or Mission Impossible fans - stay away), but the dialogue makes the story.

    Some examples:

    After Wolsey is disgraced (he failed to secure the annulment of Henry's first marriage to Catherine of Aragon from the Pope), Cromwell goes to Anne Boleyn - who is waiting in the wings as Henry wife #2:

    Anne: "we only asked the Cardinal (Wolsey) for one simple thing (meaning the annulment)"

    Cromwell: "It wasn't simple"

    Anne: . . ."Maybe you think I am simple?"

    Cromwell: "You may be, I hardly know you."

    In Henry's court, no one talks to the next Queen in line like that.

    Later, Cromwell visits Norfolk (who was an avowed enemy of Wolsey):

    Cromwell: I hope he (The King) doesn't think still of invading France"

    Norfolk: "What Englishman doesn't??" "We own France!!"

    later same conversation:

    Norfolk: "tell him (Wolsey) if he doesn't (go North) I'll come to him and I will tear him with my teeth!!

    Cromwell:"May I substitute the word "bite" for "tear?"

    Finally in the next scene Cromwell meets Henry and their subsequent discussion concerning a re-invasion of France shows how snarky and smart assed Cromwell can be - even to the King's face.

    It is brilliant.

    And of course if you have visited England, the scenery and castles will bring back fond memories of your visit.

    The Tudors have been a popular subject of movies for some time (Keith Michell - 1970 Six Wives of Henry VIII; or a pretty complete list at http://tudorhistory.org/movies/), this one promises to be one of the best.

    I cannot wait for subsequent episodes. DonB
  • Warning: Spoilers
    King Henry V111th was the last absolute monarch of England.His reign is often considered as more or less one of terror with not even the highest in the land safe from his fearful wrath and its symbol - the axe.And yet the two most powerful commoners in the land were,successively,the son of a country butcher and the son of a Putney blacksmith. In the enlightened,liberal,free - thinking 21st century the most powerful commoner in the land is an Old Etonian and former member of an elitist club at an elitist university. It seems we have progressed from a Tudor meritocracy to a New Elizabethan era of privilege and preference in 500 bloody years of struggle,revolt,civil war and political posturing. In Wolsey and Cromwell's day it was easier for a poor man to improve himself by the use of his wit and intelligence. And ruthlessness,of course. In "Wolf Hall",all these qualities are gradually revealed by Thomas Cromwell as portrayed by Mr M.Rylance,an actor in whose face subtlety takes on a whole new meaning. Behind the calm exterior a keen brain is all the while reckoning the odds,from playing "Find the Lady" with his mentor Cardinal Wolsey to a show of dumb insolence towards Mistress Boleyn at a time when she was at her most powerful. At the end of the first episode he gainsays the king in a display of moral courage which Henry is forced to grudgingly admire. This is the one great production the present BBC has always had in it but has until now lacked the raw material to match its talent roster. With Miss H.Mantel's two epic novels set in and around the Tudor Court safely in the bag all that remained was for the Corporation to do what it was once world - famous for; make the very best drama it possibly could and in this it has succeeded admirably. As beautiful to look at as it is to listen to,well - chosen settings often lit like a Holbein come to life and not relying on over - familiar actors trotting out their usual schtick,"Wolf Hall" looks set to restore the reputation of our national broadcaster and ensure its independent future.
  • There are many shows and films about the Tudors. The dashing king Henry VIII, the mysteriously alluring Anne Boleyn, the Machiavellian Cromwell and the wise Thomas More. There are so many great characters from that era that one can choose any of them and tell a magnificent story. That was done in these books and it is done impeccably on the screen as well. This story focuses on Thomas Cromwell, who is portrayed as less Machiavellian and more sympathetic, but incredibly clever nonetheless.

    As far as history is concerned, and my knowledge thereof, I think this is the most faithful portrayal of the early Tudors period. This version surpasses the lackluster, soapy The Tudors series. One should keep in mind that although the story retells historical events, it is still a piece of art, and it based on two historical fiction books. As such there is always a point of view that the author/director takes, which is part of the artistic process. Having that in mind, certain inaccuracies can be seen in this adaptation, but they do not influence the viewing experience. Actually, this is the most accurate portrayal of Anne Boleyn seen on screen so far. Although Natalie Dormer's portrayal is regarded as the best, this one is even better.

