"I keep you because you're a serpent. Don't be a viper in my bosom." -Henry VIII
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 a new 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 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.
Wolf Hall Episode 3 “Anna Regina” ended with two astonishing scenes last week: 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 — a different sort of a life and death situation, if you think about it… Rafe nails it as he tells Cromwell towards the end of the episode: “All our fortunes depend on this lady now, and whether she can provide an heir.”
Well… 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 is 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 is told about his baby daughter.
Anne is not happy, either. Ah, I really love the way Claire Foy conveys Anne’s hysteria. You can see IT in her eyes. Anne is in a panic mode. She wants to know if Henry still “values” her, and if Cromwell is still on her side; she wants to ensure her daughter’s right to the throne, and she wants to have a marriage arranged for her with a French Prince right away. Topping it all, she wants to give a son to Henry.
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. You see? That’s different.” I sometimes feel 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 thrive given the men’s world she is trying to survive in. And, now, in her state of hysteria she says: “I won’t die. I will give the king a son. And, I won’t die.”
Anne gets pregnant soon enough, but has a miscarriage. Anne is now scared. She is insecure. She is like a wounded animal that could do anything to crash whoever 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 writes to ensure Elizabeth’s right to the throne after Henry, should the King not have a son before he dies. Anne is determined to see More gone. GONE. Even though More is not involved in the “Holy maid” affair, Anne forces Cromwell to put his name in the bill against Elizabeth Barton.
Cromwell, now Master Secretary, is probably the second powerful man in England. However, he is not particularly happy, either. He is the one that needs to handle capricious Henry and hysteric Anne. First, he has to deal with the people behind the “Holy Maid” and her fake visions. Then he has to write and pass the bill that makes little Elizabeth the heir to the throne should the King end up having no son. Finally, he has to find a way to remove Thomas More’s name from that bill against the “Holy Maid” and have him take the oath for the Bill of Succession.
Cromwell, Norfolk, Audley and Cranmer go and beg the King to remove More’s name from the bill against the Holy Maid. The King gives in conditionally: “Very well. Remove his name from the bill. But tell him he will take the oath.”
FUN question: How many Thomases can you spot here begging Henry? 🙂
More needs to take the oath like other members of the Parliament for the Bill of Succession and he says he can’t. Not when he’s put in a prison cell, not when his books and writing materials are taken away from him. And not when Audley tells him “It’s yes or no today.” More responds: “If I say no, I put my body at peril. If I say yes, my soul. So I say nothing.” Even Cromwell cannot save him from the King’s rage now.
He tries though… He says their legal case is slender, and it will not be easy to indict More. Henry growls: “Do I keep you for what’s easy?…. I keep you because you’re a serpent. Don’t be a viper in my bosom. 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 has made his decision to take More’s.
And, that is EXACTLY what Cromwell reminds More about Henry earlier in the episode: “Do you remember how you used to compare the king to a tamed lion? You can pet him… but all the time you are thinking to yourself… Those claws… Look at those claws…” And, Henry has now shown his claws…
Damian Lewis has given us an amazing range of emotions again this time around. Disappointed Henry when he gets the news about his baby daughter. Ecstatic Henry when he tells Cromwell about Anne’s new pregnancy and gives him a HUGE hug: “This time for sure… England is ours!” Boyish Henry when he talks to Suffolk about some fun Christmas they had in their youth. Fed-up Henry as he listens what Anne has to say about Thomas More. And, finally, Ruthless Henry, when he cuts More’s ticket to the other side. I completely concur with Damian Lewis who says “It’s a bit like we get the 20 greatest hits of Henry’s emotional mood changes.” Oh, yes, we do!
More’s execution scene is one hell of a poem. It first takes us back to Episode 2: “Entirely Beloved.” Pastoral setting. Cromwell who is then “a person” and More “the Lord Chancellor” walking in More’s manicured gardens… Cromwell telling More about how they met at Lambeth Palace when they were young boys… and how he served him. More ignoring Cromwell’s story completely. The world has been upside down since… More is now on the chopping block, while Cromwell is one of the most powerful man in England. In the last moments of More’s life, we now see them as boys at Lambeth Palace. Young Thomas waving at Young Thomas… Is it still Cromwell’s memory or is it More? Has he remembered all along? Touching.
I should make a side note here that the music accompanying the scene with the two young boys makes it all the more compelling. Debbie Wiseman, the composer of Wolf Hall soundtrack, is a genius. Have you ever heard of a soundtrack sold out on Amazon? Wolf Hall was. Twice. I’ve recently got my copy and play it again and again and again. I was happy to see Wiseman’s tweet today that the soundtrack got into US classical chart at #9. Cheers!
MVP of the Week:
This episode belongs to Anton Lesser. He gives us a principled More, if a bit too rigid, and too proud to change his position even to keep his head in its place. You know… Great actors shine even more when they are in a scene together with their equals. Accordingly, Mark Rylance and Anton Lesser are such acting giants that it is a real pleasure to see them together on screen. You just don’t want those scenes to end.
Hilary Mantel’s fictional account of More is quite different from the man we have been familiar with in historical accounts, and not very flattering. However, even in Mantel’s depiction of More, whatever one can say about him, one cannot say that he is a fickle, and I think Mantel would agree, too. This is a man who is willing go to the chopping block for his principles. His last words to Cromwell in his prison cell are powerful: “All I have, all I own is the ground I stand upon. That ground is Thomas More. If you want it, you must take it. I will not yield it.” And, he doesn’t.