Published on February 5th, 2015 | by Bean


Wolf Hall – BBC Drama Review – Episode 3 “Anna Regina”

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Commencing with a cunningly organised open ballot on Henry’s legislation, BBC’s Wolf Hall is in full stride; we’re really getting to the nitty gritty of the Reformation now. And while the King may brush off the insult his servant Stephen offers him by casting his vote against Henry, his predatorial eye as he passes the courtiers who betrayed him tells a different story. Cromwell’s knack for tactical manoeuvring does not go unnoticed, and those threatened by his intelligence bristle and bluster in his presence. Bishops and Lords, Katherine of Aragon; the list of people shortsighted enough to underestimate this rising star is endless. Threaded throughout “Anna Regina” is a correspondence with Tindel and the concept of heresy with the barrister James Bainham.


Amidst all the torture, religious and political wrangling and machinations of court, there is still room for a little leery tabloid fodder. The near implosion the tinderbox house of Boleyn set about brewing when the spurned Harry Percy starts making public claims upon both Lady Anne’s chastity and her hand is startling. Bernard Hill’s Norfolk seems to consider a scene in which he does not roar to the rooftops one wasted (and who could disagree, Hill being such a hearty furniture chewer) and after everybody has had their slice of the tantrum pie, Cromwell glides in with his signature serenity, calming the waters and picking up the gauntlet.


What follows is both so delicious and instructive as to seem a guilty pleasure; a sound dressing down and schooling of the snotling Percy. As each warning continues to fall on deaf/drunken ears, Cromwell changes tack; polite but firm, kindly but bored school master, and as he warms to the task, placidly scornful as he illustrates the ways in which Percy’s life is in his hands. Once again, Harry Lloyd finds himself equal to the task of having two lines and looking like a six year old who’s wet himself. I genuinely expected Percy to suck his thumb; there is a palpable air of  Peter Ustinov’s Prince John from Disney’s Robin Hood about Lloyd. Inspired!

As the episode’s title suggests, we spend a great deal of the hour with Lady Anne, as her trust of Cromwell deepens, and she makes her ineluctable ascension to Queen of England. Anne plays her final hand in Calais; what seems like foolhardy flirting, and is deemed such by Cromwell, Norfolk and the King, is in fact the straw that broke the King’s resolve and wins her a title, replete with burgeoning progeny. She considers herself no longer just desired, but valued, as mother to the royal heir. We know the delusion will not last long, but as the pouting gives way to brooding pride, we can see the shadow has already been cast now the last card of her chastity has been played.


Her sister Mary, also playing dangerous games, seems to have a better lay of the land, unfettered as she is by notions of destiny. Thomas gets caught in the crossfire, and a midnight assignation with all their attendant drama afford Cromwell the chance to show his mettle (and his blade) and remind us of his origins as a handy urchin, unafraid to fend for himself. As his power and influence increases, his list of enemies grows, each one being issued a warning of varying severity. Recipients, such as the over-reaching noble at the royal wedding, look suitably alarmed by Cromwell’s simply stated error message. Thankfully, he seems to have just as many friends in high places, illustrated by the charming pass the parcel of Cromwell’s appointment as Keeper of the Jewel House – Cromwell is surely projecting when he proclaims Moore the “Great persuader of our age”.
Our hero (is he that?) still has the ladies making eyes at him; Mary Queen of Scots enjoys his kindness, Mary Boleyn makes her own crazy-eyed move, Jane Seymour names her cuffs after him, while he daydreams of caressing Anne’s heaving bosom. Alas, she who actually shares his bed, his sister-in-law Joan, chooses to end their affair having been rumbled by her mum. Unlucky in love is such a rom-com phrase; but then who is Anselma of Antwerp in the lavishly gifted tapestry? What is her significance?


Moments, noticing the courtiers who sent up Wolsey’s demise, remind us the score Cromwell feels compelled to settle as regards his former master. There is an element of stock-taking about all this. One can imagine Cromwell keeping mental accounts of his slights and social debts like a bookkeeper. But what type of man is he when it really comes down to it? Would he hold to his convictions? He gives every impression that he would, but also smacks of the pragmatism that might prefer to live to fight another day. The question is even posed to him, and he evades it with his blank stare, perhaps either unsure of the answer himself, or not prepared to give away the power his mystery imbues him with.

The only person nearly able to match his wits is Thomas More, who resigns his chancellorship but not yet the power that went with his seniority. Over time it becomes apparent these two men bare a more-than-grudging respect for one another, though they are clearly destined for battle. Cromwell is humble enough to beseech More for mercy on behalf of his heretic friend, but with Bainham’s execution at the episode’s close, yet another person of power has a yet another mark against their name in Cromwell’s record of accounts.


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