Wolf Hall: Where has my sexy beast gone? (BBC 2: 8pm Wednesdays)


Aye, four score times more sex’ed Thomas Cromwell didst appear on the page of Hilary Mantel‘s book (OK I’ll stop the half-baked Tudor-talk now) but maybe that was just the “eye of the beholder” syndrome? See, in my version, TC’s hair would be darker & silkier, his nose a bit more crooked & sinister, his lip cru-ell …. I think I gave all the smarts of Mantel’s Cromwell to the visage of an Alan Rickman (circa: “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” in ’91) and now I’m having the Dickens of a time trying to reconcile the bloke on telly aka Mark Rylance with my sexy beast!

A quick squizz to the bible (www.imdb.com) tells me that Rylance has done this sort of a gig before: in film, playing Thomas Boleyn in “The Other Boleyn Girl” in 2008 (with Portman, Johansson, Bana etc.) and a thoroughly enjoyable example of the Bodice-ripper genre it was too.

Which brings me back to Wolf Hall on BBC2. It’s not a Bodice-ripper and neither was Mantel’s book; so who is this version of Thomas Cromwell and am I going to warm to him, as much as I warmed-right-up-to the man on the page?

Well, for one thing I am digging his accent; it’s noticeably thickened and more countrified than his aristocratic work-mates. It immediately locates him outside the King’s traditional circle-of-trust; a fact which Mantel also drums into us on the page – and not something even she could fully convey with words. You really do need to hear it to feel it.

Mark Rylance’s whipped hound-dog expression, is a constant reminder to the violence we all had to endure in the book; that of an extremely violent father battering his boy within an inch of his life. A few wince-y flashes on the screen were enough, thanks, but it is precisely this constant tail between the leggedness which is at odds with the “Hollywood Cromwell” version. I fell in love with my Cromwell because he was shrewd and clever and got away from his drunk-mean Dad, travelled the world, soaked it all in and came home to make big, bloody deal of himself. All because he knew his place and refused to sit in it.

Cromwell was loyal (give or take some shenanigans with his sister-in-law), was a loving-then-much-bereaved husband and father with the midas touch. He was the Tudor Money Saving Expert and signed the King up. If Cromwell was on the US show “The Bachelor” you’d jump up and down screaming “He has the whole package!” Mantel put us in his cerebral cortex (rhymes with Vortex, little else does) and there was no “hang dog” lurking there, just a big ol’ sexy beast. Of course, later on he stitched up one or two innocent people, in a deadly game of “he said, she said” …. but that’s another episode.

Is your Cromwell manifesting on screen, or, doth your eye behold another?

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