I can’t tell you guys how much I’ve been looking forward to this for ages. Ever since I read the books a couple of years back. I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and can’t wait for the third one to come out. I really, really wanted to go see the stage play at Stratford-Upon-Avon, but it didn’t work out. That’s ok, I’ve got this. Are we ready? Let’s go.
It’s 1529. Henry’s been trying to get rid of Katherine of Aragon for two years, and man, is he mad that it hasn’t happened yet. And all that considerable Henry rage has been directed at Cardinal Wolsey.
The Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk arrive at York Place, Wolsey’s home, to smugly inform him that he’s been dismissed as Lord Chancellor and must hand over the Great Seal. You can tell they just begged for this job, they’re relishing it so much. Cromwell comes sliding in through a side entrance and has a word in Wolsey’s ear. Wolsey’s face lights up and he informs the two men that his lawyer says they can’t take the seal without the king’s written orders. The two men visibly deflate. Not so smug now, are you? Surrey indignantly asks if he really wants them to ride all the way back to Windsor for a piece of paper, in this weather? Yes, he does. He really, really does. Suck it, Surrey. Cromwell whispers to Wolsey again and Wolsey tells the men that the piece of paper is actually useless. He can only hand the Seal to the Master of the Rolls. He tells the dukes to return with him. Might want to bring the written request as well. They stomp on out. Once they’re gone, Wolsey asks Cromwell if he just made all that up. Cromwell only says that they’ll be back the next day. Wolsey’ll take it.
Presumably the next day, guards ransack York Place, packing up anything valuable while Cromwell watches in disgust. He goes through to Wolsey’s bedroom, where the Cardinal is being helped into a cloak. A borrowed one—they’ve even confiscated his wardrobe. Nice. He tells Cromwell that Henry’s giving Anne York Place, despite the fact that it belongs to the Archdiocese of York. Cromwell’s indignant but Wolsey is quite calm and accepting about everything. Norfolk comes in and starts rifling through a cask. Wolsey whispers that he’s expecting to find a wax figure with pins in it. Norfolk orders Cromwell to come see him. ‘Why, my lord?’ Cromwell asks. ‘When?’ ‘When you’ve mended your manners,’ Norfolk sniffs.
Cromwell and George Cavendish (I believe) accompany Wolsey by boat to his new destination. George pouts about the poor treatment Wolsey’s receiving, but Wolsey absolutely won’t hear a word spoken against Henry. George wonders if it’s something about the English, this need to pull down anyone who makes it in life. Cromwell says that’s not a specifically English trait, it’s a human one.
Flash back to a court masque eight years earlier. Anne Boleyn dances with Harry Percy while Wolsey VOs that Anne was brought back from France to ‘marry into Ireland’, but now she’s cast her eye on Percy and Wolsey won’t have that. Wolsey is telling all this to Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, who reassures the cardinal that Anne knows this romance can’t go anywhere, but Percy has this crazy idea that he can choose his own wife.
Wolsey: Choose his own wife? What’s this? Does he think he’s some sort of commoner? He’ll be an earl someday and needs to make an appropriate match. He can’t be hooking up with some girl whose family were somewhat recently in trade. She’s got the stench of money about her. Ew.
Cromwell listens in on this from a corner of the room. Boleyn asks who Stephen Gardiner is (he’s hanging by Wolsey’s chair) and orders him sent out of the room. Wolsey does so. Boleyn next asks who Cromwell is and is reassured that he’s nobody. Boleyn gets back to the matter at hand and says it seems the kids pledged themselves in front of witnesses. Wolsey tells him to forget all that and get his daughter married off already. Boleyn is dismissed, hissing ‘Butcher’s boy,’ as he goes. ‘Butcher’s dog!’ he shouts at Cromwell and Gardiner as he passes them. Wolsey chuckles and whistles, calling ‘come out, dog,’ to Cromwell.
Cromwell goes and bows to the Cardinal, takes a moment to check out the room. Seems this is his job interview. We learn he has a great memory, thanks to a technique he picked up in Italy during his years abroad. Wolsey’s rather delighted to hear that Cromwell’s the son of a blacksmith. ‘At last, a man born in a more lowly state than myself!’ he says (Wolsey was the son of a butcher).
Cromwell returns home and is greeted by his wife, Liz, who pours him some wine and sits by the fire with him. He tells her he’s going to work for Wolsey, which doesn’t precisely delight her. She asks what he’ll be doing and Cromwell responds, ‘whatever [the Cardinal] wants.’ She says they have enough, but he’s an ambitious man. She sighs that he knows what he’s doing, supposedly.
