The lighting, as I noted last week, is extraordinarily beautiful, the costumes, the set design continue to shine exquisitely. But the production suffers at times from an abundance of restraint. In an early scene from episode two, Cromwell comes home to find his household clustered around his son, Gregory (Tom Holland) returned from abroad. He's brought his two black greyhounds with him and Cromwell's niece, Mercy, tells him 'Gregory says we can race them in the halls' at which point Gregory and Cromwell depart, leaving the group standing silently, awkwardly, just as they were. The household, the dogs frozen, static.
This is 360º from the way Mantel wrote the scene in the book where Mercy, breathless, laughing, cocky almost, tells Cromwell they've been running the dogs through the halls and you can hear the sound of all that happiness and exhaustion. You can see those dogs bounding down the halls, everyone running after them, garments flying. There's laughter and a strong sense of joy and playfulness along with Cromwell's clear affection for his extended family. It's dramatic, cinematic. There's action. Action I expected to see in the BBC production. Instead, the group just stands there quietly as Cromwell and son depart; it's as though Peter Kominsky, the director, deliberately drained the life out of the scene.
That must have been where I dropped off. When I re-watched the episode, things picked up a bit after that, although I noted that the dinner scene at the home of Thomas More (Anton Lesser) was almost as dry. In Mantel's book we see More's disdain for his wife (Monica Dolan as Alice)— who keeps a monkey as a pet—when he asks her in Latin (which she doesn't understand) why he married her at all; at the same time it's clear he has an unnatural interest in his own daughter. Sadly, while there is a monkey on the table, not much is made of it. In fact all that dinnertime drama is left unharvested. Speaking of dinners, what are those little bits of beige food they're eating with their fingers. We need a closeup! And there's so little of it; while I appreciate there's no cartoonish ripping apart of giant legs of mutton with their teeth, no hands glistening with fat dripping from them, it's hard to imagine the small pieces we see on the plates, a meal make. No wonder More's man Stephen Gardiner (Mark Gatiss) later complains to Cromwell that he could eat a whole pheasant. He wants more. So do we. More drama.
In episode 2 we began to see more of Ms. Boleyn and Henry VIII but there too, it feels almost lifeless, so much is withheld. For the most part the tone is measured and deliberate, the acting low-key. There may be high treason but there's very little high drama. While Mark Rylance has a fascinating face that can convey a wealth of emotions in its placidity, Kominsky seems overly reliant on it, as many scenes end with Cromwell staring deliberately expressionless. When the Duke of Norfolk—Bernard Hill, one of the standouts in terms of harnessing all the contempt shown to Cromwell for his rise within the court despite his low birth—insults Cromwell, asking how dare he listen to the conversation of his betters, Cromwell doesn't say a word. He doesn't want to give his hand away you see. Yes, we do. Again and again. It's not all that different from the one he wears when Mary Boleyn (Charity Wakefield) eyes glistening with tears, infers she'd like him for a husband.
And yet, it still compels me to watch. Perhaps because I know what's going to happen. That's the underlying tension, of course, knowing how far the king will go to get what he wants, and just how Anne Boleyn will force his hand. At this point there is quite a bit of 'walk and talk'; while we hope for lust and lasciviousness, we get languor. Game of Thrones without the sex and violence. Lest we forget Game of Thrones is a literary invention, the gift of an imaginative mind, Wolf Hall, my friends is history, and for an accurate portrayal of a mind-blowing period of history, Wolf Hall is worth watching.
Speaking of More - More Wolf Hall (who plays who?!)
And speaking of drama, Dennis Quaid gave us all Something to Talk About this week and I've got something to say about that over on my memoir site.