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Wolf Hall Wednesday: Episode 3 — Ladies Night

"Are you happy?" Cromwell asks the pregnant Anne Boleyn.
"Yes. Because of this. I was always desired but now I'm valued, do you see? And that's different."

After finding episodes one and two a teensy bit of a slog — the kind of program you hope they show in history classes but maybe not your first choice for television after a long weekend* —this week's third episode of Wolf Hall was quite a change. It was almost like someone drew back a heavy velvet drape and let a little sunshine in. 

This is going to sound sexist, but I blame the women. It really was ladies night and the ladies shone. While I've been kvetching that Mark Rylance's Thomas Cromwell has been rather one-note in terms of his expression, the women brought him to life, stirred him up, broke through his poker face. He was pleased, disappointed, confused, amused, aroused, angry and heartbroken and it was all there on his face.

Saskia Reeves is wonderful as Johane, the sister of his dead wife Liz that Cromwell has been sleeping with. A married woman, unsatisfied by her husband, serious and mature, she didn't jump into Cromwell's bed on a whim; it was loneliness and need and grief over her sister's death that brought them together. In the 16th century version of "We can't do this anymore" she breaks it off. It's just as well. When their conversation is interrupted, she leaves and Cromwell tries to stop her. "Liz!" he calls to her departing back. His wife's name. Oh, the look on Johanne's face! If it wasn't over before, it is now.

In more royal quarters Claire Foy shows us an Anne Boleyn much more nuanced than her reputation. We see her struggling to show off her archery skills, throwing a mini-tantrum, and blaming the bow when she errs, a sight that brings out the bitch in her sister Mary (Charity Wakefield). Ditched by the king for her sister, Mary is furious and frustrated by her position. Imagine, you think you've hooked the biggest fish in the sea, the king no less, then your sexy sister steals him from you. An outrage. But worse, it's the 16th century. You can't just move away, you have no job, no skills besides embroidery and flattery, so you have to stick around and see it all, his sickly slavish devotion to your sister, while you have no choice but to wait on her hand and foot. A torture worse than being sent to the Tower! Okay, judging by the torture scene that opens the episode, maybe not, but I'd be a manipulative conniving bitch too. 

Foy and Wakefield in their scenes with Rylance, really stir up Cromwell's passions. They get him talking and set his mind spinning, his whole face lights up in their onscreen moments together. In one scene we're shocked to see Cromwell reach out and run his finger over the exposed milky white skin Anne shows above the low-cut dress of the period, her chest heaving at his touch, only to pull back and see it's just a fantasy. So intriguing and well-timed though, so that when Anne does touch his hand, we can almost feel the spark as he feels it, as he escorts her, hand in hand, to where the king awaits. 

And in a scene that Mantel never gives us in her books, Cromwell and Mary Boleyn, come together in the beginning of a kiss, but alas are interrupted. It's not the Tudors, but a little bit of sex never hurt. Like the real men of Mad Men could tell you, sex sells. This week they added a bit of it to Wolf Hall, not a lot but enough to make sure I'll be coming back for week four. 

Speaking of week four, we also get a hint that the next episode will bring us more of Jane Seymour, the little one that Anne Boleyn calls the milk-sop and teases Cromwell for bringing a gift wrapped in blue silk. And he actually blushes! Kate Phillips plays the mild-mannered Jane Seymour, who weaves the silk into her sleeves. No spoiler to say we'll soon see more of her. Yes, I went there. Sue me.


*I'm watching Game of Thrones at 9pm, Mad Men at 10pm, screening Wolf Hall via Roku Monday or Tuesday. How about you? What does your Sunday night look like?