Not having particularly enjoyed the books – I don’t think that Hilary Mantel’s style of writing works for historical novels – I didn’t have great expectations of the TV series; but I was pleasantly surprised, and thoroughly enjoyed the first episode.
Thomas Cromwell is usually presented as either a bad guy, Henry VIII’s stooge or both. I’ve never really liked him myself, mainly because I feel that the dissolution of the monasteries was very badly handled, although I do feel rather sorry for him over the way he was blamed for the failure of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. In Wolf Hall, however, he’s presented much more favourably, and I thought that Mark Rylance did a superb job of presenting him both as a sympathetic human being and as a bit of a man of mystery. Both he and Jonathan Pryce, who played Cardinal Wolsey, also did an excellent job of drawing on the pleasure that we, the general public, take in seeing self-made people getting one over (or several over!) on the aristocracy, LOL.
Cardinal Wolsey was portrayed sympathetically as well. I once got 100% for an essay on Cardinal Wolsey, and I’ve had a soft spot for him ever since – out of vanity, I’m afraid! Also nice to see Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who played cute little Sam in Love Actually, playing Cromwell’s ward Rafe. The only person I found annoying was Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn but, to be fair, that’s how Anne comes across in the books.
Apart from Henry being addressed as “Your Majesty” rather than “Your Grace”, and I’m not 100% sure exactly when he changed his title so that may even have been correct, there was almost nothing to criticise in the historical detail. No bottles of water lurking about on mantelpieces, LOL. And it didn’t feel the need to explain every little thing: Bishop Gardiner was just addressed as “Stephen” and Mark Smeaton as “Mark”, without any detailed explanation as to who they were. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? In my book it’s a good thing, but I tend to assume that everyone knows the history of England so would have known exactly who they were without needing to be told.
Anyway! Whilst I could wish that the BBC had chosen a different period for such a lavish drama, rather than the reign of Henry VIII which really has been “done to death”, this was an excellent start and I’m eagerly looking forward to the five episodes to come.