Damian Lewis stars as Henry VIII alongside Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn in BBC Two’s epic new drama series Wolf Hall.
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If Henry VIII dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Into the impasse steps Thomas Cromwell; son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a bully and a charmer, Cromwell has broken all the rules of a rigid society in his rise to power, and is prepared to break some more. Pitting himself against parliament, the political establishment and the papacy, he is prepared to reshape England to his own and Henry VIII’s desires.
Episode 1: ‘Three Card Trick’
Wednesday 21 January 2015, 9pm
Thomas Cromwell’s (Mark Rylance) patron, Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce), is dismissed as Lord Chancellor and forced to flee his palace at York Place. The old noble families of England, jealous of their own right to advise the King, have long waited for this moment. Cromwell readies Wolsey’s palace in exile at Esher and sets forth a plan to return him to the King’s favour. Thomas More (Anton Lesser) is appointed Lord Chancellor in the Cardinal’s place.
The Cardinal has not endeared himself in Court, with many believing him to be too powerful and greedy. Eight years ago, at the height of the Cardinal’s career, he made an enemy of Thomas Boleyn (David Robb) by chastising him for his daughter Anne’s far from virtuous reputation. As rumours circulated in Court that Anne was secretly betrothed to Harry Percy (Harry Lloyd), the Cardinal insisted that no such match would be allowed.
Still lacking a male heir, the King is desperate for an annulment from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon (Joanne Whalley), claiming she was not a virgin on their wedding day. The Cardinal’s efforts to persuade the Pope to grant the annulment are fruitless. An alliance between the Pope and Katherine’s nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor, diminishes the Cardinal’s position even further.
As Henry (Damian Lewis) grows impatient, the pressure increases on the Cardinal. To add to this, rumours reach the Cardinal that the King’s new mistress is Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), who has sworn vengeance on him over Harry Percy. Cromwell visits Anne, urging her that only the Cardinal can secure what she wants, but Anne is unmoved.
The Duke of Norfolk (Bernard Hill), nervous of the Cardinal’s continuing proximity to the King, insists on Wolsey moving north to his archdiocese in York. A desperate Cromwell finally meets directly with Henry, but the King is nothing if not ambiguous. Will he recall the Cardinal, or turn on him?
Episode 2: ‘Entirely Beloved’
Wednesday 28 January 2015, 9pm
Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) has been forced out of Court and to travel north to his archdiocese in York. For Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance), this is only a tactical retreat; in time the Cardinal will regain the King’s favour. The Cardinal urges Cromwell to find a way to get close to Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy) for she is the key to persuading the King to restore him.
Cromwell visits Thomas More (Anton Lesser) and his family at their home in Chelsea. More is amiable but the atmosphere is tense as More is determined to clamp down on heresy and he is convinced that Cromwell has Protestant leanings.
Anne Boleyn summons Cromwell wanting to know if she has an ally in him. She is aware of letters sent between Queen Katherine (Joanne Whalley) and the Cardinal which are tantamount of treason. She is becoming impatient waiting for Henry (Damian Lewis) and takes her frustrations out on her ladies in waiting, including young Jane Seymour (Kate Phillips) who Cromwell takes pity on.
The King starts to take notice of Cromwell. Henry admires his loyalty to the Cardinal and appreciates the honest and open way Cromwell talks to him. An intimacy develops and Henry comes to rely on Cromwell’s advice.
But then news from the north. The Cardinal is arrested for treason by Harry Percy (Harry Lloyd); a vengeful act for denying his betrothal to Anne Boleyn eight years earlier. The Cardinal’s health deteriorates rapidly and he dies on the journey south to the Tower of London.
At Court, a party is held to mark the demise of the Cardinal. Cromwell closely watches those that celebrate the Cardinal’s death and as Cromwell is sworn in to the King’s Council, he swears vengeance on those that brought the Cardinal down.
Episode 3: ‘Anna Regina’
Wednesday 4 February 2015, 9pm
Although he has no official title, Cromwell (Mark Rylance) is relied on more and more in the running of the King’s affairs. Cromwell manoeuvres a Bill through Parliament acknowledging Henry (Damian Lewis) rather than the Pope as head of the Church of England. This is the first step in Henry granting his own divorce from Katherine of Aragon (Joanne Whalley).
A major obstacle to Henry’s marriage plan arises when Harry Percy’s wife claims her own marriage is unlawful on the grounds her husband had previously made a binding contract of marriage with Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy). With the Cardinal now dead, the Boleyn family looks to Cromwell to fix Harry Percy (Harry Lloyd), a task Cromwell approaches with relish, remembering how Percy helped bring the Cardinal down. As Anne and Cromwell become allies, Anne secures him a formal position in the King’s household.
