Wolf Hall finale, review: Simply brilliant TV

After six hours of Rolls Royce television, Wolf Hall has to come to its inevitable, bloody end

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

‘She kneels’, says the executioner. ‘There is no block.’ The executioner who later would slip off his shoes so that Anne could not hear his footsteps behind her. Subtle, brutal, elegant – Wolf Hall embodied in one moment. Cromwell said nothing, moved not a single muscle in his face, but his eyes spoke of indescribable sorrow. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

After six hours of Rolls Royce television, Wolf Hall has to come to its inevitable, bloody end. The final hour, the show’s and Anne Boleyn’s, saw the Queen unravel entirely as Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) greased the wheels for Henry’s marriage to the pliable Jane Seymour. Among a cast so heavyweight it could sink the Mary Rose itself Claire Foy has been magnificent, showing what a huge fierce heart lay beneath that famously flat chest.

Anne’s demise was hard to watch. From the moment she began publicly goading her lovers – poor lute player Mark Smeaton (Max Fowler) got a particularly rough ride all round – to the final grasping gesture of giving out money to the poor and praising her husband to the highest of heavens, Anne’s fall was as pathetic and unspectacular as could be. In one beautiful moment, just before she was arrested, Anne sat while her maids cleared away the remnants of a meal. Eventually all that was left in front of her was a plain, wooden table. Nothing more.


However, before the royal head could be lopped from its regal shoulders, evidence was needed. Well, ‘evidence’. This is Cromwell after all. The naughty gallants who had lain with Anne (and a few who’d just glanced at her portrait in a corridor) were rounded up, mainly on the say so of sister-in-law Jane Boleyn (Jessica Raine) and via the confession of ‘pretty boy’ Mark Smeaton (and, no, the Duke of Norfolk did not refuse the opportunity to crack a gag about fingering lutes). Jane even incriminated her own husband George, the Queen’s brother. They kiss with tongues, Jane says. ‘Do you want me to record that?’ asked an incredulous Cromwell. ‘If you think you’ll forget it’ sniffed Jane. She was deadly serious.

The trial, which resembled an especially downbeat Mason’s initiation ceremony (all hats and candles and gout), was a sham. Anne got to understand how betrayed she had been by literally everyone, and the bravado of her alleged lovers drained as they too grasped the situation. ‘'I need guilty men’ Cromwell had told Harry Norris. ‘So I’ve found men who are guilty.’ Guilty of? Of adultery with the Queen. Of insulting Cardinal Wolsey. Of looking at Cromwell funny. Of being in the way.

Before Anne’s dramatic haircut, Cromwell walked the gallows himself (historical spoiler alert) and made sure the executioner hadn’t forgotten anything. He seemed haunted. In the final moments, caught in the suddenly single Henry’s triumphant bear hug, he was shattered. This was simply brilliant television.