    Clever dialogues, intrigues, breath-taking scenery and amazing acting can all be found in this period piece. There is no warfare, nor any especially violent scenes in this adaptation, which opts for the internal struggles of the main characters, and the intrigues of the court.

    If you are looking to satisfy your Game of Thrones hunger, or a history lesson on the Tudors, then this adaptation will exceed your expectations.
  • portobellolinda10 March 2015
    Watching the first episode actually put me to sleep. The pace is very slow to begin with and the lighting is low, the actors voices rather drowsy but, I watched it again on catchup and am so glad I did. This is a superb piece of historical drama, not entirely factual but nonetheless, superb. Great acting from all with the one exception of the actress playing Ann's sister, whom I thought rather too modern looking for the part. Now onto the series. The lighting in this was very realistic, the acting almost faultless and the natural pauses in speech were allowed here, which on screen is something very rare indeed. The ellipsis were excellent and we really were given a flavor of what it was that made up the character from child to man, which added to a sense of congruity for me. I would have given this one a 10 star review but, for me, it seemed one episode short. The characters demise was not shown and I think this was a real error on the part of the director. However, it was beautiful to watch and overall, very enjoyable.
  • I'd been avoiding it and the novels it's based on but finally sat down to hate watch it after Rylance was nominated for a best actor BAFTA for it while no one bothered to give Capaldi one for Doctor Who. And I have to say, yes, this is Rylance's year, he deserves it. I'm still sick of seeing Rylance and other RADA babies treated like gods while British actors I think are equally talented like Cumberbatch and Capaldi are treated like the generic brand, but that's the English class system for you.

    As for the program, it's a first-class Sunday night potboiler and you should watch it if you enjoy that sort of thing. I'm sick of them but I was drawn in by Rylance's portrayal of Thomas Cromwell as a man who loves little scruffy dogs and is no better or worse than the people he has to live with. I'm currently reading Antonia Fraser's biography of his relative Oliver Cromwell, so I went into this knowing that this Cromwell is a fictional confection. As Fraser noted Oliver's historical reputation has suffered by people getting confused and blaming him for Thomas' crimes. But Oliver wasn't in any way directly involved with a sexy queen, so no miniseries for him.
  • Preface: I would recommend, before watching this brilliant series, getting hold of the oscar winning film "A Man for All Seasons (1966)", starring Paul Schofield. The reason for this highlights why Wolf Hall is such a fascinating series; namely their portrayals of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell could not be more different. Cromwell as the dockside bully contrasts so starkly with the introverted portrayal by Mark Rylance that comparing the two films for their character portrayals almost renders the films themselves obsolete. Watching this film first will also impact your experience of Anton Lesser's More, so I highly recommend watching it before moving on to this masterpiece.

    Review Proper: So to start, what is Wolf Hall about? The easy answer is it's a historical costume drama about Thomas Cromwell's rise to power in King Henry's court. The plot charts the history of Henry VIII's court, beginning with Henry's divorce to Catherine of Aragon, and concluding with the infamous beheading of Anne Boleyn. The general story is well known to anyone versed in popular English history, so the twist that makes the show worth watching is how we are given Cromwell as the series protagonist. The rocky road he trods to power, and the politicians and nobles he clashes with, illustrates what the show is really about: perspective. It is about how the glasses through which we view history are tinted, and that our knowledge of events is as objective as our opinions.

    Perspective is demonstrated by how Cromwell is frequently ill-treated by nobles like Norfolk, who dismiss him as a commoner at every chance. He earns enemies in the Boleyn family for the simple crime of being lower in status, and thus the one closest ally he gains is Thomas Wolsey, whom More calls "the most corrupt churchman in Christendom". The class dynamics are key here, but of more importance is the unique perspective we have from Cromwell's point of view. Through him, we learn to despise many of the Bolyns and Howards in equal measure, primarily because he himself is dismissed for his status. We learn to like those closest to Cromwell who see him for who he is personally, rather than hating him for his political actions.

