Saturday, September 8, 2012
The Wolf Is At The Door
Henry the Eighth, his many unfortunate wives and his flame-haired daughter are never far from the period drama consciousness although there has not been much from the Tudors of late. Just as 2009's very fine Emma with Romola Garai exhausted the Jane Austen adaptation route for a while, a spate of Tudor-themed TV dramas and movies that reached their peak five years ago meant that we were all a bit Tudored out after a fashion. Cate Blanchett returned to the role that made her name with Elizabeth: The Golden Age although frankly she either shouldn't have bothered or else should have waited around for a better script. Also Helen Mirren gave her Liz One to great acclaim for Channel Four shortly before famously winning every award she was eligible for as Liz Two.
Meanwhile, The Virgin Queen with Anne-Marie Duff starring as Elizabeth between the ages of seventeen and seventy and getting jiggy with a before-he-was-famous Tom Hardy as Robert Dudley was admirably ambitious and the soundtrack featuring The Mediaeval Babes was brilliant but the effect of seeing her Majesty age from episode to episode was hampered by hopelessly unconvincing prosthetics and Duff's own stubbornly youthful face. Also, the perennially gruff Ray Winstone beheaded Helena Bonham Carter and Emily Blunt for ITV and Jonathan Rhys Meyers tried his best in the same role over four years for Showtime in America although better English accents have oft been heard in primary school productions of Oliver! And the least said about The Other Boleyn Girl with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, the soonest mended.
The story needs a different perspective before a return to our screens for Henry and company can be greeted with any sort of enthusiam. Well, BBC Two head honcho Janice Hadlow recently announced at the annual television festival in Edinburgh that Hilary Mantel's much-loved, Booker Prize-winning doorstep of a novel Wolf Hall is to be adapted in six parts and broadcast on the channel next year. Wolf Hall catapulted Mantel to household name status after more than thirty years as a novelist with her painstakingly-researched chronicling of the eventful reign of Henry the Eighth through the eyes of his chief adviser, poltical manipulator and all-round fixer Thomas Cromwell, a lesser-known figure from the Tudor court who dominated Henry's life after both Cardinal Wolsley and Thomas More fell from grace.
The much-anticipated sequel Bring Up the Bodies arrived in bookshops before the summer and continued where Wolf Hall left off with particular focus on the bloody downfall of Anne Boleyn and its impact on Cromwell's career. Cromwell's own spectacular fall from grace will be featured in a third and concluding novel and all three parts of the trilogy could find themselves on screen if Wolf Hall proves a hit. A six-part period piece is a huge commitment in these straightened times although viewers do love all things Tudor. Halfway through Parade's End on BBC Two, I'm wishing Tom Stoppard had been given more screen time to let Ford Madox Ford's story and characters develop at a less breathless pace. The telly version of Wolf Hall is being written by Peter Straughan, pictured above, who won a BAFTA earlier this year for his sterling work adapting Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with his late wife Bridget O Connor who, according to Straughan's heartfelt acceptance speech, "wrote all the good bits."