The King and his Court, including Cromwell, head to Calais to meet with the French King, expecting that the he will pledge his support of the Bill, and Henry’s marriage suit. At a dance, Anne flirts with the French nobility to Henry’s evident fury. She and Henry argue violently but when they are reconciled Henry finally pledges himself to Anne before witnesses. Henry marries Anne upon their return to England and she is crowned Queen. Even in her moment of triumph, Anne feels trapped; she knows the old noble families hate her and will never accept her.
Anne is pregnant and leaves Court to begin her confinement. She has achieved what she wanted, but it has come at a cost. She must now produce a male heir or risk suffering Katherine’s fate.
Episode 4: ‘The Devil’s Spit’
Wednesday 11 February 2015, 9pm
Anne gives birth to a baby girl, Elizabeth, and Henry does little to hide his disappointment. Anne is aware that her power in Court rests on producing a male heir and in her paranoia cracks appear in her relationship with Cromwell.
The ‘Holy Maid of Kent’, Elizabeth Barton, has been prophesising that if Henry marries Anne Boleyn he will die within the year. She is touting new candidates for the throne; the old Plantagenet families whom the Tudors displaced and supporters of Katherine who are loyal to Rome. Cromwell interviews the Holy Maid but counsels the King to show mercy to her supporters.
However, until Henry has a male heir, the Tudor line remains vulnerable. Cromwell decrees that everyone in public life must take an oath to recognise Henry’s ‘Supremacy’ as head of the church and the legality of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Thomas More advises his family to take the oath but will not take it himself and, at Anne Boleyn’s insistence, is committed to the Tower. More is tried, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Cromwell did not want him dead. He wanted to bend More’s will and make him take the oath.
Cromwell plans the King’s winter progress, to include a trip to Wolf Hall, the home of Sir John Seymour and his daughter, Jane.
Episode 5: ‘Crows’
Wednesday 18 February 2015, 9pm
The Act of Supremacy has declared Henry Supreme Head of the Church in England. But the Holy Roman Emperor and his ambassador Eustache Chapuys have refused to recognise either his new title or his marriage to Anne Boleyn.
Cromwell visits Katherine. She is growing frail and tired and she longs to see her daughter Mary. Cromwell pities Katherine and tries to persuade the King to allow Chapuys to visit her, but Henry refuses – until the Emperor acknowledges Anne as his lawful wife, Henry will not make any allowances on diplomacy.
With Anne pregnant again and away from court, Henry begins to take notice of Jane Seymour. The Seymours enlist Cromwell’s help in their dealings with the King.
Anne is aware that Cromwell is conspiring with the Seymours and reminds him that she made Cromwell who he is today. When Katherine dies, Anne celebrates – Katherine had always been blamed for Anne’s failure to produce a male heir and Anne is now certain her pregnancy will deliver a boy.
The King takes part in a jousting tournament and is nearly killed. Cromwell becomes acutely aware that he owes his position solely to Henry and that without the King’s support his enemies would destroy him. Mercifully Henry makes a full recovery but, in the shock at the news of his fall, Anne miscarries.
Henry fears that he will never have a son with Anne, convinced that she is cursed and that he was tricked into marriage by her. He wants a new wife and, as ever, Cromwell is tasked with delivering this.
Episode 6: ‘Masters of Phantoms’
Wednesday 25 February 2015, 9pm
Anne accuses Cromwell of betrayal when she finds out that he tried to protect Mary and not Elizabeth at a time of crisis. But Anne’s power is rapidly dissolving and her enemies are gathering.
Anne argues with Jane Rochford but in her anger Anne divulges that the musician Mark Smeaton and the nobles Francis Weston and Harry Norris have all declared their love to her, a treasonable offence.
Jane Rochford takes great pleasure in reporting these events to Cromwell. She further insinuates that her husband, George Boleyn’s unhealthy sexual appetite extends to his sister. Cromwell is dumbfounded by such accusations, but brings Mark Smeaton in for questioning.
Smeaton foolishly boasts of his own exploits with the Queen and under duress he starts to spill other names including Norris, Weston and William Brereton. Cromwell now has enough information to act and these men together with Anne and George Boleyn are brought to the Tower of London.
As Cromwell visits each Gentleman in his cell, he thinks back to Cardinal Wolsey’s demise and remembers how each of Norris, Weston, Brereton and George Boleyn had cruelly mocked his master. Cromwell has extracted the ultimate revenge.
Anne is also found guilty and sentenced to death. But with so many heads removed, who now stands between Cromwell and the King?
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