Seriously, making Cromwell the hero and More a villain?
(Though I suppose if you want to paint St Thomas More as an evil, humorless zealot, Anton Lesser's casting is a stroke of genius - the tight-rope he walked on Endeavour, between prissy, hateful bureaucrat and prissy sympathetic colleague was masterfully done.)
I have read only a little of Mantel's wok, and while I can admire her prose, I despise her for her undisguised and uninformed contempt for me.
(Yes, for me, for me personally and for you too, if you call yourself Catholic.)
And I am disposed, (I, as much as she, am the product of my prejudices,) to agree with most of what Simon Schama has to say:
It grates a bit to accept that millions now think of Thomas Cromwell as a much-maligned, misunderstood pragmatist from the school of hard knocks who got precious little thanks for doing Henry VIII’s dirty work. When I was doing research for A History of Britain, the documents shouted to high heaven that Thomas Cromwell was, in fact, a detestably self-serving, bullying monster who perfected state terror in England, cooked the evidence, and extracted confessions by torture. He also unleashed small-minded bureaucratic “visitors” to humiliate, evict and dispossess thousands of monks and nuns.An aside, I recently read something, (which I will not bother to find and link because it is wrong, and I don't want to give them another click,) discussing the economics of Henry's reign which described the "windfall," of the proceeds from the
Windfalls are the fruit that providence allows you without the work of picking.
If you hack down the tree and strip it bear, the booty is not windfall. Words, people! they MEAN things!
And a further aside, I was also doing some reading on "poor laws," not of that era, but in the process came across quite a bit of scholarship concerning the increased suffering of the poor as a direct result of Henry's and Cromwell's destruction of the greatest charitable network their nation would ever have.
Those "fat, prosperous" monks were not swanning about bedecked in jewels and staging cupcake wars, they were creating and running the hospitals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and schools of their time.
Anyway, back to Wolf Hall.
But Himself is addicted in equal measure to television and history, so he was looking forward to it very much, and I realized that I should at least give it a look, and try to be objective.
After I got over seeing the Pope playing Wolsey, I was most struck by the seeming contradiction between Cromwell's contempt for Catholicism and the hierarchical Church and his dogged loyalty in the face of some danger to that most political of prelates.
Is it principle? or misjudged, and rather fawning careerism and gratitude toward the mighty who looked upon his lowliness...
And the touching domestic scenes highlighting Cromwell's love for and very progressive attitude toward even his female children really resonated with me.
In fact, they seemed instantly familiar.
Well, there's a reason,
Curiously enough, the man who had really good relations with his children in a totally modern fashion, including giving his daughters the same elaborate education as men; Greek, Latin, mathematics and so on, is the villain as he is presented on Wolf Hall. Thomas More really did have these affectionate relations with his children. In other words, as I understand it, [the Mantel book] is based on a deliberate perversion of fact.As a loyal supporter of Good King Richard, (III,) I am wary of clever fiction that deceives centuries of people that villains are heroic and good men villainous - hopefully, Mantel's fables will not prove so powerful nor so lasting.
But the tv show?
When all is said and done?
Well, it's gorgeously somber, lots of clever dialogue, remarkably effective score, good casting so far, and Mark Rylance, of whom I have been able to see far too little, is never, and has never been anything short of brilliant, (I couldn't afford Twelfth Night when I was near it, or it me, but some day I'll find a complete recording.) I marvel at his minimalism on screen, wonder how everything he does can be so perfectly calibrated for the camera and how it can work on stage.)
But when all is said and done?
Well, for an entertainment, it commits an even greater sin than lying -
It's a bore!!!!!