I am slightly too obsessed with Anne Boleyn to have taken the news of this adaptation lightly. Yet as well as gleefully re-reading my Mantels and dusting off my Boleyn necklace (well of course I own one), I felt a nagging sense of trepidation. Could the BBC do the Booker winner justice? Would they grasp the court complexities, would they reduce supporting cast to one dimensional plot fillers for the sake of brevity?
So far my fears have proved largely unfounded. Unlike the haters bemoaning the candlelight on Twitter, I thought the absence of visible electric lights heightened the historical accuracy (funnily enough), as well as providing a suitable dark atmosphere for this clandestine and bloodthirsty period of English history.
Mark Rylance is a quiet but deadly Cromwell, stealthily navigating the streets of Tudor London by presenting himself as a mass of contradictions: he is at various moments both cocky and respectful, loyal and changeable, sharp yet loving, and brutal yet beautiful in nature. A complex performance worthy of Mantel’s leading man, hypnotic and fearsome to gaze upon.
The jury is still out on my beloved Anne Boleyn in the wake of Cromwell’s first encounter with the future queen. Claire Foy’s Anne seemed at first glance more spoiled French brat than erudite enchantress, yet depths were hinted at by the used and discarded sister Mary in between giggles, so I must pray there is more to come from Foy as my ill-fated favourite.
The King himself only graces us with his presence at the final hour (or minute if you’re being picky). Since he is the subject on every courtier’s lips, Damian Lewis’ Henry was under pressure to warrant this grand reveal upon his entrance into the fold. Thankfully he more than delivers. He is mercurial in temperament, large in presence thought not in frame, and utterly arresting in performance. The repartee between the fearsome monarch and his lowly but cunning servant is tantalisingly tense- a battle of wits between two masters, defused by Cromwell’s cunning alone.
Although Cromwell’s bereavement is rushed somewhat (I assume for the sake of time, though its disappointing) and Anne is yet to shine, I am excited by our first sojourn into Tudor life, and eager for more insight into the illustrious Mr Cromwell….