Wolf Hall – Episode 1 Review


Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (book cover)

Wolf Hall. Those two words have been on many people’s lips as we got closer and closer to one of the most anticipated shows of the year. It has finally arrived and I can’t say I’m disappointed. Hilary Mantel’s novel is brought to life through the actors, sets and new technology.

Mark Rylance who plays Thomas Cromwell suits the character extremely well. From the witty remarks to the family man with his wife and children, he shows the many sides of the overall complex Cromwell. Of course he had read Mantel’s book before and studied them for the part, as he told us in an interview, but it shows real skill to bring a book and historical character to life like that.

One thing that particularly stands out is how the show doesn’t stand out. It doesn’t try too hard with the costumes; making them more elaborate than they need to be or were back in Tudor times. The sets make us feel like we are actually in the past, they aren’t all elaborate and they all look different, unlike some other productions. They have the normal Tudor open fire in the middle of the room and many scenes are just by candlelight.

What helped this production is the new technology that has been made to make us feel that we are in the past. They can now shoot scenes by candlelight, just like they were back then. They didn’t have any bulbs or artificial lights that we use nowadays and that are used in other productions, so this show doesn’t use them. It gives it a nice, normal and cosy feel that a lot of historical shows don’t give us. Another thing Wolf Hall so far succeeds with.


Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) by candlelight (taken from Wolf Hall TV’s Facebook Page)

The only slight problem I had with this episode was the flashbacks. There were a few times where it took a while to get to grips where we were in the story. From the time before Wolsey’s fall to his actual arrest, then to Cromwell getting abused by his father. If it wasn’t for the titles of places and times occasionally appearing near the bottom of the screen, it would have been quite easy to get lost. For the newer people to Tudor history, it would have been even more difficult. However, it still did what it set out to do, and that was to tell a story well. It made us feel for Cromwell, which few TV shows and movies do, seeing his father beat him and him lose his family. It made us feel emotions for a character only just introduced to us, which is no mean feat.

The scene that stood out the most to me was when Cromwell met Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy). As historians and contemporary accounts tell us, Anne loved French art, style and culture. Back then people said that she was “more French than English”. Mantel and the show obviously took note of this, as Anne greets him in French and even pronounces his name differently, calling him ‘Cremwell’ instead of Cromwell. We do not know about Anne and Cromwell’s first meeting, but it seems very believable and not much seems inaccurate. It is likely that Anne will seem worse in character as time goes on, going along with Mantel’s novel, but it is still fiction first and foremost.


Anne Boleyn played by Claire Foy (taken from Wolf Hall TV’s Facebook Page)

There are no glaring inaccuracies in this show, however if it is staying true to the book then it is likely a few will pop up in later episodes (Jane and George Boleyn etc). I did enjoy this episode though, both as fiction and as a historical show. I did not expect to appreciate it historically because of the books, but so far I have no problems with it and fully recommend it to both Tudor history fans and people just wanting a historic drama. It was a little slow to start with but, with Cromwell officially meeting Henry and Anne, I am sure things will become more intense next episode.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Last Note: I also liked the unexpected inclusion of Anne Boleyn’s dog Purkoy!

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