Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Puppy Hall

In the first episode of the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel's novels "Wolf Hall" Thomas Cromwell hugs a puppy for ever so long and in the second episode he pets a kitten in not one, but two scenes. He holds a bunny rabbit in a later scene. Will there be a closeup of Cromwell snuggling with a teddy bear in episode three? Who knew Cromwell was such a gentle chap and animal lover? And what a surprise to find Thomas More, a man known for his great humor, portrayed as an old sourpuss who scolds his wife in front of dinner guests.

Production values for this miniseries are excellent. The locations are lush and the acting pitch perfect. The scenes between Cromwell (Mark Rylance) and Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) are especially engaging. However, the script is often surprisingly weak. There are occasional witticisms but the references to meanie monks and meanie people of high birth mocking those of low birth are repeated so often viewers might want to shout, "Okay, okay, we get it! Monks bad, Cromwell terribly sensitive!" There are more closeups of Mark Rylance being sensitive in this miniseries than of Liz Taylor in Cleopatra. At one point Cromwell says he speaks "from experience not from prejudice" and he then proceeds to give yet another monk bashing speech. I also speak from experience and having recently watched the miniseries "The Jewel in the Crown," I recognize the difference between splendid writing and another kind.

As I haven't read Mantel's novels, it is possible future episodes will reveal more accurate portraits of  both Cromwell and More and more truthful history than imaginative fiction. Castles are cold, with dark narrow passageways that almost seem haunted.  "Wolf Hall" is haunted by a spirit of anti-Catholicism -- with or without puppies.