At breakfast, Cromwell reads aloud a letter from their son to Liz and their two daughters, Grace and Anne. He comments on Gregory’s lousy Latin, saying that Anne’s the better scholar. She beams and tells her father she wants to learn Greek once she’s mastered Latin. He wonders what London will be like when she becomes Lord Mayor. Liz goes and fetches a package that arrived secretly from Germany for him. Cromwell shows her what’s inside: Tyndale’s New Testament, in English. He urges her to read it, but she says that she’s fine with her prayerbook. Cromwell shows the prayerbook, which is beautifully illustrated , to little Grace, who’s seated on his knee. She traces some of the pictures with her finger. Cromwell calls for Rafe and Richard, his ward and nephew, respectively. Rafe’s played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, the late Jojen of Game of Thrones. His walk cracks me up. I think he’s going for some sort of swagger, but mostly it makes me think his codpiece is tied way too tightly. They head into York Place, meeting Gardiner on the way. He makes a jibe about Cromwell’s lowly birth, which just amuses Cromwell.
Cromwell shows the Cardinal how to play three-card monte. The Cardinal loses, of course, and Cromwell explains that he used to make his living doing this, just after he left home. Apparently nobody suspects a kid of being a hustler. Cardinal tells him that the King sent for him early that morning to discuss the possibility of dumping Katherine. Wolsey reflects on Katherine’s arrival in England, all those years ago, to marry Henry’s brother, Arthur. This is mostly to give audience members a little background: Arthur died, Katherine swore she was still a virgin, a papal dispensation was issued to allow Henry to marry his brother’s widow, and she went on to marry Henry. But now there’s no son, so the only thing is to declare the marriage unlawful and get an annulment. Katherine’s blaming Wolsey for all this. Cromwell remembers how, when Katherine was left in charge while Henry was off campaigning in France, an English army defeated the Scots and killed the Scottish king, and Katherine wanted to send the head to Henry to cheer him up. Clearly this is not a woman to be trifled with. Wolsey playfully suggests Cromwell teach him the three card trick in case they all end up on the streets.
And look here we are, out on the streets. Well, not exactly. Wolsey and the remnants of his household arrive at his country place, Esher, where Cromwell immediately starts firing off orders to get the bedding unpacked and the fires laid so the Cardinal can be tucked up and warmed.
Inside, Wolsey prays before bed. Cromwell helps him in and Wolsey jokes how he prays for everyone, but when he gets around to Cromwell, God tells him to lay off already. He laughs, but then begins violently coughing. He invites Cromwell to kneel for a blessing, which he gives, though weakly. He reflects that Suffolk, Norfolk, and Boleyn won’t rest until Wolsey is dead. He advises Cromwell to leave his service, as Gardiner has. Cromwell’s not surprised to hear that. Wolsey wishes him a safe journey home.
On his way out, he overhears some servants gossiping about Wolsey’s inevitable downfall and how Cromwell will probably go down with him. One of them snottily says that it only took Cromwell a few years to be running the show around here, and it seems almost as if he has some kind of hold over Wolsey.
Cromwell goes for dinner at his friend Bonvisi’s home. Bonvisi’s surprised he showed up and warns him that Thomas More is there. Cromwell doesn’t care. He takes his seat at the table, directly across the table from More, who refuses to look up at him. Cromwell guesses More was talking about him before he came into the room and urges him to continue, since Cromwell has a thick skin and can take it. Boy, can he ever. More claims nobody was talking about Cromwell. ‘The Cardinal, then?’ Bonvisi introduces Chapuys, the new Spanish ambassador. Chapuys gossips in Latin, I believe, about Cromwell, saying he hears the man’s like the wandering Jew. Cromwell responds that he hardly knows where he comes from himself, and that if Chapuys wants to talk about him without Cromwell understanding, he should really try Greek. Hee! More spitefully says that Wolsey brought all his misfortune on himself by being greedy to rule other men. Cromwell comments that Wolsey is a public man, so he kind of has to take a public role. More says that Wolsey’s real friends tried to warn him about his behavior long ago. ‘You count yourself a real friend, do you?’ Cromwell says. ‘I’ll tell the Cardinal, he’ll find it a great comfort, as he sits in exile, even as you slander him to the king.’ Bonvisi tries to put a stop to this discussion, but Cromwell’s on a roll and goes on to call More a total hypocrite for once claiming he wanted no great offices or titles, but then took on the role of Lord Chancellor, which is pretty much as high as anyone who wasn’t royalty could go. ‘What’s that? A f***ing accident?’ he asks. Buuuurn. More says Thomas is no friend to the church, he’s friend to only one priest, and he’s the most corrupt in Christendom. That’s really saying something, More. He stomps out and Cromwell asks for the recipe for the sauce on the herring. Heh.
