Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Two Thomases: Sympathetic Cromwell, Sleazy More

     Wolf Hall (2015; based on Hilary Mantel’s novels, who also worked on the screenplays) [D:Peter Kosminsky  Mark Rylance, Damian Lewis, Claire Foy] Six episodes that give us a Thomas Cromwell quite different from the cynical villain of Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, and a sleazier Thomas More, too. The dangers of living in a polity in which personal loyalty to an erratic monarch was paramount, and an careless word or phrase could condemn you to death, are nicely explored. The dircetor wanted a few too many closeups of a silent Cromwell, etc, and the pace is slower than we’ve become used to lately, but it’s an impressive piece of work. Apparently it was filmed with ambient light only, a stunt made possible by recent advances in digital light sensors. Much of the action is set in dark interiors, I suppose to underline the darkness of the human heart.
     I now want to read the novels. Mantel clearly sides with Cromwell rather than More. Henry VIII is shown as self-deluding but respecting Cromwell because Cromwell won’t play the sycophancy game. Anne Boleyn is as much a victim of her own ambitions as of her family’s scheming for power. Wolsey is a wily old man who failed to achieve what his master wanted; Cromwell’s loyalty to him guides his plans, but at the end it’s unclear how much Cromwell wanted Anne’s death as a just punishment for bringing about Wolsey’s downfall. ***

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