Wolf Hall: Shut up, shut up, shut up!

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn in Wolf HallPreviously on Wolf Hall: Anne miscarried again, so Henry told Cromwell to find a way to get rid of her, so he can move on to Jane Seymour.

Cromwell’s having a dinner with an extremely unlikely guest list. The Pole and Courtenay women are there, as is Norfolk, who’s demanding his food. Cromwell calls it forward, and as the plates are placed on the table, he sees Anne coming towards him, dragged by ropes over the dishes, dressed in her coronation gown. Oh, dream sequence. That makes sense. Anne looks up at Cromwell and smiles creepily. He stands and lifts a dagger over her heart, plunges it down…

…and comes back to himself at breakfast, with his family. So, it was kind of a waking dream/fantasy then? Odd. He eats, rather mechanically.

Anne shows little Elizabeth a new cap, then presents it to Henry, who’s sitting beside her, explaining it’s just come from the embroiderers. ‘For her little head,’ she adds. Henry clearly couldn’t care less, just picks his teeth and looks bored and contemptuous. Cromwell, standing nearby, smiles at the little girl. Henry gets up and walks out without saying a word to his wife. Cromwell goes to follow, but Anne holds him back, smiling plastically at him. She asks what he was thinking, sending for Mary when he thought the king was dead. She’s just bringing this up now? Cromwell informs her he couldn’t hold the throne for a toddler and an unborn child, so Mary was clearly the better bet. Anne reminds him that she promoted him and is responsible for his rise, and this is the thanks she gets? He tells her it’s not personal, but with Anne, everything is personal. ‘Those who’ve been made can be unmade,’ Anne warns him. ‘I entirely agree,’ he fires back. Ouch. He bows and leaves her.

Cromwell is, I believe, finally having that dinner with Nicholas Carew that Fitzwilliam suggested. Carew tells him that lots of people in high places want Anne gone. He names several names and everything, which seems super risky. Cromwell asks what they want from him and Carew tells him they want him on their side, to help put Jane Seymour in Anne’s place. Jane’s known to favour Catholicism and they think she’ll bring Henry back to Rome. Cromwell asks what they think will happen to Anne. Carew suggests sending her off to the Continent.

Anne and her ladies embroider while Mark Smeaton sits by with his lute. Anne, bored, I guess, gets up and approaches him, calling her ladies and the gentlemen visiting to look at the little doggie. She plucks a feather from Smeaton’s hat, tickles his nose with it, and laughs. She asks why he’s so sad, when he’s there to entertain them. She reminds him that she does him favour to notice him at all, and on top of that, does he expect her to talk to him as if he were a gentleman? She can’t do that, because he’s so clearly inferior. He has a super thin skin and actually starts crying before fleeing the room. Norris and Weston, two of Henry’s bros, start making fun of Mark. Anne tells them to leave off. Weston says Norris is annoyed with him because he thinks Weston is after Mary Shelton, one of Anne’s ladies, but he comes for another. He refuses to say whom, so Anne teasingly asks if it’s her sister-in-law, Lady Rochford. Weston says it’s says he comes for Anne, which is a stupid thing for him to say in front of others. This episode is full of foot-in-the-mouth moments.

In strides Brereton, Bro 3, who has no idea what he’s getting into just now. Lady R says everyone’s been fighting because of Mark and she thinks he should be dropped from a great height, just like Anne’s dog. Anne gets up, slowly approaches, and viciously slaps the woman across the face. I’m with Anne on that one. Not cool, Lady Rochford. Lady R threatens to hit Anne back if she tries that again, because she’s no queen, she’s just a knight’s daughter and her time has come. Anne, seething, tells Norris to drown her brother’s wife. He’s not so willing to do that, and Anne brings up the time he once swore to walk barefoot to China for her. He tries to turn it into a joke, saying he’s pretty sure he offered to walk to Walsingham. Anne, now getting a bit overheated, suggests he go there and confess his sins, like the sin of wishing the king dead so he can have Anne. Lady Rochford’s face says, ‘woah, I can’t believe she actually just said that! Pure gold!’ Norris has had enough and stomps out. Anne tells Brereton to bring him back, but Brereton refuses to move. She starts to panic, wanting him back so he can swear she’s never done anything she shouldn’t have, and she rushes after him.

