Wolf Hall, review: Jessica Raine is brilliant as the charmless Jane Boleyn

Episode four: Henry VIII looks set to get through his first three wives in record time

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The Independent Culture

Take back that blue romper suit, intercept the ‘Congratulations on your new baby boy!’ cards and repaint the nursery in a shade of pink – it’s a girl. Wolf Hall shifted gear from last weeks’ salty frenzy of fireside threats and corridor-based titillation, and offered up a more sober, more sombre affair that dealt with the ramifications of one very unwanted child. "Call her Elizabeth. Cancel the jousts," said the unhappy father. Welcome to the world, Liz.

Last week we found Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) and Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy) revelling in their roles as royal schemers. But Anne’s had a girl and she’s running out of cards to play. It was heart-breaking to watch Foy’s increasingly haunted Anne realise that her grip on power is slipping. "I’ll give the King a son,"she said, defying Cromwell to contradict her. But her eyes gave her away.

By the end Cromwell and Henry (a pink, damp Damian Lewis) were in the 'Wolf Hall' of the title, making eyes at Jane "divorced, beheaded, died" Seymour, and Anne was far behind. Her doom was sealed not when she miscarried but soon after, when she was unable to bend Cromwell to her will over Thomas More (Anton Lesser). "Torture him," she spat. "We don’t do that," replied Cromwell, where once he’d have been more amenable, or at least more diplomatic. Anne fled from the room, the fight in her all but gone.

Anne’s fingernails are still clinging on to the royal codpiece for the moment, however, and she was ultimately able to get her wish. More was given the choice of taking an oath over the bill to make Henry head of the Church, or die ("the Lesser of two evils", another writer might have added). More, head in Rome, heart in heaven, was never going to swear, despite Cromwell’s repeated pleas, and the former Lord Chancellor embraced his fate like an old friend.  "It’s just words," argued Cromwell, of the oath. "Just words…" sighed More. The essential difference between the two men encapsulated in a few short breaths.

Up until now Cromwell has done a passable impression of a man who’d sell his own knees if it meant the advancement of his career and the English crown but this is the closest we’ve come to seeing cracks in the façade. As if committing a man he respects to his death was not enough to make the heavy-hearted Cromwell any more morose, this was an episode full of reminders of what his scheming has made him.

Jane Boleyn (played with a total dearth of warmth, charm and humour by Jessica Raine – she’s brilliant) treats him like the town gossip. More murmured warnings about the company the King keeps these days and, most powerful of all, More’s wife Alice begged Cromwell to change her husband’s mind. "Does he think it’s clever to leave his family at the mercy of a man like yourself?" The man with the weight of the world on his shoulders looked a little more crushed than usual.

So then, we turn our attentions to "the milksop" Jane. But what to do with a problem like Anne Boleyn? Ah yes, now how does the mnemonic go? "Divorced…"

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