I was under the impression that I might enjoy the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall more than the book. Clearly I was deluding myself. I get a more satisfying historical experience from Blackadder. Episode three, Anna Regina, seems to have established that, not only have they picked up Mantel’s disgusting representations of various Tudor historical figures and run with them, they’ve managed to make them even more reprehensible. Even the usually unflappable C.S. Hughes made a mild noise of protest or two, mainly drowned out by my frequent and deafening howls of rage.
Fresh from stroking kittens and bunnies, we have the return of Cromwell, sex-machine, who in a seriously creepy scene fantasizes about stroking Anne Boleyn’s boobs. Then Cromwell, sex-machine, spends much time deliberating over the three women who are throwing themselves at him. He even gets to snog Mary Boleyn (the real Cromwell may have enjoyed that to be sure). Then we’ve got Cromwell, ninja-lawyer, whipping concealed blades out of his sleeve and almost killing William Stafford, who is there for no good reason other than to make an appearance just in time for Mary Boleyn to run off with him (probably in the next episode). Considering Cromwell’s just been dumped by his sister-in-law, and Jane Seymour is so allegedly starved for affection that she falls in love with the first man who gives her a scrap of fabric, we’ll see Cromwell move onto young Jane next week. The really ridiculous aspect of this is that it has all the appearances of a case of thwarted love when Henry VIII decides he wants Jane for himself.
At least a decade’s worth of damage was done to the Boleyn family’s reputation, all in the space of a few minutes, where the harangued Boleyn faction threaten and rage and swear and bluster. Not to mention Norfolk, who has reached maximum thuggishness in this episode by manhandling Anne in front of the court at Calais. BBC apparently couldn’t afford a photo-shopped shot of a harbour so we’re to think that all of Calais existed inside a castle.
In a truly disgusting scene George Boleyn declares his desire to punch his wife Jane. Jane, unperturbed by this public threat of violence continues to bitch and snipe. We see just enough of Jane spitting poison before being silenced in this episode to establish her as the convenient villain – maybe she’ll throw herself at the Tudor court’s most eligible bachelor Cromwell after Jane Seymour has been pinched by Henry. Despite valiant efforts by historians, George and Jane Boleyn are still subjected to a myth that has gained shocking momentum over the last 20 years with the (completely unfounded) theory that George Boleyn was a homosexual. Jane’s reputation has been slandered since Elizabethan claims she testified against her husband and sister-in-law, but the recent bigoted portrayals of George (I’m looking at you Hirst and Mantel) have firmly captured history lover’s imaginations. Did I say bigot? Yes I did. If you think that a man being a homosexual must naturally mean he viciously beat and raped his wife, it’s bigotry.
Aside from much drunken lurching and little else from Henry this week, we’re subjected to How to absolve Henry VIII of his crimes part nine hundred and fifty-seven. Just in case Wolf Hall hasn’t become enough of a parody of itself. They’ve established the deplorable Boleyn faction and the screechy horrible Anne Boleyn (although it was nice to see Foy crack a smile this week). Now they’ve made Katherine of Aragon an uncaring shrew and Mary Tudor a snivelling wimp. A clever trick, showing a one-sided view of an overly-proud Katherine denying Henry his annulment, because we neither see the woman who was devastated when her husband of 20 years was trying to put her aside, or the woman who was terrified for her daughter’s welfare. They might be immensely proud of themselves that they got Mary Tudor’s hair colour correct but the portrayal of her was an absolute joke. Anyone who has read anything about Mary knows she not only had an iron spine, she was devastatingly sarcastic and feisty, even as a teenager. But let’s draw on the most sexist weakness we can shall we? Yes, poor Mary suffered from terrible period pain as a teenager. I suppose that’s supposed to justify Henry’s path of murder and destruction in the quest of getting a son.
And in a move that drew the ire of the Catholic Church, Thomas More opens the episode torturing a reformer, and later refusing to help save one. This should divert any sympathy viewers have for More when he is executed. I suspect we won’t get to see Henry VIII’s treatment of the Carthusian monks in this series. If you haven’t heard of the horrifying torture of the Carthusian monks, John Matusiak gave us a good overview.
…fewer, I suspect, know the full details of the imprisonment and slaughter of the London Carthusians who resisted the imposition of the royal supremacy. During their confinement in a stinking dungeon at Newgate Jail over seventeen days, Humphrey Middlemore, William Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate were chained to posts, loaded with lead, prevented from sitting and ‘never loosed for any natural necessity’ before being hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Their prior, John Houghton, had suffered a similar execution earlier in the month, after which one of his arms was nailed to the door of the London Charterhouse as a gory reminder to the monks inside of what they, too, could expect…
‘Bluff King Hal’? Does this answer the question?
Read more: Henry VIII: The Life and Rule of England’s Nero – A New Look at the Old Monster with John Matusiak