11 May 2015

"Wolf Hall"-masterful, simply masterful

    This post has nothing to do with horses, so if you're not interested, pass by, please.

    Now, I don't watch a whole lot of fiction ( of any sort..comedy, drama, etc) on TV (nor do I read it). But one day, while flipping through the channels, I fell into an incredibly faithfully portrayed world I knew very little about...the masterfully presented "Wolf Hall". 
    This 'mini-series' of six episodes portrays Thomas Cromwell and his king, King Henry VIII.

     Until the 60's, I'd never heard of Henry the Eighth until Peter Noonan of the Herman's Hermits sang about being one. Of course, being a reading nut, I did a little research and learned about the real Henry VIII and all his women. "Divorce" and "the Reformation" didn't mean much to a ten year old American girl, and truth be told, I didn't learn a thing about English history. For that matter, I didn't learn much about AMERICAN history. This is due to the fact that I went to a Catholic school, and while I learned all about the ''missionaries" who brought Catholicism to the Indian tribes (all of whom had managed for ten thousand years without a Jesus or virgin birth or the sacraments just fine), I learned virtually nothing of secular American history. I learned a little about the American Revolution, but that's as far as Catholic teaching went. Though I'd become atheist in second grade, I was taught that all religions save Catholicism were pagan ones.  Don't start me on religion, I think it's been the worst thing to ever happen to the human species.

    Although I'd never purposefully researched the Tudors, somehow I learned about Ann Boleyn, and Henry the same way I've learned so much other stuff..through osmosis. I'd heard the name Cromwell, but I thought the series meant Oliver, not Thomas. 

  The producers of "Wolf Hall", being British, assumed the watchers know all about Eight and his wives. Being American, I had to do some research online to know the whole story. Adding difficulty, the dialogue in Wolf Hall is remarkably spare, and I'm sorry to say, I have some problems understanding British accents. I was lucky, though, in that not one, but THREE stations in my area were running Wolf Hall, (although none on the same schedule, so I was treated to seeing Thomas More beheaded and then, next episode, remarkably restored to reptilian, slimy life). Thus I was able to reconstruct what was said and get a real handle on the machinations.

   To get to the meat of this post...INCREDIBLE. The acting is superb throughout, although I found Foy to be shallow. Now that I think it through, though, perhaps that was the point. Foy made Ann so disagreeable, so ruthless in her drive to win the King, so despicably careless of anyone save herself, that I didn't feel any empathy for her...until her final scene. Once she was blindfolded, Foy hit the highest notes of her performance. I've never seen credible, believable performances of real terror until this scene. Her terror was palpable. For a moment she made me believe she was about to vomit with fear. 

   Damien Lewis was so totally in the role. The first scene I watched, (the one I came upon while channel surfing) was early on, when Cromwell is in that sumptous garden, surrounded by Henry's sycophants. It may have been episode two. No matter. Lewis, on screen, fairly rippled with well contained malice. Everything about him screamed, danger, this man can have you killed with the snap of finger. Yet it was merely a 'conversation', and right then I was hooked as surely as a trout on the line.
The most masterful scene of the entire series, in my opinion, was when Ann, surrounded by the court, approached the throne 'begging Your Majesty, no more jousting'. He beckons his queen, the woman he moved heaven and earth to wed, forward with an expression of kindness, a bit of humor, come closer, little girl,...and turns instantly into a spitting cobra, his words "Geld me while you're at it! That would suit you, wouldn't it, madam?" skewering her through like shrapnel. No doubt in MY mind what THAT meant.

   Thomas Rylan (?), who portrayed Cromwell, didn't have to say what he was thinking. You knew it. You knew, when he approached Henry after the executions, that he was loathe to even touch the King. You knew, as he stood on the executioner's platform, that he was realizing that one day, probably sooner than he wished, he would be the one losing his head.  You could feel his fury, controlled, waiting, waiting for his chance to wreak his vengeance on the simpering courtiers who'd mocked Cardinal Worsley.

What incredible acting.  I found a website with all the names and photos of the actors and the roles they played, so I was able to piece together who was who.

   Rather mean spirited, I found a Catholic website that advises good Catholics NOT watch the series. They (perhaps the Church itself) dislike Wolf Hall's portrayal of Thomas More. That name was familiar to me, More's being a saint.  However, once again, my schooling only said More was a saint, and didn't go much further than that.  The Church doesn't want its people to know that More was evil, and hid behind the skirts of the Pope. I shouldn't be surprised, then, at the church's insistence on Catholics continuing to believe that More was anything but a saintly, holy man, unfairly and unjustly executed by a pagan king's order. Let's not dwell on the facts that he was as willing to torture a human being, a fellow Catholic,in order to 'save his soul'. As if the man didn't count, just his soul? Pffft.

    Quite possibly the most chilling of all dialogue in the entire series was when Cromwell chastises More. I"m paraphrasing here, but Cromwell said of More's evilness: 'you racked the man so mercilessly he had to be carried to the flames in a chair'". (I would have had the line read "in a basket"). That one line summed up the entire character of More, and more, the utter cruelty the Church was capable of. Can you imagine a person, so disjointed in such a painful, slow and cruel manner that he couldn't walk, and then being burnt alive, solely because he wanted a Bible written in English?  The actor portraying More couldn't have been more oilily perfect.

    I've found that the mark of a truly excellent fictional novel is to miss the characters once you've finished it. I can say that now of a film, "Wolf Hall".

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