By Adrian Ernesto Cepeda
Looking for a riveting new period piece to experience on TV? Well, just last month, BBC Two started airing Wolf Hall, a series based off the two books Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, a dear friend of WordTheatre who recently received damehood. With the plot focused on the rise of Thomas Cromwell in the courts of King Henry VIII there is deep source of intrigue and excitement to pull from. If you don’t believe us just read some of the phenomenal reviews it has been receiving here. It just goes to show that no matter what form Hilary Mantel’s work takes –whether a short story, novel, or an adapted television series—it shines brilliantly.
Mantel revealed a little clue as to how she achieves such magic when she admitted that “I try not to judge the people I write about; I just try to be at their disposal, for the while. So if they are Roman Catholics, incense wafts about me. If they are Calvinists, I hope to be one of the Elect. If they believe in ghosts, I am haunted. You must be flexible in this way, it seems to me.” You better jot that down, writers! It’s that type of approach that allows the characters to become real and jump off the page. Mantel further elaborated her writing process when she told The Wall Street Journal “to find the voice, I listen! Tudor officials often dictated their letters; it gives us some insight into how they spoke and thought, though most of the preserved letters are on public and not private topics. Mostly you have to work out, from actions, the habits of thought that precede them. Then from the thoughts to the actual words, the quirks of expression, the distinctive tone of each character.” She has definitely hit her mark, which is why the producers and actors are on all board with sticking as close to the book as possible.
A close friend of ours, Damian Lewis, who stars as King Henry VIII, understands and supports this direction. “But of course I’m playing Hilary Mantel’s version or vision of Henry VIII, a recreated idea of him. And I sort of came to the conclusion that Henry was a man that didn’t concentrate enough on the right things.” Though, not exactly a lovable character, or one many will root for, we still love Damian and he’s taking on the King Henry VIII in an incredible way. In part, according to him, because “
Wolf Hall also two more WordTheatre actors that you should be on the look out for: Jonathan Pryce and Alastair Mackenzie. Pryce who plays Cardinal Thomas Wolsey based his character on a former Director of Communications and Strategy for Tony Blair, as he explained to The Daily Mail, “I suppose you’d call him a smooth operator, a kind of Alastair Campbell of the Tudors. He upset a lot of people because he could have them removed from positions of power and he was a great manipulator. He was quite ruthless.”
Alastair Mackenzie talked about how his road not taken brought him to Wolf Hall when he said, “I’ve tried to mix up the career, do different things, and at the same time make a living. Hopefully by the end the life’s work resembles an interesting patchwork quilt. Some of my films haven’t been distributed; that’s the movies for you. But I’m still making a living as an actor. In the past year I’ve worked in China, Bulgaria, Romania, South Africa, the States and Denmark. The map in my study has a lot of pins in it now.” Well, we’ll definitely be looking forward to how our actors’ characters continue to interact and scheme in this inspired series.
For those fans worried about how such an intricate novel will be adapted, Mantel recently told The Daily Mail, “’it’s perfectly possible to do good history and good drama – that they are not mutually contradictory. We have to take risks in British television. It has to stop patronizing people. I think a lot of program makers are underestimating the intelligence of the viewing public.”
So stop worrying. The series just began and now is the catch. Get ready to be moved, enlightened and entertained with this BBC Two production that does Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies more than justice. The series brings the history, the power and the pain with all the love and poison of The Tudors. Turn on, tune in and become a devotee of Wolf Hall.