Wolf Hall won’t make its way to PBS’ Masterpiece until April 5, but it did kick off last night on BBC Two in the UK. The six-part adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning historical fiction novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, bowed to strong ratings and five-star reviews (see trailer below). The series charts the rise of Thomas Cromwell, played by Mark Rylance, from lowly blacksmith’s son to the closest adviser of Tudor king Henry VIII, who is embodied by Damian Lewis.
The debut episode drew 3.89M in the overnights for a 16.5 share, outperforming BBC One’s Crimewatch. It is BBC Two’s highest original drama series launch in a decade; since Rome in 2005, which drew 6.6M viewers and a 27.2 share.
Although there were some Twitter grumblings about the use of natural light, the UK’s pro critics are effusive in their praise today. The Telegraph wrote this morning that it was hard to imagine Wolf Hall “being any better.” The Guardian mused the Company Pictures and Playground co-production may be “an ever greater artistic achievement than the book.” The Times suggests that Rylance’s “eyes alone earn a Bafta.”
Rylance told the TCA press tour earlier this month that Cromwell reminded him of Robert Duvall in The Godfather films. “He was around very violent people, dangerous people,” and learned it was “best not to speak unless spoken to and to be careful what you say.” A veteran stage and screen actor, he is next up in The Gunman with Sean Penn and is set to play the lead in Steven Spielberg’s The BFG.
The drama also stars Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn; Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey; Joanne Whalley as Katherine of Aragon; Sherlock‘s Mark Gatiss as Stephen Gardiner, Secretary to the King; Anton Lesser as Thomas More; Mathieu Amalric as Ambassador of Spain; Charity Wakefield as Mary Boleyn; Jessica Raine as Jane Rochford; Bernard Hill as the Duke of Norfolk; Richard Dillane as the Duke of Suffolk; Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Cromwell’s ward Rafe Sadler; Natasha Little as Cromwell’s wife Liz; and Saskia Reeves as her sister Johane.
Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) wrote the script for the mini that is directed by Peter Kosminsky (White Oleander). Colin Callender is exec producer for Playground, John Yorke for Company Pictures, Polly Hill for BBC Two, Rebecca Eaton for Masterpiece, Martin Rakusen for BBC Worldwide, and Tim Smith for Prescience and Altus Productions.
Here’s the trailer: