By Baz Bamigboye
Charity Wakefield is brushing up on her court etiquette as she prepares to portray the other Boleyn sister in the television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novels, about how Henry VIII’s urges caused bloodshed and upheaval in Tudor England.
The actress will play Mary Boleyn, described as a ‘vivacious blonde’, who was wooed and bedded by the king before he took up with her younger, ruthlessly ambitious sibling Anne, who will be played by Claire Foy in the six-part drama based on Mantel’s Man Booker-prize winning historical books Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, to be broadcast next year.
Charity joins a growing ensemble led by Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell and Damian Lewis as the much-married monarch.
The Boleyn women were the key part of their father’s plan to secure political influence.
The great Cardinal Wolsey, in a waspish aside to Cromwell, snorted that Mary’s ‘been passed around most of the French court’. Jonathan Pryce will be wearing the Cardinal’s red brocade and I can hear him now, having much sport with such a line.
Sherlock star Mark Gatiss will play Stephen Gardiner, Henry’s top civil servant. Anton Lesser will play Thomas More, and Joanne Whalley will play Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, set aside in favour of Anne Boleyn.
Even though Mary went from king’s concubine to coaching her sister in the art of keeping Henry happy in bed, she at least kept her head.
Charity, who is an accomplished photographer and budding film-maker, joins the Wolf Hall company from the set of the film Day Of The Flowers. She also starred as Marianne Dashwood in the BBC production of Sense And Sensibility and worked with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper on the film Serena.
Filming has already started on Wolf Hall on locations in the UK. Rylance was on set when he heard the news of his double hit at the Tony nominations. (He’s in the running for best actor and best featured actor for the Shakespeare’s Globe productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III, which were a mammoth hit on Broadway earlier this year. The two plays were recognised in eight categories.)
Meanwhile, Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky and producers at BBC TV, Company Pictures and US-based Playground Entertainment have assembled a superb troupe.
Saskia Reeves will play Johane, Cromwell’s sister-in-law. The two become close when Cromwell’s wife dies.
Ed Speleers, best known as Jimmy Kent the footman on ITV’s Downton Abbey, plays Edward Seymour. Thomas Brodie-Sangster will play Cromwell’s ward Rafe, who becomes friendly towards Helen Barre — a part taken by Florence Bell.
Jack Lowden, who won an Olivier award for his part in Richard Eyre’s scorching version of Ibsen’s Ghosts, will play exotic poet Thomas Wyatt.
The drama is being filmed as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s interpretation of Mantel’s novels starts previewing at the Aldwych Theatre. The plays, which open officially on May 17, have already taken more than £6 million at the London box office.