Wolf Hall - Best. Period. Drama. To. Date.
My husband and I just finished watching Wolf Hall this Wednesday. I'm still in a bit of a state of awe over it all to be honest. I feel a bit bereft. It was quite possibly the best period drama I've seen to date... and I really cannot explain why. I was completely riveted -- to a story that I already knew upwards and down and backwards and forth. But I could not take my eyes away. Each scene was a study in perfection and character. Every breath was used to effect. Every line, every glance. It was sublime in ways you rarely see television craft.
It was a *quiet* piece of television. There was no bleating, no straining, no fierce harangue. Every moment of anger was what it was. Henry VIII of course blustering most of it. I think the quiet and indomitable anger of Cromwell in scenes was particularly gripping - and I found myself holding my breath watching him, only releasing when the tension in the scene had burst as well.
In the second episode (there are only six) after a scene in a courtyard in the morning, where Cromwell tells a story to his sons, I looked over to my husband and asked, "Who is he?" meaning of course, Mark Rylance. He commanded every scene. Even when he was vulnerable. Especially when he was vulnerable. I feel like I was just allowed to view greatness with this performance. And I thank him for it, forever.
It really is that good. It really, really is.
It is not the fun and fantasy of Game of Thrones. It is not the bleak art piece that is Breaking Bad. It is not the cold and brutal (and fun? and gleeful? hah) glimpse into American politics that is House of Cards. It is telling a story we've known for hundreds of years, but through a lens we rarely, or in fact, ever, peek. Through the view of Thomas Cromwell. Lawyer, Banker and "right-hand man" to Henry VIII. Through his machinations Henry VIII left the Church in Rome to head the Church of England. Through his dance of words and laws and spies he brought Anne Boleyn to the throne of England. He also brought her low, he brought her right to the gallows.
What Wolf Hall shows is the deep and abiding humanity of Thomas Cromwell, son of a Blacksmith who became Earl of Essex and the King's best friend. I think that is the masterstroke of genius behind it all. It made him real, a man. Not just a footnote in history.
I am glad the show, which was based on books, ended where it did -- and not where Thomas Cromwell ended. On the same gallows as Anne Boleyn.