By Lucy Worsely
His Tudor costume weighs a ton, held together by a complex arrangement of pins; there are no sewing-machine seams, zips or modern fastenings to simplify the laborious chore of dressing.
Yet Homeland star Damian Lewis is not only comfortable in King Henry VIII’s velvet robes, but is alarmed – and delighted – to discover character traits he shares with England’s most famous king.
Like Henry, he suffered concussion after an accident – though he tumbled from a motorbike, rather than from a steed during a vigorous bout of jousting.
I was intrigued to find Lewis shared the latest historical theory that the accident may have triggered great change in the monarch and led to his descent into tyranny and darkness.
‘I’ve suffered from concussion myself from a motorbike crash,’ he explains.
‘I spent three months afterwards getting into needless fights and suffering from bouts of depression, unable to watch TV or read because of migraines.
‘I would often not get dressed and just do puzzles in my flat.
‘So I think it’s absolutely plausible that it had an effect on Henry’s character.’
He adds: ‘I think we all have an understanding that Henry was a womanising, syphilitic, bloated, genocidal Elvis character.
‘But in the period I play him he had a 32in waist and was much taller than anyone else. His beautiful pale complexion was often remarked on.
‘I found that the grandiose, more paranoid, self-indulgent, self-pitying, cruel Henry emerged in the period after this.’
Lewis is playing King Henry in Wolf Hall, the ambitious six-part BBC television series based on Hilary Mantel’s Booker prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. The programme will be screened on BBC2 this month.
After the success of the books, and the smash-hit stage play with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the stellar cast (with the likes of Mark Rylance, Claire Foy and Jonathan Pryce alongside Lewis) has made the TV production the most talked-about BBC drama in decades.
On the day I have exclusive access to the set and actors, at Bristol Cathedral (one of 40 locations selected for filming), they are shooting the coronation of a heavily pregnant Anne Boleyn (played by Claire Foy).
Of Boleyn, Foy says: ‘I think she was born at the wrong time. She was really a modern woman who believed that she could rise above where she was born.
‘She didn’t see any restrictions on what her opinions should be, or what she could read. She was incredibly intelligent, especially about herself, what her charms were and weren’t.
‘She was obviously an incredible character with such spirit, but she was just that bit too much of a powerful opponent for Cromwell, so she had to go.’
There are 16 make-up artists among the production team of 80, and disarray is caused by the constant doffing of caps (there are eight minutes of cap-doffing in the entire series).
About 70 per cent of the cast are wearing either wigs or hairpieces, and the constant Tudor on-and-off takes its toll on them.
Also present are 74 courtiers, six bishops, six knights and four royal guards. (And still they don’t fill the cathedral.)
Foy reveals that the ‘baby bump’ is uncomfortable under her costume, and isn’t sure how to ‘prostrate’ herself to the ground before the altar.
With his customary attention to detail, director Peter Kosminsky asks me, as a historian, how she should do it.
We agree that two of Anne’s ladies in waiting should help their pregnant mistress down to the floor. Read the rest of this entry »