    Wolsey is one such character, superbly played by Jonathan Pryce who delivers a nuanced performance of a man exhausted and made cynical by years of politics. He also evoked sympathy from me, which I found surprising considering how his corruption had been drilled into me by my education. Again, we find in Pryce's performance how perspective turns all we know of a man on its head.

    Nevertheless, I was caught more by Anton Lesser's portrayal of Thomas More. Anton Lesser's depiction of More is divisive, showing the saint as a lecherous and sneering villain whom you can never quite know how he pulls his political strings. His appearances opposite Rylance's Cromwell highlight their similarities as lawyers, but their differences in politics; where Cromwell is liberal and wishes to be honourable, More is lofty, cynical and distinctly academic. We also have many scenes of More that highlight how he likes to play cruel games, demonstrated by how he keeps a fool in his household because it heightens his intelligence.

    His fall has been romanticised by "A Man for All Seasons", which has us believe that More was beheaded on a matter of conscience and principle. Robert Bolt has us believe that More died for a valiant cause, framed by the dockside bully of Cromwell. Wolf Hall brilliantly juxtaposes this in one simple way; instead of More, we have Cromwell in the lead role and so everything is turned on its head. More is the villain trying desperately to destabilise Henry's reign by seeking martyrdom. Cromwell is the wiser man, the more liberally minded who deplores More's hatred for heretics. We have a new image of two men crafted from a difference in perspective, and highlights how much we take for granted images of men who were drawn by other people in history.

    Conclusion: Technically speaking it is a stunning series. The lighting is natural enough to immerse yourself in the narrative, and the costumes are convincing enough to belive history is being told before you. The music hooks you deeper into the tale with an appropriately understated score, and the acting is spectacular to see. Rylance is the highlight of the show with his introverted Cromwell who acts with conscience and necessity.

    However, Wolf Hall is an intelligent show not just because it has good writing, a great story, and wonderful costumes. Many other reviews have praised this to the high heavens, but what makes this show shine is how it flips what we know of history on its head. It explores and questions how we view history, and puts to task why we look at historical figures on a two-dimensional plane, when we have such three-dimensional personalities. Wolf Hall encourages us to question what we really know about the people and politics that dominated Henry VIII's reign. That is why Wolf Hall is a great series, and not merely a good one.
  • The Tudor period is one of the most fascinating of historical periods, and, when they're done well (and they mostly are, a number brilliantly even), so are filmed or televised historical period dramas.

    Of the numerous films, documentaries and mini-series of the Tudor period, 1971's 'Elizabeth R), 1970's 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII', 1966's 'A Man for All Seasons', 1998's Elizabeth, 1971's 'Mary Queen of Scots' and 1935's 'The Private Life of Henry VIII' are particularly great. Also very much enjoy 1969's 'Anne of the Thousand Days', 1986's 'Lady Jane' and David Starkey's late 90s- early 00's documentaries on Henry VIII and Elizabeth, and have heard nothing but good things about 2005's 'Elizabeth I' and 1972's 'The Shadow of the Tower' (both of which are high on my to see list).

    'Wolf Hall' appealed to me straightaway with the great talent that it had on board and that the two books that it's based on are very absorbing reads. Some people might take the attitude of "why another drama based on the Tudors when there are so many already?", but few if any have been done from the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell, one of the most interesting , from what has been written about him and how he has been portrayed on film and TV, figures from this period. 'Wolf Hall' may not be the most original (then again did it ever need to be?) or accurate (being based on two part-historical, part- fiction books based on the period) of Tudor dramas, but on its own it's utterly riveting television. To me, some of the absolute best of 2015, let down only personally by a slightly rushed final episode and an on-the-abrupt- side ending that gave the sense that the series could and should have been an episode longer.

