In this week's episode of Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell hooks himself to a rising star, as Katherine of Aragon is deposed and Anne Boleyn conquers her enemies to ascend the throne. But how long can her triumph last?
Cromwell: Your Highness knows the king cannot be led.
Katherine: But he can be enticed.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter what type of period drama we are facing, or what channel it airs on, if the prestige drama focuses upon a family with any sort of peerage pretentions, there will be an episode with a wedding - and if royalty is involved, a coronation. From PBS' own Downton Abbey (which remarkably held out all the way to Season 3 before giving us a wedding) to Poldark, at some point the wedding gown is wheeled out. Coronations as well as weddings happen in Victoria too, as well as The Crown on Netflix (which also married and coronated Claire Foy) to Game of Thrones on HBO.
Wolf Hall is a show that takes itself a step beyond those other shows with their commitment to period faithfulness, and old school pacing. But even they must bow to these realities. And so it came to pass, that in the third hour of the drama, in the year of our lord 1531, that Anne Boleyn did get her way. The second wedding of King Henry VIII occured and she was crowned queen. All they had to do was get there was reverse about a century and a half's worth of accepted religious and political policy.
Johane: The last time it appeared was under King John, and the cattle stopped breeding and the grass stopped growing and the birds fell out of the sky.
Cromwell: Well if that starts to happen, I'm sure we can reverse the policy.
People don't like change. To Henry, and to Cromwell, much of the change they are attempting to enact in order to make way for his new marriage is merely words on paper. Does it really matter who is the head of the church, at the end of the day? Or which man in furs and robes claims to have the highest authority? Perhaps to the average blacksmith, or even your average member of Parliment, these things do not matter in their day to day lives.
But that doesn't mean that people don't think they do. In this, the cold blooded tactics of Cromwell run up against a wall. Despite all the arm -turning and wheeling and dealing, we see how hesitant the peerage is in the vote staged in Henry's court. The King literally has to lean in his chair and stare down his lords in order to get enough of them to stand on the right side of the room.
The rise of religious hysteria also grows as Henry's wedding date approaches. Thomas More is torturing heretics while droning on at them in Latin. Archbishop Warham is sponsoring the latest in mystic maidens touched by god, this one in the form of Elizabeth Barton, the "Holy Maid." And everywhere people come forward to attempt to prevent this marriage from going through - as if somehow by stopping the inevitable they can turn back the clock to the way things were when there was only one god, one religion and one heirarchy, as it had been for generations before.
Anne: People should say whatever will keep them alive. You would, wouldn't you?
But while the anticipation of this episode is the wedding, the real joy of it is watching Cromwell and Anne find kindred spirits in one anohter. As I remarked in my opening recap, Cromwell is a hustler. So is Anne. Her background and methodolgy may be different, but both are creatures who thrive on the ladder that chaos provides. Which is why, when the least of the religious complications arises - that of Harry Percy - it's Cromwell that the Boleyn family turns to.
Percy, as you might recall, was the one the Cardinal stopped Anne from marrying back in the series' opening episode, and part of why she viewed him as her enemy. Percy was the leader of the gang that set the Cardinal on the road to his death, and then played in pantomime the act for the court's (and Anne's) enjoyment. What a difference two years makes. Now it's Percy who is shunned by the Boleyn family as he stakes his claim that despite the Cardinal's commands all those years ago, he married Anne anyway, threatening everything she's worked for.
Cromwell does not take down Percy by beating his head in, nor by roaring until the rich boy cowers. Instead, he calmly sits and explains the way the world really works, and how, simply by a few words to the approproate bankers, a man can be done in. It is the 16th century version of the famous "Primal Forces of Nature" speech from 1978's Network, and the most remarkable moment of the hour that doesn't involve a wedding or a coronation gown.
Cromwell: How can I explain this to you? The world is not run from where you think it is, from border fortresses - even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from Lisbon, from wherever the merchant ships set sail off into the West. Not from castle walls - from counting houses. From the pens that scrape out your promissory notes. So believe me when I say that my banker friends and I will rip your life apart.
But while Cromwell is tying his fortunes to those of Anne as she rises, his own personal life is in shambles. Though he may find himself Keeper of the Jewel House by the end of the hour, he has lost anyone he might want to share it with. His relationship with his dead wife's sister comes to an abrupt end when they both realize he's really subsituting one for the other. And his tendre towards Jane Seymour has hit a snag. Jane's father was found to be sleeping with his daughter in law. Anne of course is delighted by the turn of events, and that her Lady in Waiting has been removed and sent away in shame. Cromwell is left at loose ends, with no prospects for remarriage he finds himself interested in--and having to escape the over-eager Mary Boleyn yet again. Even though Jane returns by the end of the episode, the chances of him having her are slim.
As the hour closes, with marriage and coronation complete, Anne heads off to have the royal baby, confident in her ability to have a boy child. Meanwhile Rafe wonders to Cromwell if he's made the right choice, putting all their eggs in this basket. As the boat sails away with Anne in it, his expression suggests he too is starting to wonder the same. Next week, we'll see how everyone feels when she returns with a baby of the wrong sex.