I have constantly been writing about Wolf Hall for several weeks now — about all aspects of it that have fascinated me… And, I have kept one that TOPS it all for me until now…
That is the TIMELESSNESS of Wolf Hall.
Hilary Mantel’s writing and Peter Straughan’s wonderfully condensed script open a beautiful window to the intrigue and manipulation in the court of Henry VIII in the 16th century. Wolf Hall is such a dark, political animal that it is inevitable to chew on a little bit about its politics. Besides, both the book and the drama help us understand history through a contemporary perspective, and does it through its politics and in particular, through the contemporary conversations its characters have all the time.
They talk about War.
They talk about Religion.
They talk about Trade.
At the end of the day, they talk about Money.
It’s, of course, not that Hilary Mantel makes war, religion, or trade the issues of the day in the 16th century — they WERE the issues of the day… And, take a quick look at a news site or a daily newspaper today and they ARE still the issues of the day. So, it makes me think: Times change. Players change. The game stays the same. Wolf Hall is timeless.
Way before seeing the drama on TV, I knew THAT is what we would get… Because I saw this Sunday Times interview in which Director Peter Kosminsky says “I hope I will bring the same ethos — of a well-researched, contemporary, quite political drama — to Wolf Hall that I’ve tried to bring to my own work in the past 10 years or so.” This alone attests to the fact that Peter Kosminsky is the RIGHT director for the job, because the book itself feels the same way —well-researched, contemporary and quite political drama — Kosminsky’s trademark in his work.
Ok, now, just to support my point of Wolf Hall‘s timelessness… I would love to share three different conversations from the drama here. But I first salute Peter Straughan for keeping most of the conversations as they are. They are some of the best lines I have ever read, and it is an amazing feeling to hear them from Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis.
The first conversation is between Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII.
They talk about war.
Henry: “You said, in Parliament, in a speech, some six years ago, that I could not afford a war.”
Cromwell: “War is not an affordable thing.”
Henry: “When I went into France, I captured the town of Therouanne which you called…”
Cromwell: “A dog hole, majesty?”
Henry: “How could you say so?”
Cromwell: “I’ve been there…”
Henry: “So have I, at the head of an army! You told me I could not lead my own troops. You told me if I was taken prisoner, the ransom would bankrupt the country. So what do you want? You want a king to huddle indoors like a sick girl?”
Cromwell: “That would be ideal, for fiscal purposes.”
The King is pissed with Cromwell, but he also sees that Cromwell is a smart man and knows what he is talking about… so he just takes a deep breath and decides to smile 🙂
Damian Lewis makes a similar point when asked about what Henry thinks of Cromwell on BBC Wolf Hall media pack: “… I think Henry is utterly taken with his straight talking, no nonsense approach, his intelligence and his legal mind. “
Second conversation is again between Henry and Cromwell. They are now talking about the church, and once again, in fiscal terms 🙂
Henry: “Wolsey once told me that you had a loathing of those in religious life. That’s why he found you diligent in your inspection of the monasteries.”
Cromwell: “That was not the reason… May I speak?”
Henry: “God, I wish, someone would.”
Cromwell: “If you ask me about the monks, I speak from experience, not from prejudice, and my experience has largely been one of corruption and waste. I have seen monks living like great lords, on the offerings of the poor, take children and rather than educating them as they promise, use them as servants. Hundreds of years monks have written what we take to be our history. I think they have suppressed our true history and written one that is favorable to Rome.”
Henry: “God, I can make good use of the money that flows from them to Rome each year. King Francois is richer than I am. Taxes his subjects as he pleases. I have to call parliament, or there are riots.”
Cromwell: “Well, sir, with respect, Francois likes war too much, and trade too little. There are more taxes to be raised when trade is good. And, if taxes are resisted, even by the church, other ways can be found.”
Henry: “All right. Sit down with my lawyers to discuss. Begin with the monasteries.”
The two are having an intellectual conversation about the one institution that dominated England at the time: The Catholic Church. And, today, we have other institutions that dominate nations, governments, even the world — just think about the multi-national financial institutions, the BIG MONEY!
Mark Rylance comments along similar lines in an interview with Radio Times: “The Reformation was really about the Catholic Church dominating a nation’s identity and how England demanded the right to choose its own course. I feel we face the same kind of thing now, from corporate power – the inability of a village to say we don’t want a Tesco ruining the character or this new Transatlantic Trade Agreement being pushed through. I thought a number of times during Wolf Hall, my country could really use a Cromwell now – someone that tough and clever to help us retain our democratic rights to determine our own culture here.”
Now that we have this comment about Tesco, I have to make a side note for Mark Rylance that one of his colleagues from Wolf Hall is protesting against the supermarket giant Tesco coming to his neighborhood. And, that is… our own Damian Lewis! According to Independent, Damian says: “Independent shops are vital to the community for diversity and social interaction. Neighbourhoods are happier places for them. Yet another Tesco would badly undermine this.”
I love it!
Finally, the last bit of conversation is between Thomas Cromwell and Harry Percy. Thomas Cromwell pays a visit to the latter, who is claiming Anne Boleyn is his lawful wife, and gives him some timeless advice 🙂
Cromwell: “You are a man whose money is almost spent. I’m a man who knows how you’ve spent it. You’re a man who’s borrowed all over Europe. I’m a man who knows all your creditors. One word from me, and all your debts will be called in.”
Percy: “Bankers don’t have armies.”
Cromwell: “Neither will you, without the money.”
Cromwell: “How can I explain this to you? The world is not run from where you think it is, from border fortresses, even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from Lisbon, from wherever the merchant ships set sail off into the West. Not from castle walls, but from counting houses, from the pens that scrape out your promissory notes. So, believe me when I say that my banker friends and I will rip your life apart… And, when you are without money and title, yes, I can picture you. Living in a hovel, wearing homespun, bringing home a rabbit for the pot. Your lawful life Anne Boleyn skinning and jointing that rabbit.
Yes, I wish you all happiness.”
And these could be some of the BEST WORDS ever spoken on TV.