    Some people have taken issue with the slow pace, the dim lighting, even the production values, as well as questioning the accuracy and some of the characterisations. None of these were issues with me. From personal view, 'Wolf Hall' is a very well-made series, the scenery, locations and interiors are incredibly lavish and the costumes are well-worn, true to period and lovingly tailored (didn't see any cheapness at all). It is beautifully photographed too, and the candle light and natural daylight added absolutely to the drama's authenticity as that is how it would have been back then. The music score is pleasant and unobtrusive with a good sense of mood.

    The quality of the writing in 'Wolf Hall' is superb too. It is very literate, remarkably intelligent and thoughtful with a surprising amount of subtlety that was much appreciated. As well as some understated but witty humour, suspense and palpable poignancy. There is none of the stilted, over-flowery rambling quality that it could have had, and there is similarly none of the subtlety-of-an-axe writing that was present in Tudor dramas like particularly 2003' s 'Henry VIII' and the still enjoyable-if-taken-on-its-own-terms-as- entertainment 'The Tudors'. Reportedly, director Peter Kosminksy was bowled over by the quality of the first draft of Peter Straughan's script-writing, amazed at how he managed to compress two long books into 6 hours worth of television so sensitively (the author of the books Hilary Mantel also called his writing "a miracle of elegant compression"), praise that this viewer too agrees with because it really was one of the most striking things about it. Adaptation- wise, 'Wolf Hall' may be compressed but what is there is faithfully done and it still manages to be coherent. The slow pacing was deliberate and not only was not a problem at all (personally, and for many others too) but necessary, the quiet and sometimes dark tone working beautifully. The first episode may have a slight find- its-feet feel pace wise but gets strong quickly, and there is nothing gratuitous, out of place or heavy-handed-for-the-sake-of- shock-value. In terms of effective scenes, Anne Boleyn's execution was heart-wrenching and chilling and the final scene between Cromwell and Henry is enough to bite the nails.

    Kosminsky directs splendidly, and the performances are uniformly of high quality in very well-written complex roles that are, unlike 'The White Queen' (at first) , easy to tell who's who. Particular praise should go to the tour-De-force portrayal of Mark Rylance as Cromwell, more sympathetic and understated than most characterisations of Cromwell (often portrayed as the opposite, though the scheming calculating characteristics are not forgotten just not as obvious as it can be), but Rylance displays the remarkable and also rare gift of doing so much with as little as a glance and very few words, refreshing after sitting through a fair few performances recently where actors struggle to give anywhere near that amount of believability to a page, or even a line, of dialogue. Some of his most effective acting even is when he is reacting to what is being said to him or when he shows stillness amidst chaos.

    Damian Lewis also excels and brings multiple dimensions to one of history's most famous (and notorious) monarchs, as do Anton Lesser as a less-than-saintly (one of historians' chief objections apparently) but still fascinatingly complex Thomas More and Bernard Hill's repellent and authoritative Duke of Norfolk. Claire Foy brings a conniving bitchiness and radiant charm to Anne Boleyn, her interpretation is not the most dimensional in the way Genevieve Bujold's performance is but it is still a compelling performance.

