After the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey, his secretary, Thomas Cromwell, finds himself amongst the treachery and intrigue of King Henry VIII’s court and soon becomes a close advisor to the King, a role fraught with danger.
This is a good adaptation of the book although a lot of material is added from the sequel in the last episodes, so it may spoil the book for you. I wish I had known that before watching, but that’s what I get for not combing the net for comments about the series. I’m not sorry I watched the series since I’m not that likely to read the next book. I found the first one very readable, but the main character so slippery and mysterious that I did not know him at all. That is not a good prognosis for my reader’s enjoyment. I do like the TV adaptation though.
As stated in the summary, Hilary Mantel’s book of the same title follows the life and rise of Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. It offers us a fascinating look into one of the most tumultuous periods in English history. It is also very refreshing to see the events from the viewpoint of the ‘villain’. Cromwell is regularly vilified as the man who engineered the downfall of Anne Boleyn. I’d say we should rather look at her dear husband for the blame, but then again I have no soft spot for that man at all. Henry VIII is truly a piece of work; people around him are even worse in this series and he takes full advantage of their greed and malice.
Cromwell functions like a rock in a stormy sea, a patient man with an elephant’s memory for injustices against him and his friends. He waits for opportunities or engineers them to serve his revenge or just plain comeuppance for people’s arrogance towards him. He’s a very enigmatic character with murky motivation – he’s almost an impersonal observer. You just wish for him to show some strong emotion sometimes when he faced the energetic Anne. Then again, her outbursts of temper make you like his calm all the more. He appears so steady and dependable in contrast.
I just wished to see more of Cardinal Wolsey. He may have embezzled some money for his properties, but he did take care of the needy people and negotiated many hurdles for the king only to be thrown away when convenient. He was just the lesser evil of what was yet to come. I really liked this portrayal of him.
The king and his cronies fare all the worse for their scheming and hypocrisy. You can’t like them much when they’re puffed up by their importance and titles. They owe large sums to moneylenders but they look down on those people as scum. It starts to grate on you with time. I also wished at some point to get subtitles on who’s who. I kept mixing up Norfolk and Suffolk, not that I fared much better with names of the young men helping Cromwell. There’re just too many nobles or other people running around. 😀
Historians will definitely have a thing or two to comment on about character portrayals and costumes. There are certainly some problems there if you take a closer look. Thomas More in particular is far from the benevolent man we usually get to see, which surprised me. I find it a shame when characters get hijacked by writers and twisted into walking caricatures. I felt that way about poor Jane Rochford, Queen Anne’s sister-in-law. She was downright nasty in the series. It struck me as convenient for the purposes of plot and not all that believable.
Otherwise I do not have many complaints. The first episodes may be a bit slow at times, but the costumes, sets, and cast make up for it. The subtle music score adds another dimension to the series. I liked the overall effect very much. There were just a few scenes now and then when I was confused – the fantasy scenes were really not necessary in my opinion. But this series grabs your imagination and makes you stick with it to the end.
PHOTOS: (C) Company Productions Ltd – Photographers: Giles Keyte, Ed Miller
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