If you crave compelling and authentic historical drama, then make your way to the cinematic splendor of Wolf Hall. Focusing on Thomas Cromwell’s rise within Henry VIII’s volatile court, the miniseries Wolf Hall is a modern Renaissance masterpiece.
Title: Wolf Hall
Year it began: 2015
Where it can be seen: BBC.com; PBS.org; Amazon
Who’s in it: Mark Rylance; Damien Lewis; Claire Foy; Jonathan Pryce; Anton Lesser
Typical episode length: 59 minutes
Number of episodes to date: 6
Brief plot description: After Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from political power, his trusted legal adviser, Thomas Cromwell, works to gain a place within Henry VIII’s court. A blacksmith’s son, Cromwell faces classist prejudice as he uses his intelligence and pragmatism to become the king’s most powerful adviser. Secretly Protestant in a still-Catholic England, Cromwell engages in such risky actions as allying himself with Anne Boleyn and competing with the dangerous Thomas More.
Why it’s worth watching: Based on two historical novels by Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall is a captivating period drama whose gorgeous cinematography and stunning locations transport you to early-modern England. Wolf Hall develops at a wonderfully easy pace, with excellent directing and a minimalist soundtrack that allows the cast’s exquisite acting to take center stage. Mark Rylance’s masterful performance as Thomas Cromwell steers the show. Convincingly portraying an intelligent, self-made man who resolutely negotiates both personal tragedies and social prejudices, Rylance presents an aggressively deliberative Cromwell; his penchant for speaking slowly and carefully sets him apart from his rash contemporaries. Damian Lewis also delivers an excellent performance, presenting a Henry VIII who is as intelligent and capable as he is petulant and lustful. Other standout roles include Foy’s icily ambitious Anne Boleyn, Pryce’s pleasantly Machiavellian Wolsey, and Lesser’s stubbornly confident More. Wolf Hall is especially successful at presenting Henry’s court as simultaneously intense and claustrophobic. In a paranoid atmosphere where everyone seems to eye each other uneasily, we witness the same small world of courtiers interacting with each other again and again, always within the stifling confines of an anxious England’s castles and enclosed gardens.
– Randy P. Schiff