While he shows Cromwell out, Bonvisi tells him that More’s his old friend, and so is Cromwell. He advises Cromwell leave the Cardinal now, while he still has a chance.
Wolsey walks around outside at Esher, looking like a sad, tired old man. Cromwell and George watch through a window and George wonders if Wolsey really was brought down through pride. Cromwell doesn’t think so, Wolsey’s fatal mistake was making an enemy of Anne Boleyn. But who could have predicted her rise?
Back at York Place, 18 months before Wolsey’s fall. Cromwell swirls in and George tells him that the Emperor’s troops have sacked Rome and taken the pope prisoner, which is a problem, because Emperor Charles is Katherine’s nephew. If he’s got the pope by the literal balls, it’s unlikely said pope will grant Henry’s petition for an annulment.
Cromwell goes to meet with Wolsey, who offers him a cherry and says that Pope Clement will be looking to Wolsey to keep things together while he’s being held prisoner. Wolsey plans to travel to France, pull together some of the leading men of the church, and conduct business in Clement’s absence. Of course, that business would most likely include Henry’s ‘great matter’. Cromwell raises an eyebrow and tells Wolsey that rumour has it Henry has moved on from Mary Boleyn to her flat-chested sister, Anne. Wolsey cackles, but Cromwell reminds him that Anne hasn’t forgiven him for interfering with the Percy flirtation. Wolsey dismisses her as just another little chit whom Henry will have, tire of, and get rid of.
Cromwell goes home and finds Liz embroidering shirts for Gregory, using the same design Katherine does for the king’s shirts. ‘If I were her, I’d leave the needle in,’ he says. ‘I know you would,’ she responds. After a brief silence, she tells him his sister came by earlier and repeated a frequent request that Cromwell go see his father, now the guy’s less of a horrible, violent, drunken douchebag. Liz seems to think this visit’s a good idea, whereas Cromwell and I think he’s just fine without that man in his life. Little Grace comes in wearing a set of wings made from peacock feathers. Cromwell chuckles and reminds her those are supposed to be for Christmas, for the nativity play. He affectionately sends her on her way.
That night, while her father tucks her in, Anne tells Cromwell she wants to marry Rafe someday. She’s, like, ten, so he just laughs a bit. But he then tells Liz about it while they’re in bed later and comments that she could do worse. He hears a noise in the hallway and opens the door to find Grace there, in her nightgown and wings. She says she’s too warm. He sends her off to bed and watches her go, the candlelight shining through the delicate wings.
The next morning, Cromwell goes to leave, kissing his wife, who’s still in bed and not looking so great. She confusedly thinks he’s going to France with Wolsey, but he sets her straight. He leaves, and on his way down the stairs, thinks he sees her on the landing, but after he tells her to go back to bed, he notices that she’s not there at all. He seems a bit disturbed by that.
He then goes to a meeting of other nascent Protestants, telling the man at the gate not to tell anyone he’s there. The man in charge says he’s read Tyndale and is amazed to find out that much of what the church teaches doesn’t come from the bible at all. Cromwell warns him that, just because Wolsey’s gone doesn’t mean they can start partying and reading English gospels in the streets. Gardiner and More will run riot, without Wolsey to protect these men. ‘Wolsey burns bibles,’ the guy sniffs. ‘More will burn people,’ Cromwell responds. Hoo, boy, will he ever. The guy says he wants to go to Rome and see the Pope to try and talk him around to their way of thinking. Good luck with that.
Cromwell returns home to find his mother-in-law Mercy and sister-in-law Johane waiting for him, looking devastated. Liz is dead. Holy crap, could you imagine that? You leave your home in the morning to go to work or whatever and by the time you return that afternoon your wife’s dead? He goes to her, looking stunned, and sits on the bed, where she’s laid out. Mercy says that Liz complained of being tired that morning, and then started shaking. They called for the priest around two, once it became clear it was the end. Cromwell tries to control his tears and asks if she left any message for him. No, all she said was she was thirsty. And now life gets worse: Rafe rushes in to summon Cromwell to his daughters’ bedside.
There, the women each take a child and desperately shake them and beg them to wake up. Cromwell watches sorrowfully for a while before gently telling them to stop, because it’s obviously hopeless. Rafe weeps. The women weep. Cromwell weeps. Hell, I weep. What an incredibly shitty day. He takes Anne’s hand and tells her it’s all right, that she can go now. Mercy holds Grace’s hand.
