Have I told you that I’ve been reading Wolf Hall for a second time in parallel? It’s been great fun, and this is really some overdose that would never kill you, but instead nourish you 🙂 And, every time I see an episode, I am just fascinated by Peter Straughan’s adaptation: The script is wonderfully condensed with most of the conversation coming directly from Hilary Mantel’s pen. What a good feeling it is to hear some of the BEST lines I have ever read coming out of Mark Rylance or Damian Lewis’ mouth. Pure brilliance.
The third episode of Wolf Hall ended with two astonishing scenes: A man, James Bainham, a barrister, being burnt alive for reading the Gospel in English, and a woman, Queen Anne Boleyn, traveling in a barge to her confinement — also some sort of life and death situation, if you think about it… Remember what Rafe said to Cromwell towards the end of the episode: “All our fortunes depend on this lady now, and whether she can provide an heir.”
Anne gives birth to a baby girl.
The King is not happy, and he does nothing to hide it. Look at Henry’s face, he looks like there was death in the house, not new life. He just says “Call her Elizabeth. Cancel the jousts.” He does not even ask after Anne when he was told about his baby daughter.
Anne is not happy. She even looks defeated, doesn’t she? But, first, look at this scene. It is like coming out of a painting. So beautiful. So poetic. And, ah, I really love the way Claire Foy conveys Anne’s hysteria. She is in some sort of panic mood. She gets pregnant again soon, but has a miscarriage. Anne is now scared. Anne is now insecure. Anne is like a wounded animal that could do anything to eliminate who is on her way. Holy Maid. “Spanish” Mary. Thomas More. In particular, Thomas More — who is too stubborn to take the oath to seal the law Cromwell prepared to ensure Elizabeth’s right to throne after Henry, should the King not have a son before he dies. Anne is determined to see More gone. GONE.
I will never forget what Anne says to Cromwell in “Anne Regina” when he asks her if she is happy. “Yes,” she says, showing her big belly, “Because of this. I was always desired. But now I am valued. That’s different.” I sometimes feel like I am a bit hard on Anne, always seeing her as a strategic mind trying to take control. But, maybe, she is just a woman trying to survive in the men’s world and “to be valued” is her BEST strategy to survive.
And, our Thomas has been promoted to Master Secretary and is probably the most powerful man in England right now, but he is not very happy, either. Because he is the one that has to deal with the capricious Henry and Anne. First, he has to he has to deal with the “Holy Maid” and find out the people behind her “fake” visions. Then he has to write the laws that will make Elizabeth the heir to the throne should the King end up having no son. Finally, he has to find a way to save Thomas More’s head.
Cromwell doesn’t particularly like More, but he has respect for him. In fact, the conversations More and Cromwell have are not only at a high intellectual level, but also open and honest. Always. At the beginning, More does not have much respect for Cromwell, but Cromwell rises in More’s eyes as he has his meteoric rise in Henry’s court. And, Mark Rylance and Anton Lesser are such giant actors that it is a real pleasure to see them together on screen.
More now has to take the oath like other members of the Parliament for the Bill of Succession and he just does not… Now, even Cromwell cannot save him from the King. He tries… He says their legal case is slender, and it will not be easy to indict More. Henry asks: “Do I keep you for what’s easy?…. I keep you because you’re a serpent. You know my decision. Execute it.” This is the ruthless Henry, the god-like King who has the power, and who sees in himself the right, to take the lives of others. And, he takes More’s life.
Damian Lewis has given us a a wide range of emotions again tonight. Disappointed Henry when he gets the news about his baby daughter. Overly happy Henry when he says to Cromwell “The Queen has missed her… This time for sure. England is ours!” Boyish Henry when he talks to Brandon about some Christmas they had in their youth. Fed-up Henry as he is hearing what Anne has to say about Thomas More. And, Ruthless Henry, when he cuts More’s ticket. And, it’s always mesmerizing to see how he can sometimes switch from one to another in the blink of an eye.
In closing, Wolf Hall has this wonderful immediacy that makes you feel as if, as if, it is happening on real time, in front of your very eyes. This is Peter Kosminsky doing wonders behind the camera! As the Guardian pointed out the other day: “Wolf Hall cannot be rushed.” No, it cannot. Wolf Hall should not be rushed. It should be on a slow-burner, and it should be savored.