Lady Rochford, of course, goes right to Cromwell and tells him about the fight and how Anne later pleaded, hands clasped, with Henry not to believe anything he’s heard. He was not convinced, apparently. Lady R goes on to tell Cromwell that, before they were married, Anne used to practice with Henry ‘in the French fashion.’ I think traditionally that’s meant oral sex. It definitely means what would be considered ‘non-traditional’ sex. Henry now considers that terribly dirty, but Lady Rochford say she doesn’t even know where the filth begins. She tells Cromwell that Anne and her brother, George, have an unnaturally close relationship—that they French kiss all the time and she suspects they’ve taken it much further. Aghast, Cromwell asks if she really wants him to record that. ‘If you’re worried you won’t remember it,’ she responds. Something tells me he’ll remember. Anne, she explains, needs a son, and she can’t produce one that looks like Weston or Norris, but if the baby looks like a Boleyn, who’s to know different? Cromwell can’t quite seem to believe what he’s hearing. He advises she speak to no one else. She advises he speak to Mark Smeaton.

Cromwell obediently has Mark over to his house. Mark’s surprised he’s not been brought to entertain anyone. Cromwell sits him down and pours him some wine and explains that he wants to reconcile Henry and Anne. Mark says he’s heard that Cromwell’s keeping company with Anne’s enemies. Cromwell says it’s to better discover their secrets. He doesn’t believe that. Cromwell goes on to say he wants to know why Anne’s so unhappy and what can be done to remedy that. Mark says she’s unhappy because she’s in love. With Mark. What. An. Idiot. Why the hell would he say such a thing? To someone he knows is in the anti-Anne camp? Cromwell plays him, saying he’s not surprised, since he’s seen how she looks at Mark, who’s such a handsome lad. He asks if he’s slept with Anne and Mark says he can’t discuss it. Cromwell says they’ll just assume. Mark does not deny it. Mark asks if Anne’s other admirers are jealous of him. Richard suggests Anne tried them and was disappointed, then asks how often Mark was with her. Mark remains silent. Cromwell gets down to business and tells him to answer Richard and name some other names, as Rafe reaches for pen and paper and gets ready to commit this all to the record. Mark, finally realizing what he’s stepped into, looks horrified and tries to flee, but he’s stopped by Richard and returned to his seat. He tries to take back what he’s said but it’s too late for that. Cromwell demands details of his relationship with Anne and her dealings with the other men, suggesting Henry might show him mercy if he speaks freely. When Mark doesn’t speak up right away, Cromwell threatens torture. Mark begins to weep and claims he knows nothing, so Cromwell tells him he’ll be spending the night.

Richard shows him to a room as Rafe comments to Cromwell that years of being despised by lords has made Mark a boaster. Cromwell tells Rafe that he doesn’t want him hurt, because he’s just that pathetic and harming weak creatures isn’t his way. He wants CMR to stop by the next day, though.

Richard takes Mark to a room ‘where the phantom lives’ and locks him in. It’s actually just a storeroom where they keep the Christmas decorations, but the psychological torture does its work. Mark screams and wails the night away, keeping Cromwell up (and probably everyone else too) and the next day he just starts reeling off names left and right: Norris, Weston, Brereton, and Francis Bryan. Cromwell asks how many times he was with Anne and Mark whimpers that it was a thousand. Richard cuffs him over the head so he stops screwing around and says it was just a handful, which makes more sense. CMR writes all this down. Cromwell calls Richard to his side and tells him to go to Henry at Greenwich and tell him what he’s heard here.

The king is watching a jousting tournament. Richard obediently passes along his message. Henry turns to glare at Anne, sitting on a dais nearby, and sends a message to Henry Norris, pulling him off the field. He gets up and leaves the tournament.

Norris is summoned to meet Henry, who invites him to take a ride with him, so they can have a chat.

Cromwell meets with Norfolk at court and asks if he has the warrant. Norfolk produces it, saying this will, perhaps, teach Henry to listen to him. Cromwell checks it out. Everything is in order.

Anne’s dinner is slowly cleared away. How very symbolic, this stripping away. Cromwell and Norfolk wait patiently nearby. She looks like she’s just barely holding it together. Once the cloths have been removed, she looks up at the men and greets them all, finishing with Cromwell, calling him the man she created. Norfolk says he created her in turn, and probably really regrets that now. He asks if she’s ready to leave and she admits she doesn’t know how to be ready. Cromwell steps forward and tells her to just come with them.

