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The Wolf Hall finale: The Last Days of Anne Boleyn Are Well-Executed

What it came down to in the end, was Anne rejected by one and all. The phrase 'how the mighty have fallen' comes to mind as we see the King seething with hate at the very sight of her. Anne wants to show him a pretty little cap that's just come from the embroiderer for their daughter; he doesn't even deign to respond. Instead, distaste all over his face, he picks something from his teeth and then walks out without a word, leaving Clara Foy's Anne Boleyn high and dry. That attitude is telling, it doesn't take long for the court to turn on 'the concubine.'

All the old families want her out, Henry is desperate to move on to Jane Seymour, and it's left to Thomas Cromwell to get the job done. As always Mark Rylance is up to the task, calmly, quietly worming out admissions from a group of courtiers that make it look like Anne has gone to bed with everyone in the kingdom including Mark Smeaton, the foolish lute player (Max Fowler), and her own brother George (Edward Holcroft). We hear that last bit from Lady Jane Rochford, Anne's sister-in-law played by Jessica Raine. The lady is so sick of her husband, and Anne's poor treatment of her, that one can't really judge the veracity of her words. 

But it doesn't matter. The accusation sticks. It's a convenient excuse to get rid of Anne, if nothing else. The courtiers, the very same men who mocked Thomas Cromwell's beloved Cardinal Wolsey, are blamed. And Anne is out. We don't see the execution of the men, making Anne's beheading all the more powerful. A French master of the sword is brought in to do the deed. He's dressed, not like an executioner, but like a gentleman so that Anne won't recognize him for what he is, so she'll be more comfortable at the end. If she is steady, if she is still, he tells Cromwell, it will be over between heartbeats and she won't feel a thing, If not, we are given to understand, it could get messy.

It's a tense ending to the show, really well executed. We watch her women gently remove her jewels and put a simple linen cap on her head. They tie a black silk cloth over her eyes and Anne raises her hand to smooth her head. 'Put your arm down. Put your arm down.' Cormwell says under his breath. He wants it to be easy.

Thomas son, Gregory, is there for the final curtain. Cromwell takes hold of his arm. This is history so Cromwell wants him to see it, but watching a beheading is painful, difficult. Even when the stroke is clean. I was surprised to be so moved by the scene which Wolf Hall director handled with care, and without milking it. We don't see anything so obvious as the slicing of the head but we hear the heavy fall of it. We see the crowd flinch and gasp. The camera slides over the splatter of blood on the gowns of the women who take Anne up, the shakiness of the woman's hands who wraps up her head in a piece of cloth. 

Reporting back to the king, Cromwell finds Henry overjoyed. He receives him with a huge bro-hug. Directly following the execution, it's awful. And says how little regard the author and filmmaker have for Henry. We, the audience, are reeling, barely recovered from our up close and personal view of Anne Boleyn's death and meanwhile there's Henry, waiting it out in his chambers, happy and excited that the dirty deed is done, that his man has taken care of business for him. That's how we're left, disgusted at the man and wishing it wasn't the end; two more episodes please, let's keep it going. Mark Rylance was so good in the role I had to ask myself what's next. Does Mantel have a book that follows Cromwell to the end of his life just four years later? Is she working on one? And if so has the BBC has already signed Rylance to play him. Oh, and Damian Lewis to play the spoiled brat Henry VIII. We can't have one without the other.

On the other hand, for those who prefer their historical fiction, more historically accurate, I highly recommend this article over at Nerdalicious. They also wonder why the BBC didn't make two full series based on each of the novels and I couldn't agree more.