The Biggest Problem With Wolf Hall? All the Time Jumping

It has been a busy week; Martin Luther King day, the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and everything in between. However, as you’ve already figured from the title of this blog, I was only focussed on one thing.

My views on the Tudors are pretty common knowledge, so I’ll skip straight to the point. Wolf Hall had its first episode last night. It is one of the highest budget costume drama series the BBC has aired, and has received so much promotion that it is being called ‘event television’. But is it worth the hype? Well, not yet…

As with many series, Wolf Hall suffers from a slow start. But unlike those others, it doesn’t have a dozen episodes to build up and potential future series to get into. Hilary Mantell’s books will be fodder for just 6 episodes. In this respect they might’ve done better to take cues from BBC One’s excellent Sherlock.

Wolf Hall
That classic blank face we saw so much of.

But the real problem is all the skips in time. It seems like the story jumps 20 years back, 18 years forward, two months back, three weeks forward. The Telegraph’s John Walton called it ‘an artful if slightly confusing set of flashbacks’. He’s being generous; it’s artless. Beyond the annoying titles, there’s no real way to distinguish between the different eras.

I think the problem here is Mantell’s own slavish adherence to history – not normally a criticism I’d lay at anyone’s door. The author has researched the period so heavily that I feel like she’s lost sight of the linear nature of time. The other side to this criticism is that Mantell was so keen to stick to the script that she demanded the producers stick to her script. This may not have been the best treatment for the small screen.

I don’t necessarily think the casting was bad, but the acting was. In the first episode Johnathan Pryce’s Cardinal Wolsey is a key character, alongside Mark Rylance’s Cromwell. The trouble is, both characters seem to be the personification of ‘mild-mannered’. Even at the height of their emotional turmoil, both were little more than a glaze of wrinkles.

In contrast, Damian Lewis’ Henry VIII was highly anticipated, and delivers with a sizzle. The Duke of Norfolk was also pretty sassy. Bernard Hill hasn’t rocked so hard since he led a Rohirrim cavalry charge into the ranks of an Uruk Hai army in LOTR: Two Towers.

My mind is not completely made up on this thing. It could go either way. But so far, I’m not impressed. More action, faster cutting, and more emotional involvement are called for, and fast!

3 thoughts on “The Biggest Problem With Wolf Hall? All the Time Jumping

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