Television has spent the last years transforming itself from poor relation to king of culture. A new adaptation of the novel Wolf Hall tugs together threads from literature, theatre, television, documentary, and production, saying as much about today’s cultural values as it does about Tudor England.
Wolf Hall is about one of King Henry VIII’s political advisors, Thomas Cromwell (not Oliver Cromwell, famous for leading a much later revolution). Cromwell is the deeply likeable dark heart at the centre of two existing books by Hilary Mantel (a third is in the works). This character—neither hero nor villain, intelligent, violent, damaged and skilled—is exactly the kind of hero television series of the last year have loved. TV’s expansive space—multiple hours rather than the two allotted to films—allows for an intricate unfolding of character: acts of brutality, tenderness, and redemption, without apparent contradiction. Think Walter White in Breaking Bad,Mad Men’s
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