Later, Cromwell stands in his garden, just staring. He’s joined by Johane and he talks about the sweating sickness’s return and how he should have sent the girls to the country. Johane says that Liz never would have let them go, and Anne hated to be parted from her father. She offers to move into the house with her husband and look after things until Cromwell gets back on his feet. He hollowly says that Anne wanted to learn Greek and Johane just loses it, weeping in despair the way only someone whose heart has been mashed to itty bitty pieces can. He embraces her.
Still in shock, he goes to visit his father, watching from a far for a bit while the man shoes a horse, and recalling Walter’s brutal beatings. He picks up a hammer sitting nearby, because some habits die hard. Walter spots him and asks where he’s been, observing that he looks like a ‘furriner.’ Cromwell says he’s a lawyer. Walter’s not surprised, since Cromwell always was a talker. He goes on to say that his family used to have money and estates, but it was all stolen from them by lawyers. Suuure. Cromwell just stares at him coldly. Walter asks why he’s there and Cromwell says his wife said he should come see his father. ‘Well, now you have,’ says Walter. Yep, there’s that promise fulfilled! Cromwell puts the hammer down and goes home.
He tries to get some work done, but he’s thankfully interrupted by Rafe and Richard, so Richard can ask to take Cromwell’s last name, as Richard’s father is dead and Cromwell’s pretty much his father now. Cromwell’s fine with that.
Flashback to Walter delivering such a serious beatdown to young Cromwell he makes the boy vomit. His face is a bloody mess.
Wolsey’s back and apparently his trip wasn’t exactly a success. All the cardinals came up with lame excuses not to meet with him. His new plan is to ask the pope to send an envoy to England to rule on the validity of the king’s marriage in a legatine court. He notices Cromwell’s kind of out of it and Cromwell tells him that, while Wolsey was away, his whole family was wiped out. Wolseys’ face contracts in sympathy. I really like this portrayal of Wolsey. He’s usually depicted as rather cold and calculatingly ambitious, but this makes him seem much more human. Same with Cromwell, really.
Cromwell pages through his wife’s prayerbook and remembers Grace tracing the illustrations with her finger. George finds him and tries a little levity that doesn’t quite work. Cromwell asks after Wolsey and George tells him that the Cardinal asks after Cromwell often, worrying that he’ll have a fall on the road. Aww, that’s rather sweet. Cromwell asks if there’s an inventory for York Place, because he wants to be the one to deliver it to Anne. Time to see this woman who’s caused so much havoc.
Off to York Place he goes, where he finds a clutch of musicians playing near the ladies, who are all clustered at the far end of the room. He recognizes one musician—Mark Smeaton—and asks how he is. Mark shrugs. Cromwell asks if it’s weird being back at York Place, with the world so different. Nope. Does he miss the Cardinal? Nope. This kid goes where the money is, clearly. Either that or he’s really an automaton, because not once does the bland expression on his face change. That’s creepy. Cromwell continues towards the ladies, plucking a dog making a run for it off the floor and handing it over to Mary Boleyn. Anne, played by Claire Foy, who portrayed that dreadful little tick Lady Persie in the Upstairs, Downstairs reboot, is front and centre in pink silk. She looks Cromwell up and down and greets him in French before asking for the inventories. He hands them over, great whacking scrolls, and she briskly thanks him. He asks her if her cause has progressed since Wolsey was sent away. He continues that Wolsey’s the only man who can get her what she wants. She takes a seat and invites him to make his case. He has five minutes.
Cromwell: Yeah, I can see you’re seriously busy.
Her eyes flash—he’s not gotten off on the best foot. Nevertheless, he is unperturbed and tells her Wolsey is the only man who can secure the annulment.
Anne: Well, he’s seriously taking his sweet time about that
Mary: And she’s not exactly a spring chicken, you know.
Cromwell reassures her that Wolsey only wants what Henry wants, and that everyone wants an heir. Anne tells him this argument isn’t good enough, because all they wanted was some simple little thing and Wolsey couldn’t deliver it. Cromwell tells her it wasn’t simple at all, as she well knows. ‘Well, perhaps I’m a simple person,’ she says. ‘ Do you feel I am?’
‘Maybe. I hardly know you,’ he calmly replies. She reaches for the inventories and dismisses him. On his way out, he’s chased down by Mary, who tells him to come again, because Anne likes a good fight. He asks if it’s true that Henry and Anne still haven’t done the deed and she confirms it, though she claims Anne allows him to pull down her shift and kiss her breasts. ‘Good man if he can find them,’ he says. Mary and I both laugh. A slightly plain blonde comes over to fetch Mary back. I’m betting that’s Jane Seymour. She gives Cromwell a ‘welcome to our zoo’ sort of look before following Mary back.