He takes her, by barge, to the Tower. She looks up fearfully at the White Tower.

Back at court, Cromwell looks at a tapestry that depicts a queen pleading, hands clasped, with a king.

Later, Henry, reclining on a sofa in full-on self-pity mode, moans about how he suspected her and did nothing. Cranmer tries to defend Anne, saying he had a very high opinion of her and doesn’t’ believe she’s guilty. Henry turns to look at him and he quickly covers by saying he’s sure Henry wouldn’t have gone this far if she weren’t. Henry brings up Wolsey and how she practiced against him. He then directs the men’s attentions to a play he’s written. A tragedy, naturally. He shows it to Cromwell, and says he’s sure Anne’s committed adultery with 100 men. How would she have found the time for that, Henry? Man, when he committed to an absurd story, he really committed to it, didn’t he? Cranmer asks if he really believes that her brother was amongst them, but Henry’s fully drunk this Kool-Ade. There’s no reasoning with him now.

At Austin Friars, Cromwell flashes back to the Wolsey masque, and how Henry and Anne and Norfolk and the bros laughed. This is some serious revenge.

Cromwell goes to see Anne’s accused lovers in prison and tells them all why they’re there, essentially.

George: You’re kind of a manwhore whose wife hates you

Norris: You’re basically collateral damage. We need a lot of adultery to make all this stick. Sucks to be you.

Brereton: You’re just a dick who thinks you’re above the law and can do whatever you want just because you’re a member of the nobility. You’re not that special.

All of them are surprised to hear they’re accused of sleeping with Anne. Also, Mark’s accusation of Francis Bryan has been ignored. George refuses to even answer the accusations of incest.

Cromwell brings up the masque about Wolsey that was staged. Norris can’t believe he’s in prison because of some jokey play.

Cromwell: Karma’s a serious bitch, isn’t it?

Norris asks what Mark’s done to deserve this and Cromwell shrugs that he just doesn’t like the way Mark looks at him. ‘I needed guilty men, Harry, so I found men who are guilty, thought not necessarily as charged,’ he says darkly.

He finally goes to see Weston and brings up some serious debts the man has. Cromwell knows that Anne has given him money and asks if he hoped to marry her after Henry died. Weston realizes he’s completely screwed no matter what he says or does.

Cromwell leaves Weston’s cell. CMR and Richard are waiting outside, laughing and joking. CRM asks Cromwell if he wants them to force Weston to denounce the others. The very idea offends Cromwell and he angrily asks if CMR thinks he’s too soft on young men. Richard quietly asks if they should draw up charges. ‘Yeah, the more the merrier,’ Cromwell growls, clearly starting to be over this insanity.

The accused men are marched before a booing crowd on their way to their trials.

Cromwell next goes to visit Anne, who’s being kept in some very nice rooms. Outside her door, Kingston, the governor of the Tower, greets Cromwell, who asks how Anne is. Very unbalanced, emotionally. Kingston tells Cromwell that, when Anne heard she was going to be housed in the rooms she had before her coronation, Anne said it was too good for her. CMR thinks this is some sort of admission of guilt on her part.

Cromwell goes into the room, where Anne’s praying. Anne finishes up and tells him she wants her own attendants, not the ones who have been assigned to her, even though one of them, Lady Shelton, is her aunt. Anne still clings to the hope she’ll be released and says she has no idea why she’s being held there, believing it to be some sort of test. Or, at least, that’s what she says. She asks to see George, which Shelton says is a foolish demand, under the circumstances. Anne then asks for her father, but Lady S says her father will only see to himself, because that’s just how he is. That was definitely true. Cromwell silences the woman with a look, then urges Anne to help her daughter by appearing penitent throughout this process. He tells her that the confessions of the gentlemen are being compiled. Anne is shocked and says Cromwell has no witnesses in the case. Oh, but he does: all her ladies. Desperate, she asks Cromwell if he really believes these stories. She’s sure he doesn’t. She clasps her hands, pleadingly, but he is unmoved. As he goes to leave, she says she only has a little neck, so it’ll be the work of a moment. That’s…the spirit?

