From Wolf Hall the Book to Wolf Hall the TV Drama: What does Hilary Mantel think?


Radio Times reported some exciting news that BBC is poised to commission Wolf Hall series two when the third book the Mirror and the Light is out.

“Executive producer Colin Callender tells that the production team and actors Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis are “eager” to film the last book in the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light.

Author Hilary Mantel is currently writing the final installment in the series, which will take us up to Thomas Cromwell’s demise on the chopping block.

“We are waiting for Hilary to deliver it, but everybody involved felt they were making something of substance,” Callender said. “Subject to everybody’s schedule I think they will want to come back.”

I have written earlier here about my visit to Cheltenham Literature Festival for the lovely “Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory read Great Love Poems” event. I was also extremely lucky to attend a talk with the GREAT Hilary Mantel. Her books include The Place of Greater Safety about French Revolution that takes you into the lives of the likes of Danton and Robespierre, and of course, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies about the meteoric rise of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII — both of which received the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2012 and 2013, respectively.


The Cheltenham event was mostly for Ms. Mantel to unveil her new book, The Assasination of Margaret Thatcher, a collection of short stories. However, there was of also some good discussion of her Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, what she thinks about the Royal Shakespeare Company stage version, as well as the BBC adaptation. She was also asked about the very much anticipated final part of the trilogy, Mirror and the Light. In fact, some people were disappointed that Mantel focused on the short story collection before she completed the third book 🙂

Since we constantly talk about Wolf Hall here, I would like to highlight Mantel’s talk at Cheltenham. Besides, that discussion created some news reports saying that Hilary Mantel warned BBC not to turn the TV version of Wolf Hall into nonsense. Two days later, reporters asked Damian Lewis at the World Premiere of his film the Silent Storm at BFI London Film Festival about what he thought of Hilary Mantel’s comments. And, here is his gracious answer:

Well, I was in Times Forum listening to Hilary Mantel. She was not that harsh. Not even close. She basically told us that she was involved at every stage of the way in the Royal Shakespeare Company stage production of Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies that has had an extremely successful run at West End and going to Broadway in spring 2015 (I’m psyched about it!) However, she said, she was not as involved in the BBC production of Wolf Hall other than the script stage. She said she believed in, and rightly so, the importance of historical accuracy, and then she talked about TV productions on Tudor Era that went wrong, in particular the Showtime series the Tudors.

source: Damianista
source: Damianista

What Mantel told us about the Tudors was simply HILARIOUS. Apparently, the executives thought Henry VIII having two sisters would be too much and so they just had one sister for Henry, and then they found some fictitious king to marry her off. What? Mantel told us: “I think the problem was that there would be too many Marys in the story. But what can I do? Every second man in Henry VIII’s England is called Thomas. At any one time, there are five Thomases on the page, all shouting at each other.”

Ok. Here you go: A scene from the episode “The Devil’s Spit.”

How many Thomases are there at the table? 🙂

source: BBC
source: BBC

Hilary Mantel also said that if we had been on the festival site at the right time that day, we could have seen both Henrys walking around 🙂 One is the RSC’s Henry, Nathaniel Parker, who read poems at Allie Esiri’s poetry corner in the morning, and the other one is our Henry, of course, Damian Lewis, who read poems at Allie Esiri’s poetry corner in the afternoon.

poetryreadingFinally, Mantel gave us the good news that she needs just another 18 months to finish Mirror and the Light, and she said the stage production gave her a lot of new ideas about how to write the book.

So, this event was back on October 12 — exactly, four months ago. So, it seems Mantel still has 14 months to go to finish the book. So, let’s first keep our fingers crossed that Mantel finishes the book as soon as possible — and who knows, maybe she will pick up speed as she writes about the fall of Thomas Cromwell from Henry’s grace, and finish earlier? Regardless, I am sure Mantel would love to have Mirror and the Light adapted by the BBC since she has already given TWO THUMBS UP for BBC’s Wolf Hall.

source: Guardian

Director Peter Kosminsky told a funny one in a Sunday Times interview about when he showed Mantel the first two episodes of Wolf Hall:

“I showed her the first two episodes,” Kosminsky says. “At the end of episode two, I was sitting behind her, and she held her hand up above her head in a thumbs-up, but she couldn’t actually speak — she was affected by it. When you’ve taken somebody’s most precious literary possession, and you’ve tried not to f*** it up, that kind of reaction is what you dream of.”

source: Guardian
source: Guardian

Later on, Hilary Mantel made her own statement to the Guardian about BBC’s Wolf Hall.

“Mantel said while her expectations had been high, the televised drama had exceeded them. She had been impressed, she said by “the concision and coherence of the storytelling, in the originality of the interpretations, in the break from the romantic cliches of the genre: in the wit and style and heart.”

Mantel added: “It’s illuminating, exciting, yet also curious, to see how my imagination matched theirs. Particularly with characters where there is no portrait, where my books had to conjure them from thin air: how would they appear? … Every face seems to me one that Holbein would recognise, even if he didn’t paint it.”

So, as we hope for Mantel to deliver Mirror and the Light soon, let’s also keep our fingers crossed that the stars get aligned again when BBC is ready to film and both Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis can find some time in their extremely busy schedules and give us more Cromwell and Henry 🙂


Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

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