Wolf Hall: Master of Phantoms
May 11, 2015 3:29 PM - Season 1, Episode 6 - Subscribe

Henry’s love for Anne Boleyn has given way to anger and distrust. Henry instructs Cromwell to rid him of his second queen. Sensing her loss of favor, the queen’s enemies gather.
posted by ocherdraco (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Thus endeth this portion of the tale.

This episode flew by. There seemed to be fewer contemplative moments than had come before. As usual, Rylance gives amazing line readings, and even more amazing silences. (The most compelling of these silences, for me, was the moment when Anne entreats him, he warmly touches her hand, and then she takes up her pose of pleading, causing his face to go blank.)
posted by ocherdraco at 3:32 PM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

This was by far the zippiest of the episodes, even though there was a lot of complicated backstage maneuvering to get through. I was actually surprised by how little of Anne's self-defense made it in, although the various interrogation scenes made it clear enough that this was one big framing operation. The cross-cutting was a nice callback to the interrogations of Bishop Fisher & co. a little while back.

Given how this is going to have to end, there's some fine dark foreshadowing going on, what with last episode's discussion of Cromwell's head ending up on a pole (guess what?) and this episode's chat with the headsman about quick n' easy executions (Cromwell's was notoriously botched).
posted by thomas j wise at 5:07 PM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't remember the framing being as explicit in the books -- is the whole "guilty, if not as charged" line direct from Bring Up the Bodies?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:04 PM on May 11, 2015

The French Executioner needs to become a character that shows up in every show that needs a killer. The whole bit was magnificent.
posted by drezdn at 4:41 AM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

In Bring up the Bodies, it's "He needs guilty men. So he has found men who are guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged." Anne's guilt is not actually relevant to Bring up the Bodies, in the sense that Mantel is only concerned with rendering Cromwell's thought processes; it's obvious that Cromwell is coming up with a pragmatic fiction, but he's not exactly worried about whether or not it's true. The miniseries makes Cromwell more concerned--or, at least, more incipiently concerned--about the morality of what he's doing, as that dead-eyed stare at the end suggests.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:44 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the French Executioner was great. I've only just started the book, so I'm curious as to how much that is addressed. I knew that Anne Boleyn was executed French-style, but I'm curious as to whether that feint move was characteristic of all French-style executions or unique to her.

Also liked the bit about them not being able to hear her big speech.
posted by Dr. Zira at 10:35 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Solid ending to a great first season. It's been fascinating to watch Wolf Hall emerge as the studies of two men, one a king and a monster, and the other a man whose ambition to rise to the top has chained him to that monster in a position where he cannot free himself without likely jeopardizing his life.

Props for the actor of Henry Norris (I think?) when on trial, the look he gave when he realized that the quotation he'd read aloud was now going to be assigned to him was perfect.
posted by Atreides at 11:50 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

No, that character is George Boleyn, Anne's brother (also known as the 2nd Viscount Rochford; he's the husband of Lady Rochford, who has been feeding information to Cromwell and clearly hates the whole Boleyn family). George Boleyn was also executed.

I agree, the actor did a fabulous job.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:09 AM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

The French executioner was fascinating. I remember the character from the Tudors as well. Someone should do a biodrama about him.
posted by homunculus at 4:53 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ooh, yes, that would be fascinating.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:25 AM on May 14, 2015

This episode produces two perfect moments.

1)"We do not want men to touch the body". One theme the show has touched on in a way I feel like the book doesn't because it's so interior to Cromwell, is the lack of power women have in this society. Comely young women are used as bargaining tools by their family to get them position in Henry's court. They scheme a little, and Anne's main power came from her ability to withold sex. Yet ultimately power grows out of the barrel of a gun. They can't save Anne's life, but they can preserve her death.

2)That final walk towards Henry. What I really love about his performance is how much pure menace this manchild produces, and no more than here, with his big, lupine smile on his face with his wife dead. He hugs Cromwell, but it's very clear that had things been a little different, it would have been Thomas' head on the block.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:25 AM on May 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

So this is it, right? No second series without any more books?

Or is the second series A Place of Greater Safety?

Speaking of French executioners...
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:29 PM on May 16, 2015

There are no plans for anything more until Mantel finishes the third volume, in which poor Cromwell will absolutely not get a talented, or even skilled, executioner.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:42 AM on May 17, 2015

I have read and watched so many stories (fiction and non-fiction) about this period, and I found this series to be quite rich and authentic. I liked the lack of gratuitous sex, even though that was a huge factor in the Henry/Anne relationship. The execution scene was riveting, especially the axman taking his shoes off and leaping back and forth to throw off his position (now THERE'S a story!). The inquisition scene with Cromwell and Smeaton was one of the best examples of evil, menacing manipulation I have ever seen on screen. And the costumes were exquisite - I liked that the bosoms were not blatantly heaving out of the necklines. I'm pretty sure that there was more modesty in that period, and most films that I've seen forget that.

I could not get into the portrayal of Henry - it seemed like the actor took the famous Holbein portrait as his example. Standing with fists on hips at every turn. I didn't get a true sense of Henry's madness from the actor.

Unfortunately, I missed the first two episodes - tried to watch them online, but they had expired, so I saw episodes 3 - 6 in a marathon last weekend.

This was, IMO, the best that I've seen. I hope there will be more.
posted by sundrop at 7:34 PM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Now that was a feast but we have to wait two more years for the next series.

I've not read the books so one thing that puzzled me was Cromwell's fixation on "the one who cries", Jane Seymour and why the first book was named for her family seat.

A couple other questions had me poking around Wikipedia. Mary Boleyn was missing from the last episode because she had married someone without her family's permission and she was banned from court. Lady Rochfort, OTOH, gets her comeuppance a couple queens down the road.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:46 PM on May 24, 2017

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