Wolf Hall

I wrote about the first book here, I've not read the second. The BBC adaptation wrapped up last week, and it's a near perfect piece of television drama. Imagine Game of Thrones if it was just about Varys and Littlefinger and all the gratuitous sex and violence was scaled back to zero. Instead there's Mark Rylance carefully climbing that Tudor greasy pole.

Mantel's big theme is how politics works in an autocratic state. To borrow from my post on the book: Cromwell has to remake England to service the king's whims. He has to get up in the middle of the night because his sovereign has had a nightmare, and his position is secured because he is able to provide the most flattering interpretation of the dream. Careers are made and unmade in such moments. Everything rests on the disposition and desires of a single all-powerful man.

I remember the book being a bit harder on Thomas Moore – Anton Lesser portrays him more sympathetically. Cromwell does do everything he can to make Moore compromise, but Moore is too proud and stubborn. Nonetheless, the audience is left with the sense of a society where freedom of expression is policed, and can be curtailed if you get on the wrong side of the king. Cromwell is a dissenter in private, but his job is to be the arm of the theocracy in public. His stoicism may be prudent, but it is by no means just that Moore should die for staying true to his beliefs.

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