22 January 2015

TV: Wolf Hall - Three Card Trick

review by Tom Newsom (Twitter | Flickr | Blog)

Of course I haven’t read the massive, Booker prize winning novels that inspired this classy TV adaptation for BBC Two. But after this, I want to.

Perceived classiness, though this is very classy, is sometimes dubious: is it solely in the look or the cast? The subject matter, the script perhaps? Or in this case, everything. Not lavish, it’s more realistic than that so far. But this makes even small scenes in candlelit rooms with men in plain robes feel very grand and expensive.

Almost every scene has Mark Rylance in it. Almost every scene is electric. These two facts are linked. Even though the drama is pretty much about Thomas Cromwell, Rylance makes him blend into hidden depths more often than not. His character an everyman coming from nowhere and the cleverest person in the room. The whole episode, if not the rest of the series (and the original books), is one big character piece for Cromwell. It’s a dream role for an actor, and he delivers in spades.

Not that the rest of the cast aren’t top drawer: Jonathan Pryce has a major role in this as historically doomed Cardinal Wolsey, most of the others make less of an impact in this first episode but Damien Lewis is another piece of perfect casting as Henry VIII, and I think the amazing actress Claire Foy, here as Anne Boleyn, should be in more things.

It doesn’t stop there: the music is gorgeous, its main theme played on a full orchestra’s strings. The British scenery - and there are lots of scenes - looks impossibly preserved; so much so that I thought it might have been not British at all, given previous successful BBC filming in Belgium for example, but surprisingly it was filmed mainly around the south-west.

The bottom line to any continuing drama is surely this: as the end credits rolled, I realised I could watch this all day. Some might say it’s slow to get going, I’d say it definitely takes its time - this episode only really focuses on Cromwell and Wolsey, he hasn’t even got into the King’s court yet. But each scene feels vital in telling the story thanks to the compressed editing involved from adapting book to TV. Nothing feels like it’s done solely for effect. Classy, but not flashy.

If all this gives the impression of yet another costume drama, it’s not. Remarkably refreshing for telly at least, the dialogue is set to natural as well as just being generally brilliant. It’s a Tudor version of House of Cards - their politics is only slightly more down to earth than Westminster today. It’s a bold step to take fine actors, costumes, sets, lighting and to make the historical characters talk to each other in conversational terms about the world, and themselves, like two people down a pub. But it works. It’s going to be a classic.

Our knowledge of the history promises so much for the series going forward - we’ve still got the reformation, Henry and Anne, rises and falls in power, especially for our hero Cromwell. And we can be sure that the events we might (or might not) be familiar with will be shown in a surprising, intriguing, wholly entertaining way.

And then I can tackle the books...

many thanks to
Tom Newsom (Twitter | Flickr | Blog)

No comments:

Post a Comment