I had never thought about Thomas Cromwell, the 16th century power broker, much until I read Hilary Mantel’s tremendous 2009 novel Wolf Hall. But since then, I can’t get enough. Thankfully, thanks to the popularity of the book and the award—twice!—of the Man Booker prize to Ms. Mantel for the first volume and the 2012 follow-up Bring Up The Bodies, there are now a plenitude of ways to get some Cromwell into your life.
Most timely perhaps is the PBS television series Wolf Hall (which airs every Sunday for six weeks beginning April 5 at 10 p.m. EST on PBS), in which Mark Rylance plays a slightly puckish version of the bruising blacksmith’s son. It’s a good adaptation, I suppose, a sort of Downton Abbey meets House of Cards. But I just can’t get over Cromwell’s hair or Rylance’s delicate features. One of the chief pleasures of reading Wolf Hall, and its sequel (and I’m sure the final book in the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light) is imagining Cromwell for oneself.
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Rylance does a bang-up job, but it’s taken a while to warm to him as Cromwell. A tremendous ensemble cast—including Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Wolsey, Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn, and Homeland’s Damien Lewis as King Henry VIII (who we will see onscreen for the first time with his real British accent)—helps but, having read the book, I couldn’t help but cast and re-cast, compare and contrast my mental Cromwell and crew with the actual.
Though I haven’t yet seen it, the Broadway adaptation of the book—which tackles parts I and II—plays through June and stars Ben Miles as Cromwell. This guy accords closely with my inner casting (plus it’s right around the corner from InStyle’s office) so I can’t wait go. It seems to me, if you’re not going to read the book but do live in New York, this is the play, literally. First of all, you get the drama in the room. Cromwell walks and breathes on stage. Secondly, it’s a twofer and a great value for time. What is it, three hours for two books? (The PBS series is a serious commitment.) But, it’s fleeting. The run—which shares the same cast the hit show did in London—is shut out after fifteen weeks with no possibility of extension.
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But really, if you can, just triple your Mantel and go in for all three. Read the book for the self-propelling pacing ($ 9; amazon.com), watch the television series for the gorgeous castles and high production values, and see the play to feel Cromwell’s spittle upon your brow and his syllables resonate in your heart. And then just bide your time until the next book, play, and movie come out.
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