Wolf Hall, TV review: Henry VIII goes out on a high in a history lesson that never lost its bite

 

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The Independent Culture

Heads will roll. They certainly will if the BBC hasn't made Mark Rylance sign on for the third part of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror and the Light.

It's just the end of February and I'm willing to put down my Oscar sweepstakes winnings (£20 – thanks, Julianne Moore) that there won't be a better drama on British television than Peters Straughan and Kosminsky's Mantel adaptation of Mantel's first two Thomas Cromwell novels. Sign him up!

Much of what was to be admired in these six episodes was précised in this concluding episode. Rylance magnificent as the mercurial, cat-like Cromwell – here getting to the bottom of Anne's affairs one way or another; Claire Foy entering the big league with a maleficent, tragic, reading of Henry's second wife.

Those two were just the twin peaks of Wolf Hall. Throw in the haunting score by Debbie Wiseman – strings as taut as the plotting; Damian Lewis; Bernard Hill; Charity Wakefield; Anton Lesser; the scenery; the gloomy lighting... You could go on.

As Anne was sent to the Tower for her alleged deceits we witnessed the tragedy of Cromwell's position as Henry's power broker in a performance cut with a scalpel by Rylance. Having made his only friend the King of England, he was left with no choice but to enact "justice" in the name of the monarch. As he condemned Henry Norris (Luke Roberts) for treason, Cromwell confessed: "I need guilty men, Harry, so I've found men who are guilty, though not necessarily as charged."

And that was that. We ended with the horror of Anne's sentence – "thy head smitten off at the King's pleasure" – and trembling, shuddering, demise in the wintry London cold. Your turn, Jane.

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