Thomas Cromwell, born as the son of a blacksmith, has worked himself up to secretary of Cardinal Wolsey. After the downfall of the cardinal because of his critisism of King Henry VIII, Cromwell becomes an advisor of the King himself. He quickly grows in importance and has to walk a tight rope to escape being sucked into the treachery and intrigue at Henry's court.
The Tudor period has never been one of my 'favourite' historical periods, so I don't necessarily watch every period drama from this period. Maybe because the stories around Henry VIII are overdone? Anyway, I read such strongly contrasting views about Wolf Hall that I became intrigued nonetheless. People seemed to either hate it (Andrew Davies for example) or deem it the best drama written in ages.
I think I'm the rare one whose opinion falls somewhere in between, but definitely geared towards love! What I enjoyed most was how extremely clever the writing was and how the series drags you into the story. The series takes you along in the life of a man, Thomas Cromwell, whom history has always described as ruthless. And still, in the first few episodes, when we're treated to a look at his home life, his humour, his cleverness, you can't help but like him and root for him. The way he protects and cares for Cardinal Wolsey speaks of Cromwell having a heart. And even in the later episodes, when the things he does become questionable at best, you're still kept in doubt: is he really evil, or doesn't he have a choice if he wants to preserve his life and status?
Mark Rylance has been praised to high heavens for his role as Cromwell and he deserves it all, he was amazing. His facial expressions and voice so subtly showed us what he was thinking, but still, he never totally gave away all about the character he was playing. Claire Foy was also superb as the haughty Anne Boleyn, really, it's amazing to think this same woman played kind and shy Amy Dorrit. If you can take on such contrasting roles, you're a talent. And her Damian Lewis was alright as King Henry VIII, but he didn't really stand out. Another name I should mention was Charity Wakefield, who brought some fun and lightness into the series in her role as Mary Boleyn.
This series really managed to keep me on the edge of my seat. I read some reviews that people found Wolf Hall boring, but I totally disagree, I found it gripping all through the six episodes. But the last episode deserves a special mention, it had me glued to the screen with my heart in my throat. All the actors acted their socks off, but especially Claire Foy was phenomenal. And I think Wolf Hall should be applauded for making such a well-known and often adapted historical event of which we all know the outcome totally captivating.
This series has a huge cast and with such a strong presence of the main characters, this can make other characters/actors fall a little into the background. The story of Wolf Hall is quite complex and you've got to keep your wits about you watching this. Sometimes it was a little hard keeping all the many characters apart, especially as quite a few of them were called Thomas.... I didn't mind too much, I like to be challenged by a series now and then, but this is not 'I'm-tired-let's-chill' material!
All in all, I think Wolf Hall has earned a place as one of my favourite Tudor dramas (but, as I said, I haven't watched that many). If you like thoughtful dramas and don't mind a slower pace, I would definitely recommend this.