Tag Archives: Cromwell

‘Wolf Hall’ – a sixteenth century ‘West Wing’?

I was so looking forward to the BBC production of ‘Wolf Hall’. Although it has already been reviewed just about everywhere I am going to dive in as well. When I was an undergraduate in the 1980’s I was fortunate enough to have been taught by the great JJ Scarisbrick at Warwick University.  It was his course, on England in the 1530’s, that first showed me how it was possible to tease out the real personalities from the dry remnants of lives left recorded in the archives. The student of this period is, of course, also blessed with the records of Chapuys, the Emperor’s ambassador; a gossip of a man who sent such detailed accounts back to his employer of both formal occasions, and chance encounters, that it is possible to get a real sense of the bitchiness and tension rife in the Tudor court.  It is from such accounts and from the factual recordings of comings and goings at the court that Hilary Mantel has pieced together a life of Cromwell, and the television production has remained true to her book.  The atmosphere in the hall where we are first given a glimpse of Anne Boleyn was thick with menace.  For me the most powerful scene was right at the end of the episode, when Cromwell meets Henry in the gardens.  Once his companions have left him alone with Cromwell, Henry, and the man who will become his closest aide,  size each other up.  This was conveyed beautifully; not so much in the words spoken, but rather in the pauses between them. This was a master class in acting up close, as the foundations for mutual respect were laid and conveyed through the smallest of facial expressions. The weak link, as it was in the book, for me, was the family scenes.  Even the tragedy which unfolded failed to move me, and it felt like something being relayed to us simply in order to explain why Cromwell became the man he did.  This is a small gripe though. I can’t wait to see these two actors, Ryland and Lewis, develop the characters in the coming weeks.  This is a ‘West Wing’ from the sixteenth century; reminding us that the big historical events are all made by people, and that the greasy pole has been around a long, long time.