Wolf Hall episode 3, TV review: Sexual tension undermines the political shenanigans as the BBC drama really hits its stride

The gloomy corridors of Tudor England positively sizzled with desire and frustration in this latest instalment

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The Independent Culture

Be in no doubt, Wolf Hall has hit its stride - this is television you could eat up with a spoon. An episode that Machiavelli himself would describe as "a bit much", this was an hour of revenge and threats, of fixes and sex, and it’s about as good as television gets.

Mark Rylance continues to quietly dominate proceedings and now that his Thomas Cromwell has (quite literally) stepped out of the shadows we are beginning to see just what this butcher’s boy is capable of. This week he fixed so much ('Mr Wolf Hall', Tarantino fans?) I half expected the Duke of Norfolk to ask him if he could take a look at his leaky privy.

Henry (Damian Lewis) wants Anne (Claire Foy) in his bed, something he meatily described to Cromwell, and all obstacles were neatly cleared by the Putney schemer. First Cromwell wheeled Henry out in the Commons to ensure the aye’s had it when it came to the king becoming head of the English Church. The irksome Thomas More’s resignation (a superb Anton Lesser) as Lord Chancellor followed. The bawdy Harry Percy (Harry Lloyd) threw a spanner in the works when he revealed he’d thrown a spanner in Anne’s works once or twice and the two were, in fact, married. Without raising his voice above a murmur, Cromwell put the man firmly in his place. "The world is not run from where you think it is," said Cromwell. Indeed, not any more.

 

Giving Percy the proverbial kicking was sweet revenge for Cromwell, who is steadily avenging Cardinal Wolsey’s death by bringing pain upon anyone who harmed his beloved master. No one gets away with crossing Cromwell and we should all be very worried for William Brereton who made the schoolboy error of threatening him. More tried that too.

Elsewhere the threats came thick and fast from all and sundry. From Cromwell ("I’ll get the Duke of Norfolk to bite your b******* off"), from Anne ("When my son is born, they’ll all be powerless") and from 'Holy Maid' Elizabeth Barton who has prophesied that Henry will not last a year on the throne should he marry Anne. One imagines she might have prophesied her last (see previous paragraphs on revenge and fixing irritating problems).

Almost overshadowing the political shenanigans however were the astonishing levels of sex. Alright, so we saw nary a scrap of flesh but the gloomy corridors of Tudor England positively sizzled with desire and frustration. Henry, famously, was pink and hammy with lust, and Anne knows how to sell her assets at a very high price ("She’s selling herself by the inch" sniggered sister Mary). But the real revelation was Cromwell.

Underneath that imperceptible exterior there lies a man who, in Henry’s endearingly sozzled words, "has known passion". Too right he has, and he’s still jolly good friends with it. Not content with bedding sister-in-law Alice, Cromwell shared steamy moments with both Boleyn sisters, proving that the arch pragmatist has a pulse after all.

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