The TV adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall & Bring up the Bodies has just finished and what perfection it was – ‘event TV’ that deserves to win lots of gongs. Period drama is something the Beeb does better than anyone. It was so refreshing to watch a show that wasn’t dumbing down – the acting was sublimely subtle (Rylance’s Cromwell was a masterclass in nuance and understatement), the direction, the script (paring down Mantel’s immense, linguistically-pyrotechnical works), the costumes, the lighting, the music … This is Civilization – what we must fight the Barbarians to preserve. A ray of light in a darkened world. What can be achieved with creative freedom and sufficient funding. All from the mind of a supremely talented woman.
Here are my reviews of the first book….
Wolf Hall – a review
An unforgettable masterpiece, Wolf Hall is an instant literary classic that is riveting from beginning to end. Hilary Mantel is at the height of her powers here, creating a fully realised Tudor England that is dark, damp, deadly and deceitful. In Thomas Cromwell she has forged a true diamond in the dustheap, a flawed multi-faceted protagonist who we can feel compassion for while being in awe of his steely intellect, insatiable ambition, and ice-cold heart, doused in the brutality and tragedy of life. He raises the over-used adjective ‘Machiavellian’ to a whole new art form – as though The Prince was written for him. Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn – all are brought to life, vividly, memorably, in all their vainglorious failings. The broken structure and use of present tense is bold, giving it a contemporary edge (although many of the themes have a topical resonance also – especially the financial gerrymandering); and the highly polished prose is exquisitely poetic at times, while never failing to serve the narrative. Each sentence is tart with razor-sharp wit and a Scorpion-like sting. Each arresting metaphor metamorphoses into the next sentence – a linguistic conjurer’s trick that is never merely for show. Mantel makes the language work harder, but the prose never feels tortured – it flows like a fine vintage wine. This is a heady, dangerous pleasure that any connoisseur of narrative will delight in – leaving you ravenous for more.