Cromwell emerges from the palace, met by Rafe and Richard, and pretty much says, ‘crap, I have to rejoin Parliament so I can be the sole voice speaking up for the Cardinal.’
He goes to see Norfolk, who rudely enters the room without greeting the waiting Cromwell, props his feet against a brazier, and finally tells Cromwell that both Norfolk and the king are fine with Cromwell being a burgess in Parliament, as long as Cromwell takes both of their instructions. He goes on to say that the king will grant Cromwell an audience, but be prepared for a fight, because Henry remembers back when Cromwell was in Parliament before and spoke up against Henry’s proposed war in France. Cromwell hopes Henry isn’t planning on invading France again. ‘What Englishman doesn’t?’ Norfolk snaps. It’s true, as soon as I got my British passport I immediately started looking at maps of Brittany and planning strategic takeovers. It’s just what you do. He snarls that they own France and have a right to take it. Then he calms down and admits that Cromwell’s right, they can’t win over there, but they have to fight anyway. He says that’s Wolsey’s problem, he always went to treaties. They talk a little about Cromwell’s past as a soldier. Norfolk correctly guesses he wasn’t a soldier with an English army and asks where he was. Italy, with the French. ‘Longbowman?’ Norfolk asks. Sometimes, but Cromwell’s a little short for that. So is Norfolk, but Henry’s not. Cromwell tells Norfolk that Esher’s no good for Wolsey and that he wants to go elsewhere. Norfolk realizes the palace he wants to go to is close to the king and is like, ‘nice try. Tell him to go further north.’
Cromwell takes a moment to check out the room where the legatine court was held, four months before Wolsey’s fall. He flashes back to Katherine giving her statement. She’s played by Joanne Whalley, which is either some inspired casting or slightly creepy, because she also played Mary, Katherine’s daughter, in The Virgin Queen a few years ago. Katherine insists that she was a virgin when she married Henry. Later, a nobleman gives ‘evidence’ that basically amounts to a gossipy account of Arthur bragging of having been ‘in Spain’ after his wedding night. Outside the court, Rafe tells Cromwell he thinks Arthur was lying. He believes Katherine. Cromwell warns him to believe no one. Gardiner wanders by and tells Cromwell that Clement is ready to sign a treaty with the Emperor, and since he won’t want to piss that emperor off, there will certainly be no annulment. And when that happens, Wolsey will be finished. He’s practically gleeful about this. What a dick.
In the present, Cromwell finally gets to meet with the king, who’s played by an actual redhead for once, Damian Lewis. Not bad casting, though he doesn’t quite have the right build for Henry, who was more barrel-chested by the look of his portraits. Lewis is sort of swimming in his costume. Henry asks Cromwell how his ‘fat priest’ is, which is really douchy considering Wolsey was a mentor to Henry when he was a young and uncertain king and served him faithfully for many, many years. He sends the other courtiers away and, once they’re out of earshot, asks a bit more nicely how Wolsey is. Cromwell responds that he can’t be well until he has Henry’s favour. Henry says that the list of charges against him grows every day, but Cromwell responds that, given a fair hearing, they could counter each one. Henry brings up Cromwell’s history of speaking against his warmongering, in which Cromwell claimed the country just couldn’t afford it. Cromwell also called the town that Henry managed to capture a dog hole, which got Henry’s wee nose out of joint. ‘How could you say so?’ Henry demands. ‘Um, I’ve been there?’ Cromwell replies. ‘So have I! At the head of an army!’ Henry shouts. He continues that Cromwell said the king shouldn’t lead his own army because if he were captured the ransom would bankrupt the country, so what does Cromwell want, for the king to huddle inside like some frightened girl?
Cromwell: Actually, yeah. That would be ideal.
Cromwell continues that England doesn’t have the provinces abroad anymore to support an army in France. ‘So next time we go into France, we’ll need a seacoast?’ Henry figures. Cromwell recommends Normandy or Brittany. Henry comments that Cromwell has a bad reputation and notes that he doesn’t defend himself. Cromwell shrugs that Henry can form his own opinions. ‘I can, and I will,’ says Henry.
Cromwell returns home, where one of the servants asks if he should paint over the Cardinal’s coat of arms on the wall. ‘No. Paint it again. Paint it brighter,’ Cromwell tells him. Suck it, Henry and Anne. You won’t catch this guy being disloyal.