Wolf Hall on PBS, Episode One: Three Card Trick

“Perhaps you should teach me your Three Card Trick… in case we both end up on the streets.” -Cardinal Wolsey

source: BBC
source: BBC

“Three-Card Trick” is a slow-burning episode that sets the scene for Wolf Hall. We get to meet our protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, and find out about his personal tragedy — from his humble beginnings as a violent blacksmith’s son to losing his wife and two daughters to “sweating sickness.” Cromwell starts at the bottom, escapes from home at an early age, spends time in Europe, learns trade, fights for France, and is now a pretty affluent lawyer in the service of Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor of the King Henry VIII. Still, our Thomas is “Master” Cromwell — or  “a person” as Duke of Norfolk likes to call him — essentially, he doesn’t have a title.

Meanwhile, a silent storm is brewing in England. The King has a problem. He has been married to Katherine of Aragon for 20 years, and the marriage has not produced a son. Henry is at this point obsessed with a male heir, and is more than ready to get rid of his wife to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. He now claims Katherine was not a virgin when they married, and he has been living in an “unlawful marriage” for all those years — committing an awful sin. Wolsey petitions Rome on behalf of Henry for an annulment, and fails. And, while he has joked with Cromwell about learning his “Three Card Trick” in case he ends up on the street, Wolsey is now being kicked out of his residence at York Place, tired and heart-broken, put on a horse and sent to exile in Esher Place, Surrey.

When Cromwell grumbles as the King’s men are confiscating Wolsey’s inventory at York Place, the Cardinal says: “Everything I have, I have from the king.”

So, the King gives… and the King takes back.

Exactly because of THAT, everyone around Cromwell, including the Cardinal himself, tells him to leave Wolsey so that he “does not end up in the streets” like him. Power is shifting towards those that have been holding grudges against Wolsey for years: Norfolk, Suffolk, Boleyn… But Cromwell loves Wolsey. And, while he tries his best to keep the Cardinal’s spirits high in exile, he also does everything he can in London to save Wolsey. Each conversation he has in the episode; with Anne Boleyn “he’s the only man who can deliver an annulment from the Pope“, with Norfolk “my Lord, Esher is not suitable for my Lord Cardinal“, and finally with the King “he cannot be well till he has Your Majesty’s favor” is, after all, intended as a personal plea, to have the Cardinal reinstated as the Lord Chancellor.

Thomas Cromwell is a LOYAL man.

source: farfarawaysite.com
source: farfarawaysite.com

The King does not make an appearance until the last few minutes of the first episode; however, he has a strong presence all over it, because people are constantly talking about him and his “private matter.” And, when we eventually get to meet him, all the gloom that we have had so far in the episode, goes away. With Henry, comes a romantic setting with finely manicured gardens,  beautiful flowers — you can almost smell the roses — and the bright daylight!

source: BBC
source: BBC

The first conversation between Henry and Thomas starts the relationship that will be central to the series.

Henry: “You said, in  Parliament, in a speech, some six years ago, that I could not afford a war.”

Cromwell: “Wars are not affordable things.”

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.”

At this very moment, the LOOK Henry gives to Cromwell is PRICELESS! He is obviously pissed off with Cromwell, but he also gets that the man is right… so he just takes a deep breath and decides to… smile 🙂

source: BBC
source: BBC

Henry is intrigued. He now sees what Wolsey has seen in Cromwell. He does not necessarily trust or like Cromwell at the moment. But he knows he can make some good use of him.

What the King does not know is that their conversation gives Cromwell some hope that he can save the Cardinal. He comes home to Austin Friars, and asked by a servant if he should paint over the Cardinal’s coat of arms. He says, “No. Paint it again. Paint it brighter.” Cromwell has been, is and will always be loyal to the man that has been good to him. He obviously knows it takes more than a “Three Card Trick” to impress the King, but Cromwell is “a man of many talents.”

source: BBC
source: BBC

As this first conversation between Henry and Cromwell is a harbinger of their blossoming relationship that will be at the heart of Wolf Hall, it is also a harbinger for us about what’s coming — Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis, two actors with such strong screen presence, are simply ELECTRIC together! They will STORM Wolf Hall.

MVP of the week: Oh, why not add some American flavor?

Well, Wolf Hall has more of a dream cast than a real cast 🙂 Mark Rylance. Damian Lewis. Claire Foy. Mark Gatiss. Anton Lesser. Jonathan Pryce. Bernard Hill. All incredibly talented actors. But this first episode is certainly for Mark Rylance to shine. Rylance, arguably the best stage actor of his generation, dominates the episode, with his subtlety being a master class in acting. His Cromwell is a man of few words and a complete poker face that does not give any emotion away. You feel as if he is not playing Cromwell, but he IS Cromwell.

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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