Wolf Hall: The Mini-Series

For those of you who missed it, BBC Two aired its first episode of the Wolf Hall mini-series, an adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s award winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodieslast Wednesday, January 21.

**Warning:  May contain spoilers**

The 6-part mini-series which combines the the first and second book of the series chronicles the life of Thomas Cromwell and his rise to power, starting as a lawyer in the employ of the ill-fated Cardinal Wolsey, then later as Henry VIII’s adviser and advocate.  Those who have read the novel know that, unlike historical depictions of him, Hilary Mantel depicts Thomas Cromwell as an intelligent, funny, compassionate man, one who cared deeply for his family, and for his friend, Cardinal Wolsey.

I’m not very familiar with the cast of Wolf Hall, except for Jonathan Pryce, who plays Cardinal Wolsey, Mark Gatiss (from Sherlock), who plays Stephen Gardiner, Joanne Whalley, who plays Katherine of Aragon, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones), who plays Cromwell’s ward, Rafe Sadler.  I’m not familiar with the actor who plays Thomas Cromwell, Mark Rylance, who,  didn’t exactly fit my image of Thomas Cromwell.  In my mind, Thomas Cromwell was energetic, and charismatic, but Rylance’s Cromwell was quiet, deliberate, and contemplative. I also thought he seemed too old and worn out, but he did a wonderful job in delivering Cromwell’s surprising bits of dry humor, and subtle sarcasm.

It’s been a while since I read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, so I found parts of episode one (“Three Card Trick”) a bit confusing.  I remember the general sequence of events of the novel, but can’t, for the life of me, remember some of the key characters; something that the show’s director also didn’t bother to explain.  The first episode seem to hasten some events in the novel, while slowing some down.  I don’t know if it’s my bad memory, but I don’t remember Cromwell’s wife and daughters’ death happening very early in the novel.  In the mini-series, not only did it happen in the first episode, it happened about 30 minutes into the show.  The show also jumps from weeks and months before Cardinal Wolsey’s fall, to days after, and to the present time, adding to my confusion.

With all the flashbacks and unnamed characters, I can see how the first episode can be a bit confusing to anyone who hasn’t read the novels; heck, I’ve read the novels, and I was still confused at times!  I hope that it doesn’t turn off viewers who have never read the novels though. I, for one, am thrilled about the mini-series, and I think it would be worth watching, even if just to see how it differs from the novels.  Confusing as it is, it’s far less confusing than the novels; at least in the show, you know who is saying what, and to whom! Besides, if it isn’t confusing, it wouldn’t be Wolf Hall 🙂

Episode 2, “Entirely Beloved,” aires next Wednesday, January 28.

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6 thoughts on “Wolf Hall: The Mini-Series

  1. SPOILERY COMMENT!

    From what I also remember, Cromwell’s wife died ahead of the two girls. They didn’t all die on the same day, as they portrayed in the pilot episode.

    Except for the seemingly condensed and hasty sequencing of the events, I thought it was a fair adaptation, so far. I hope the succeeding episodes deliver.

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