Anne is brought before the court for her trial, which is being presided over by Norfolk. That seems like it would be some sort of conflict of interest, but then, Norfolk really seems to hate his niece, so maybe not. Cromwell acts as prosecution. Anne denies all the charges, but she does admit to having given Weston money.

George, too, is tried, and is still all bluster and arrogance. Cromwell plays right off of that, handing George a piece of paper on which is written some words that Anne is alleged to have said to him. He urges George not to read them out loud, so naturally, George does, thinking he’s getting one over on Cromwell. ‘The king does not know how to copulate with a woman, he has neither skill nor vigour.’ Horrified, George says he’s never owned these words. ‘You do now,’ Cromwell smirks. Well played, Cromwell.

Anne is found guilty and condemned to death, either by burning or beheading. There’s some confusion over whether they should have just said burning, but Cromwell points out that this is unprecedented, so say it all.

Execution day has come. Cromwell checks out the scaffold, ensuring it’s sturdy. He meets the executioner: a swordsman who’s been brought over from France just for this. He eyes the man’s rich dress, and the executioner explains that it’s so he blends in with the other officials, to keep her from getting more anxious. He lets Cromwell feel the heft of the sword and reassures him that, as long as Anne keeps steady, it’ll be work of a moment, and she won’t even know it’s happened. Cromwell reassures the man that Anne will be steady.

The time has come. A crowd has gathered. Cromwell is in the midst of it, with Francis Bryan and his son, Gregory. Anne appears, trailed by her ladies, and hands out money to the guards, looking up at the White Tower as she does so. Gregory wonders why she’s doing this and Cromwell says she thinks there’s still hope. Anne mounts the scaffold and steps forward to say her last words. She speaks in a low voice, and Bryan bitches about not being able to hear her. Gregory glares at him. Is this really the time to be a dick, Bryan? Anne calls Henry and gentle and merciful king and lord, which I’m assuming she’s doing while crossing her fingers. She commends her soul to God.

Anne kneels and her ladies remove her hood and veil, replacing them with a plain white cap (‘for her little head’). Another lady blindfolds her, and at this point Anne begins to cry and pray in earnest. The executioner produces his sword, as the crowd gasps. The wind catches a piece of her hair and she reaches up to smooth it down. In the audience, Cromwell quietly wills her to put her arm down. She finally does, and the executioner quietly removes his shoes, crosses to her left side, calls for the sword, and as she turns her head towards the sound of her voice, swiftly crosses to her right and swings. The thing is done.

One of the Tower officials steps forward, but her ladies rush him and one of them firmly says they don’t want men to handle her. ‘A little late for that,’ Bryan smirks. Now it’s Cromwell’s turn to glare at him. Seriously, what a dick. Bryan doesn’t seem to notice as he goes to tell the Seymours it’s done. The ladies gently place Anne in the plain coffin, wrapping her head in a bloody cloth, weeping. Their hands and clothes are all stained with her blood. The lid is placed on the coffin and the ladies carry it away. No wonder Anne wanted her ladies with her, they’re pretty awesome.

Cromwell goes to court, to tell Henry the good news. Henry greets him with a huge smile and outstretched arms. He envelops Cromwell in a hug and Cromwell stares over Henry’s shoulder, somewhat dead-eyed. This man’s just had a woman beheaded purely so he could get rid of her and marry a younger model. And he did the same to some of his closest friends. This is your only friend, Cromwell. You’ve made a deal with the devil and you know it.

That. Was. FABULOUS. It’s so rare that an adaptation does the original work justice, but this absolutely did. It was gorgeous to look at, smart, and featured top-notch talent all around. Mark Rylance amazed me as Cromwell, and the supporting characters definitely kept pace. Special props to Claire Foy, who had the hard, steely look you can imagine Anne Boleyn having, but had such naked fear in her eyes at all time you couldn’t help but feel for her, even when she was being a total bitch. I also appreciated the fact that this programme assumed the audience was intelligent enough to keep up. It didn’t take time to spell out who each and every character was (though, I have to admit, there were times I kind of wish it had, because occasionally that got a teensy bit confusing) and there were none of those clunky ‘as you know’ type lines, which always drive me mad. This was first-rate television all around. Bravo, folks, bravo. Can’t wait to see what they do with the next book!

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