Wolf Hall, a British miniseries about the rise of Thomas Cromwell in the Court of King Henry VIII (based on the books Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel), is currently airing Sunday nights on PBS as part of Masterpiece. Being connoisseurs of all things British, Arsenic Pie and I took to the internet for a bit of a chat about the show the other night. The bottom line is that we are both enjoying it, but we are also both fans of Tudor history. If the Brits aren't your bag....you may find the series a bit slow. Think of it as West Wing: Tudor Edition.
Maggie Cats: Have you read the books?
Arsenic Pie: I have not, have you?
Maggie Cats: I read Bring Up the Bodies for book club--I remember enjoying it, but I have a strong background in Tudor history from college, so it wasn't all that revelatory. What the show is doing character wise is striking me as more interesting.
Arsenic Pie: I took a British history class my freshman year. So I'm pleased to see Henry VIII as appropriately gouty and dickish.
Maggie Cats: You're an expert!
Arsenic Pie: I am totes the expert.
Maggie Cats: Let's talk about Henry; even though he doesn't appear hardly at all until the second episode, he's the reason people tune in.
Arsenic Pie: I love me some Damian Lewis. He plays a good asshat. See: The Forsyte Saga.
Maggie Cats: This is one of the more "realistic" portrayals of Henry I've seen. Henry was somewhat of a study in contradictions. Smart, but a slave to his id. He loved music and poetry (and wrote it) but also loved the outdoors and sport. I feel like this is the first time I have seen the character of Henry VIII portrayed as a smart thinking man in addition to the physical stuff.
And can I just say, thank god they cast an ACTUAL GINGER THANK YOU.
Arsenic Pie: They're a dying breed. They're rare. They need to be utilized before they go extinct.
Maggie Cats: Have you heard about the Ginger Preservation Project?? *she said ringing the doorbell and holding out a flyer*
Arsenic Pie: Where can I sign up? Do you have an info booth? Is it the one located next to SPEW?
We have our own facilities at Strawberry Preserves. We need to get the word out.
But I digress.
What do you think of Lewis' Henry?
Arsenic Pie:I think he is perfect for the part. Usually Henry is all bloated and walking around burping while he gesticulates with a turkey leg, but Lewis has got this on lock. *Let it be noted here that AP is gesticulating wildly with a turkey leg*
Maggie Cats: It's true that he is either portrayed as fat and slow or hot forever like in The Tudors. He's usually shown as a caricature. What about Mark Rylance as Cromwell? I love how he is quiet, but you still absolutely get his genius and ability to read people.
Arsenic Pie: I cannot take my eyes off him. Not that he's the epitome of male hotness, but he's really mesmerizing. I pay the most attention to him in all the scenes, even when he's sharing screen time with Jonathan Pryce.
Maggie Cats: You can really see the mind working behind the actor's eyes. Cromwell is quiet, but is always looking around and taking everything in. FOR FUTURE BLACKMAIL.
Arsenic Pie: I have always loved Jonathan Pryce. I like how he was Juan Peron.
He is so not dictatory but he was great in that too.
Maggie Cats: He was pretty great as Wolsey, who honestly I found kind of pathetic. He just...didn't get it. Wolsey didn't understand the game or how to play it. I don't know what dictatory means, but I am going to smile and nod.
Arsenic Pie: Yes, smile and nod. It is the best way to do things.
Maggie Cats: I got that part down.
Arsenic Pie: I'm super excited about Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn. She was just all kinds of crazy on Upstairs Downstairs.
Maggie Cats: She is doing really well; her Anne is also really different from Annes we've seen.
Manipulative, but not super great at it. More like a spoiled child.
I love it.
Arsenic Pie: It's because she's coo-coo.
Maggie Cats: Also French.
Arsenic Pie: Next thing you know she'll surrender. Because you know France. Off screen she eats cheese and complains about how much she hates Americans. But basically, it's a strong cast overall, and Mark Rylance is ruling it.
Maggie Cats: Definitely, I am just trying to enjoy the parts where he is large and in charge before it all goes south.
It didn't really pay to be friends with Henry VIII.
Well, maybe for a little while but then CHOP CHOP.
Arsenic Pie: Hey, he didn't kill ALL of his wives. Some of them died natural deaths.
Maggie Cats: Four of them, actually.
Arsenic Pie: Name them. Name his wives in order and the manner of their death.
Maggie Cats: Catherine of Aragon died of a broken heart. Anne B. went chop chop. Jane Seymour was ripped apart by her baby. Katherine Parr also chop chop. Anne of Cleves was too ugly so she got divorced and actually got to grow old. And the last Katherine lived to be awesome. I...might have mixed the names and orders of some of the Katherines.
Arsenic Pie: Catherine Howard was annulled and executed.
Maggie Cats: Whatever. CLOSE ENOUGH.
Arsenic Pie: Nobody ever talks about the women he DIDN'T marry. I mean historians are so biased.
Maggie Cats: There are simply too many. But at least everyone in Court had the same strain of hepatitis, right?
Arsenic Pie: Unless it mutated and turned into hepabola, yes.
Maggie Cats: So what else about the show has struck you?
I'll put a shout out to the costuming which is impeccable.
Arsenic Pie: The fact that it's almost Shakespearean.
Maggie Cats: It's Shakespeare before there was a Shakespeare.
Arsenic Pie: Like you could put this side-by-side with one of the royal plays and it would hold up.
Maggie Cats: Really, what else was there to do in those days except plot and backstab and manipulate?
Arsenic Pie: NOTHING
THEY DID NOT HAVE NETFLIX OR SMARTPHONES. Frankly I feel technology has saved us from beheadings. I would be insane without cable for sure. Imagine if someone took a selfie at Anne Boleyn's execution.
Maggie Cats: The world is fortunate there is cable. Else I would have conquered it by now out of boredom.
We'd be like Pinkie and the Brain.
I'm the Brain.
Arsenic Pie: I'm Pinkie.
Maggie Cats: This is why we work. So, any final thoughts?
Arsenic Pie: Wolf Hall is definitely worth checking out even if you are not into the regular PBS viewing crowd
And I cast no aspersions on anyone because 80 percent of my PBS viewing is making fun of the people on Antiques Roadshow.
Maggie Cats: And definitely worth checking out for the multi-layered character portrayals and fantastic acting.
Arsenic Pie: I am really proud of PBS. They've like unintentionally become a bulwark of critically acclaimed drama.
Maggie Cats: BBC America is like their younger, slower sibling.
Arsenic Pie: But PBS still has the corner on British programming. They get stuff from ITV because they don't have to be brand loyal.
So I can watch Mr. Selfridge and yell at the people in corsets.
(the conversation then devolved into a discussion of Jeremy Piven, WETA UK, and other facets of British television. It's best we wrap it up here, gentle reader.)