Wolf Hall, Entirely Beloved - TV review: Like Game of Thrones, but without the dragons or White Walkers

Episode 2: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?

Neela Debnath
Wednesday 28 January 2015 23:00
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Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis

If last week was the start of this delicate and dangerous game of chess, the players merely assembled and ready, then tonight they begin to make their first moves. Just one step wrong and that could be the end - much like Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) who ends up dead leaving Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) to find a new master in Henry VIII (Damien Lewis).

Game of Thrones fans tuning in to watch Wolf Hall might notice similarities between the politicking in King's Landing and Henry VIII’s court – and they wouldn’t be wrong.

George RR Martin was partly inspired by the reign of the English monarch while writing his A Song of Ice and Fire novels, and it's not hard to see why: this is no boring history lesson, it's compelling stuff. You really do win or you die at Henry's court.

The power play keeps us hooked: Cromwell’s “interpretation” of Henry’s dream illustrates perfectly how the lawyer is manipulating the situation to help secure the King’s divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon (Joanne Whalley) to clear the way for Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy).

The scene illustrates a more Machiavellian side to Cromwell, who has thus far remained a sympathetic character. But he is still very much our hero. Hilary Mantel’s portrait of him is generally positive compared to other fictional portrayals such as A Man for All Seasons.

Rylance continues to mesmerize as the man of questionable birth rising to become the king’s right-hand man. His calm, collected and measured performance really has the audience rooting for him. We want him to get that divorce, even if it means resorting to questionable methods.

There’s also the scheming queen-to-be in the form of Foy's Anne Boleyn. It’s hard not to admire her cunning and calculation. Like Cersei Lannister she knows how to get what she wants and has the king at the mercy of her charms.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in 'Wolf Hall'

While her pronunciation of “Cromwell” last week was annoying and distracting, tonight is a vast improvement as she shows her guile. She is a slippery character to say the least.

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan who hasn’t watched Wolf Hall yet, you are in for treat. Admittedly, there aren’t any dragons or White Walkers but there’s plenty of political intrigue and danger to contend with – people can still end up getting their head chopped off, after all.

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