    All in all, truly riveting stuff and very highly recommended. 2015 was hit and miss for television, and 'Wolf Hall' was up there with the hits. 9/10 Bethany Cox
  • Riveted by Wolf Hall. No gristly Boleyn decapitation, but a subtle portrait of a French swordsman, sidestepping the blindfolded Queen, who turns her unseeing head to one side before the huge broadsword sweeps it off. It is done without vulgar drama. The hand maidens wipe their bloodied hands clean after placing the body in the coffin. No emptying of arteries, no rolling head, no eyes in close up. Thus are the first two books in this great trilogy masterfully achieved, giving us the quidditas of an age that is almost our own. Complex allusive prose has been properly adapted and not simply eviscerated into a crude bloody caricature of Tudor intrigue (such as the awful 'Elizabeth' a few years ago). It is undeniably brilliant, subtle and all the more moving. You don't need everything underlined. By implication we are presented, in the two books as here, with a nascent modern nation, a step away from the grasp of theocratic Rome, which crept into the heart of Europe and nearly dominated and stultified the progress of secularism. Contemporary statecraft approaches in this wonderful creation by Hilary Mantel. And we all learn something; 'Wriothesley', if that's how it's spelt, is pronounced 'Risley'. So there.
  • I recently watched this entire series in a sort of binge fashion. What a terrific series and A+ acting by Mark Rylance and Damien Lewis in the lead roles. It is somewhat refreshing to see Damien Lewis perform in his native accent. Rylance is a superb theater actor and he certainly doesn't disappoint here. You can notice he is not entirely happy with the outcome of his plotting and the demise of the Queen, which almost universally now has been accepted to be false charges. Very good series and strongly recommend. It would have been nice to his rise and fall in the second season as he too meets a similar end, but it appears there wont be a 2nd series.
  • The PBS miniseries "Wolf Hall" based on the novels by Hillary Mantel, as both a dramatic narrative and a visual feast beats "Game of Thrones", which has very similar themes of personality and power, by a long shot. One is based on true events and the other is imaginary, but it's hard not to think of them as shooting for similar targets, the PBS production achieves distinction with writing, acting and cinematography that relies more on character than on spectacular effects (or gratuitous sex) to get across its dramatic message. The emphasis is on beauty rather than on spectacle, and every scene, partially owing to the authenticity of the costumes and the on-location shooting, is absolutely gorgeous to watch. There is a deep respect for the dramatic moment, with an appreciation for silence that allows a scene to play out through subtleties of lighting and acting without needing the contrivances of cutting or background distractions. Although we don't get to see much of war and slaughter and thrashing bodies, there's plenty in "Wolf Hall" to look at. The settings are never purely backdrop, but play almost as a distinct character that performs a crucial role in immaculately framing the emotional content of every scene.

    Mark Rylance is superlative as Thomas Cromwell. His performance has more than a little in common with characters like Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage in G.O.T., but Rylance has more opportunity to get across the point without having to shout through so many layers of bells and whistles. Of course, to be fair, whereas 'Wolf Hall" focuses on a few central characters, "Game Of Thrones" involves a huge cast of principles and secondaries and covers an enormous amount of imaginary territory, so it would be a true challenge for any one character to stand above the whole spectacle. I think Dinklage as Tyrion is perfect in "Game Of Thrones", as is most of the cast, but, perhaps because I've read the books years ago, the HBO version hasn't held my interest or added much of anything to my original experience of the narrative (I'm sure I'll get back to it).
  • mgumsley26 February 2015
    Hilary Mantel must be very impressed with the way BBC2 captured the spirit and tone of the turbulent Tudor era from the rise of Cromwell to the death of Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall. The screenwriter condensed Bring Up the Bodies into just two episodes, but the storyline was easy to follow and did not feel rushed. All in all, I loved the series, both for the acting and the beautiful settings. Of course, Master Cromwell dominated by saying very little and conveying much with his masterful presence and quietly sympathetic character. At the same time, you had to admire the ambition and intellect he displayed in giving the king the wealth and freedom he needed to propel England into becoming a major state in Europe. Of course we know Henry's private life was marred by his obsessive need for a son, a desire fuelled by the tenuous nature of the Tudor's claim to the crown and the proliferation of Plantagenets that still existed at that time. Damian Lewis made an impressive Henry, still dashing and not yet quite a complete monster, although petulant and demanding. Mark Rylance's quiet almost withdrawn portrayal was so watchful, so intelligent, you feel this might well become his signature role. And Claire Foy made an intelligent and scheming Anne, who surely would have made a marvellous queen should she have managed to produce the sons Henry desired. All I want now is for Ms Mantel to finish the story of Cromwell's remarkable life, even though we all know it ends in tragedy.
  • Wolf Hall demonstrates just how easy it is to make a historical drama.

    All that is necessary is a double award winning literary genius in Hilary Mantel, some of the finest actors on the planet, absorbed by their parts and a range of not just authentic but real historical locations.

