You already know what’s coming if you have read the books. If not, please please do not get upset if you don’t get to see Henry VIII as often as you want in Wolf Hall, in particular the first episode. After all, this is Thomas Cromwell’s story.
Gaby Wood explains in her recent Telegraph article:
“Lewis compares playing Henry VIII to being a substitute on a football team – in particular, he compares him to ‘Supersub’ David Fairclough, who played for Liverpool in the 1970s and 1980s. ‘He was a redhead,’ he says, identifying closely with the footballer. ‘He rarely started a game for Liverpool – he was always a substitute, and he had a knack for coming on and scoring a winner. And I feel that in this version, it’s a bit like what Henry VIII is. He comes on occasionally, dazzles, and goes away again.”
Having said that, even when he is not physically present, the king has a constant presence in Wolf Hall. Because, everyone is constantly gossiping about him. About his marriage… About his obsession with a male heir… About his mistress… One of my favorite gossips in the book is the following conversation between Thomas Cromwell and his wife Liz.
“I’ve been visiting Cheapside,” she says. She names one of her old friends, a master jeweler’s wife. “Would you like the news? A big emerald was ordered and a setting commisioned, for a ring, a woman’s ring.” She shows him the emerald, big as her thumbnail. “Which arrived, after a few anxious weeks, and they were cutting it in Antwerp.” Her fingers flock outward. “Shattered!”
“So who bears the loss?”
“The cutter says he was swindled and it was a hidden flaw in the base. The importer says, if it was so hidden, how could I be expected to know? The cutter says, so collect the damages from your supplier…”
“They’ll be at law for years. Can they get another?”
“They’re trying. It must be the king, so we think. Nobody else in London would be in the market for a stone of that size. So, who’s it for? It’s not for the queen.”
So… Henry is there even when he is not there.
Take episode 1: Three Card Trick. Let’s take a quick look at the plot from BBC2’s official Wolf Hall page.
“Thomas Cromwell’s patron, Cardinal Wolsey, is dismissed as lord chancellor and forced to flee his palace at York Place. The old noble families of England, jealous of their own right to advise the king, have long waited for this moment. His hopes of returning to the king’s favour lie with the ever-loyal Thomas Cromwell.
Eight years ago, when Cromwell started working for Wolsey, the cardinal made an enemy of Thomas Boleyn by chastising him for his daughter Anne’s far-from-virtuous reputation. As rumours circulated in court that Anne was secretly betrothed to Harry Percy, the cardinal insisted that no such match would be allowed.
Still lacking a male heir, the king is desperate for an annulment from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, claiming she was not a virgin on their wedding day. To Cromwell’s dismay, the cardinal’s efforts to persuade the Pope to grant the annulment are fruitless. An alliance between the Pope and Katherine’s nephew, the holy Roman emperor, diminishes the cardinal’s position even further.
As Henry grows impatient, the pressure increases on the cardinal. To add to this, rumours reach the cardinal that the king’s new mistress is Anne Boleyn, who has sworn vengeance on him over Harry Percy.
Cromwell visits Anne, urging her that only the cardinal can secure what she wants, but Anne is unmoved. The duke of Norfolk, nervous of the cardinal’s continuing proximity to the king, insists that Cromwell tell Wolsey to travel north to his archdiocese in York. A desperate Cromwell finally meets directly with Henry, but the king is nothing if not ambiguous. Will he recall the cardinal, or turn on him?”
See? The king is all over the episode even though he appears for the first time in the last scene when Thomas Cromwell finally gets to meet him.
Now… What kind of a Henry should we expect? Firstly, we will have a skinny, athletic king with some killer calves 🙂 This is a version of Henry that is different from, in Damian Lewis’ words “syphilitic, philandering Elvis people think [Henry VIII] is.”
Lewis, at a tea party held at British Consul-General Chris O’Connor’s LA home on January 18, observes: “He [Henry VIII] was one of the best hunters, horsemen, jousters, archers. And he was an incredibly trim, fit man — very proud of a fine pair of calves that he had. He used to boast that his calves were better than Philip the Fair’s of France.”
What about Henry’s personality in Wolf Hall? Damian Lewis explains to Gaby Wood: “We see him being tender at times, we see him being caring. We see him being self-pitying, irrational, downright piggish, misogynistic, prejudiced. We see him being creative, artistic at times. So it’s been quite fun having that range.”
Damian Lewis, talks more on Wolf Hall‘s Henry, in BBC’s media pack: “Henry’s not in it very much but when we see him there’s great variety in his character and his personality – you might see him composing something on the lute, you might see him in a very boyish way, sort of dreaming about Jane Seymour. We see him at times frightened by the memory of his mother and I think these are little insights that people won’t be used to, you know, and yet there are the similar things there, the vanity is still there, the self importance. The fact that he believed himself to be a divine presence on earth ending in the act of supremacy where he was, not only now God and King but always had been. So to him it was a retroactive bill that he passed.”
So, Wolf Hall‘s Henry is both a god-like king and a tender man as we talked about it earlier here. Believe me… He’s a KEEPER! And, regardless of his screen time, I know Damian Lewis will be a remarkable Henry. The king will be believable, subtle, and human with Damian’s touch, and… Damian Lewis and Mark Rylance will storm it together!
I am reading Wolf Hall nowadays for a second time and falling in love with Hilary Mantel’s wonderful prose and brilliant sense of humor all over again.
I HIGHLY recommend it!
And, you know what Hilary Mantel said of the BBC production?
From the Guardian: “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.”
Even the big boss gives the green light! So… my fellow Damian Lewis fans! Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight 🙂