It’s a dirty business being the king’s right-hand man.
For the Wolf Hall finale viewers witness Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) at his most vindictive as he ousts Anne Boleyn so that Henry (Damien Lewis) can pursue Jane Seymour (Kate Phillips).
Throughout we’ve sympathised with Cromwell. He has lost two daughters and his wife before his master Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) was toppled from power and kicked the bucket. But viewer empathy wears thin as he elicits false confessions for the sake of Henry’s ‘cause’. It’s an important and necessary shift and shows Cromwell as a multi-dimensional character – ultimately, we still like him.
Rylance has been consistently brilliant throughout this series and keeps the audience hooked – even when he says nothing at all. Lewis’ fickle monarch is marvellous too and is the real villain of Wolf Hall; his impulsive behaviour costs lives not to mention the entire excommunication of Rome. The closing shot of Cromwell and Henry’s hug neatly sums up their relationship.
However, Claire Foy steals the limelight in this episode with a fine performance as scheming queen Anne Boleyn.
In the closing scenes we experience something verging on sympathy for the wretch she is reduced to. All the arrogance and pride gives way to humility but of course it’s too late.
Wolf Hall has held us captive for six weeks. This is a rich and well-drawn presentation of Cromwell, whose Machiavellian character has been the focus of so many history books.
If the show gets a second series (which it most probably will) it will be delightful to see Rylance return. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see Damien Lewis in a fat suit?