    Mark Rylance played a restrained, calculating, poker faced banker and made Cromwell come alive, the big difference between the Tudor banker and the modern variety is the sense of loyalty, duty and gratitude to his King that Cromwell felt, rather than the self interested greed which is common today.

    Damian Lewis was Henry VIII. He had all the superficial charm, anger and determination of the original and we were privileged to watch the King age and mature, over the six episodes whilst keeping the driving passion to ensure the succession that we identify him with.

    I was in tears at the execution of Anne Boleyn as much for the reassurance of Cromwell's hand on his son's arm as the bravery of the queen.

    The direction and music were consistent, relevant and gifted.

    We may never see its like again. Superb.
  • I had never heard of this mini-series (or the books on which it's based) before I binge watched the DVD set from my library. From the first episode I fell in love with the slow, calm, deliberate pace of the show. Finally, British dialogue I could follow without use of subtitles! And, while there is violence, it was not the crushing spectacle of most things we see today (I am a Game of Thrones fan, although I consider it a guilty pleasure, and find the battle scenes both tedious and overwhelming).

    I don't recommend it for viewers with short attention spans. But if you appreciate character development and a slow build up of suspense, it doesn't get better than this. Mark Rylance is phenomenal as Cromwell. You feel as if you are inside the skin of the man as he does what he has to to survive. And Claire Foy manages to play Anne Boleyn as the master manipulator who doesn't see it coming. As hateful as she's portrayed, I still felt sorry that she got more than she deserved in the end.

    I wish there was more of it, and I can't wait to read the books!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Excellent amazing and shocked, superb acting superb. having done Thomas Moore stage drama in high school, it was a good reminder out of past. But man the ting that got me was the beheading of Ann, i was chilled and shocked to bone, traumatized as hell. not new to violence and blood in movies, but the momentum the build up to the beheading was too much, i did not wanted to see it, but i couldn't miss it also and then i saw it and now i am writing the review, and still traumatized by the memory of it. Ann acting was pure magic and french. while Cromwell has got me thinking a lot about the essential eventualities of life and he futility of our endeavors. Must Watch it and enjoy the ride.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    On the plus side, the acting is terrific and Mark Rylance in particular excellent. Likewise the atmosphere created and the sumptuous costumes. A great deal of thought has gone into small details which I appreciate but I fear a lot of the significance of these will go over the heads of the majority of viewers as being of small consequence, if indeed recognised.

    On the negative side, working out who is who amongst the lesser characters is almost impossible as they all look alike. I have a degree in history and considering the importance of Norris, Brereton, and Weston in the downfall of Anne Boleyn, I find it frustrating that even I simply cannot recognise them individually and they are never referred to by name. The same is true of Smeaton unless he carries his lute. I have a similar problem with Anne's ladies in waiting. I can recognise Jane Boleyn but would others realise she is Anne's sister-in-law, married to Anne's brother George and carrying the title of Lady Rochford. Mary Boleyn is never even accorded her title as Lady Carey. Chancellor Thomas Audley is mentioned by name once and if anyone other than a historian works out who he is I'd be very surprised. Likewise would anyone identify Anne's father when referred to as Lord Wiltshire. Surely the script could use names a bit more frequently to assist viewers.

    I do not understand why so much was made of James Bainham although this was clearly a device for illustrating the religious persecution rife throughout the entire Tudor period. I did not know of him and I doubt his name means anything to the general public. It simply confuses and detracts from Cromwell's story.

    I also dislike the portrayal of Anne herself. She comes across as more petulant than the charming, intelligent and scheming woman she would have to have been to engineer both Katherine's divorce and her own subsequent marriage. After all, kings were expected to take mistresses at the time and they, or their families, were usually well rewarded as her sister Mary had been. It is also highly unlikely that Cromwell would have come out with a bald 'No' when asked to do something by a Queen of England. He was a courtier and a servant so would've been far more diplomatic.

    I continue to watch it mainly for the wonderful portrayal of Cromwell himself but also wonder why the BBC did not choose to dramatise it AFTER the final instalment of the trilogy is published.
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