By Eleanor Ringel Cater
What a week for royalty!
First, Queen Elizabeth II was put to rest with all the impressive pomp and circumstance the British can somehow still muster when needed.
Then, last Friday, literary queen Hilary Mantel died “suddenly yet peacefully” at the age of 70. She twice won the Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the first two titles in her acclaimed trilogy centered on one of history’s greatest fixers, Thomas Cromwell (the third volume, The Mirror & the Light”, was on the long list).
After missing “Wolf Hall,” as the six-part PBS adaptation of the first two books was called, when it aired in 2016, and in the meantime falling really, madly, and deeply in love with the show’s star, Mark Rylance, somehow, indulging in this double scoop of all things royal made sense.
Bonus points: Claire Foy, who plays young Elizabeth II in The Crown, also plays Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall. Cosmic Synchronicity? Maybe.
Simply put, Wolf Hall is delicious. Intelligently composed and exquisitely acted, it’s a character study of sorts, not unlike The Godfather, Part II. One almost expects Cromwell to whisper to the courtier he just destroyed, “It’s just business.”
And Cromwell, who starts out as a blacksmith’s son, so not the right class, is all business whether serving Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) or King Henry VIII (Damian Lewis). He cannot serve both, it becomes clear when Henry’s obsessive quest for a son means he leaves one woman (Catherine of Aragon) for another (Anne Boleyn). Which ultimately means abandoning the Pope and the entire Catholic Church.
“Wolf Hall” revolves around this politically charged period of engagements, betrayals and beheadings. Bloated, egomaniacal Henry poses one problem, playful, silky Anne quite another. And then there’s Henry’s old friend, Sir Thomas More (Anton Lesser), aka ‘The Season’s Man’, who refuses to support his king when it comes to leaving the Mother Church. The confrontations between him and Cromwell are chilling in their cold-eyed manipulations. More wants to stylize himself as an unscrupulous martyr and Cromwell just doesn’t want it.
And when Cromwell finally wins, we see that More’s outrage has as much to do with losing the game as it does with his head.
The entire cast is superb, and director Peter Kosminsky wisely focuses on them. This is not a lavish production. If anything, it feels a little underpopulated, but that keeps our attention where it should be (although there’s an ongoing joke about Anne being flat-chested and her bodice actually never quite fitting).
Still, Rylance is the reason to watch. You may recognize him as the wary Russian spy in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor). Here he is giving a master class in Underplaying 101. At one point Henry scolds, “You think I’ll keep you for what’s easy? Do you think I’ll keep you for your charm? I’m keeping you because you’re a snake. Don’t be a viper in my bosom.”
The look on Rylance’s face pretty much says it all. He is a viper. It’s best to keep him at a distance.
EXTRA CREDIT: William VanDerKloot, a premier local filmmaker who worked here when the MCU (Marvel City Universe) was just a glimmer in Stan Lee’s eyes, will present his documentary Inside the Warren on Wednesday, October 5 at 7 p.m. at the Atlanta History Center Commission”. pm. A Q&A with VanDerKloot and others from the film follows. The evening is presented under the distinguished auspices of the University of Georgia Libraries. Tickets for History Center members are $5. $10 for everyone else. It should be worth it.