Bryan Dick

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Photo: Courtesy Of The BBC

Photo: Courtesy Of The BBC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

As the BBC series “Wolf Hall,” reached the closing minutes of its sixth and final chapter, Sunday night on the PBS showcase Masterpiece Theater, I found myself drawing parallels between Anne Boleyn and the subject of an ancient Greek Myth. The Greeks told a tale of a young man name Icarus, who built himself a pair of wings and attempted to fly to the sun. Although the young man amazed all around that he could actually fly with his wings, his attempt to do the impossible, lead to his death. As Icarus got too close to the sun, the wax that held his wings together melted, sending the young man crashing to his death far below.

Anne Boleyn also had lofty goals in 1529: to make the English Monarch King Henry VIII fall in love with her, annul his first marriage to Katherine of Aragon, proclaim himself the Supreme Leader of the Church Of England and crown Anne as the country’s new Queen. Against overwhelming odds, Anne Boleyn got everything she wanted, but she couldn’t hold onto it. Failing to produce a male heir to the throne, she lost her hold over Henry and the sins she committed throughout the years would lead to her ultimate undoing.

The episode opens with a graphic telling us that we’ve reached the year 1536 and Henry’s love for Anne Boleyn has given way to anger and distrust. His attention now fixed on Jane Seymour, he’s instructed Cromwell to rid him of his second Queen. Sensing her loss of favor the Queen’s enemies are gathering.

Thomas Cromwell sits at the head of an enormous banquet table, surrounded by older men and women, clearly members of the aristocracy. The Duke of Norfolk asks Cromwell where’s the food and the host signals to his wait staff to start serving the meal. As platters of all sorts of delicacies are served, Cromwell suddenly sees Anne Boleyn being pulled down the table as she lies on her back, by two ropes attached to her shoulders. Boleyn looks around the room, finally making eye-contact with Cromwell. He stands up with a knife in his hand and stabs downward.

It’s a fantasy as we soon see that in reality, he’s at home having dinner with his family members, but Thomas can’t shake the vision. He remains silent and contemplative as he eats his dinner, staring off into space as if he was eating alone in the woods.

We are at Whitehall as Anne fusses over her red-headed daughter Elizabeth, showing Henry the new bonnet she got for her. Henry stares in silence takes a slug from his goblet of wine and picks his teeth. Finding the bothersome morsel, he gets up from the table and walks away. Cromwell starts to follow the King, when Anne calls for him.

She tells her husband’s right-hand man, that she heard that when Henry nearly died in the jousting accident, Cromwell started making arrangements for Henry’s first daughter Mary to return to the Palace. She asks why he was not planning on her, or Elizabeth or the baby she carried at the time, that she subsequently lost.

Thomas looks at her and says he can’t hold the throne for a baby in the cradle, or for a baby yet to be born. Anne  glares at Cromwell, telling him she promoted him and she ‘s the reason he’s had the success he enjoys. She then says the first chance he got to betray her, he did exactly that. Thomas looks her in the eye and dryly says Madam, there is nothing personal.

She lets out a cruel laugh at the remark, then she says he thinks he doesn’t need her any longer. However he’s forgotten the most important rule, those who’ve been made can be unmade. Cromwell says he wholeheartedly agrees with her statement, Anne’s unaware that Thomas is thinking of her in those terms.

That night at home Cromwell’s visited by the Duke of Suffolk, who tells the King’s secretary that we want the concubine gone and we know you do to. We’re fine with Henry marrying the Seymour girl, she follows the Church and might get Henry to reunite with Rome.

Cromwell asks the Duke who besides him, he speaks for. The Duke responds many who are close to the Crown, from the days of old King Edward. Lord Exeter, Lord Montague, the Chauncey family and Lady Margaret Pole. Cromwell asks the Duke what he proposes to do with the Queen and the Duke says he’s not sure, possibly send her to a monastery. He then asks the Duke what he wants of him and the Duke responds we want you to join us and help England get a new Queen.

Things start to unravel in the next scene, as Anne’s playfulness backfires and her reputation and honor get brought into play. Anne starts flirting with the young lute player, Mark Smeaton and the young man gets embarrassed and he runs out of her room, his eyes filled with tears. Her sister-in-law, Lady Jane Rochford says that Smeaton should be dropped from the top of a building, as Anne’s dog was.

Anne hauls back and slaps Rochford in the face, Jane says if Anne hits her like that again, she’ll hit her back. She says that Anne’s not a Queen, just the daughter of some Knight. Anne calls out to Harry Norris and asks him to do her a good turn and drown her brother’s wife. Harry tries to calm her down and she says you told me you would walk barefoot to China for me. He laughs and says it was somewhere within the confines of England.

She says to her sister Mary that Harry will never marry her as he says that he’s in love with Anne. She says however, he apparently doesn’t love her enough, to put Rochford in a bag and drown her. Norris says that if she wants to tell tales out of school, would she care to talk about their son. He then walks off and Anne’s mortified and terrified,  requesting somebody bring him back, so he can deny the remark. Nobody goes after him, so Anne chases after him herself.

Thus the beginning of the end for Anne Boleyn and things unravel at a rapid pace. Anne chases Harry to the courtyard and they argue out there for all to see, including Henry. The Queen went right to her husband after talking with Norris and Jane says he did not seem forgiving.

Jane Rochford immediately finds Cromwell and decides to air out all the dirty laundry. Perhaps the most shocking accusation she makes, is that her husband George and his sister Anne Boleyn engage in incest. She says she’s seen them kiss and not as brother and sister, but as if they were lovers. She tells Cromwell that she believes that her husband and the Queen are hoping to produce a male heir that looks like a Boleyn, so there won’t be any accusations of adultery.

Thomas advises Rochford not to speak to anyone else on this matter. She then tells Cromwell that she advises he speak to Mark Smeaton, as he can reveal a lot of information. Thomas sets up a meeting at his house with Smeaton, Rafe and Richard.

Mark’s a foolish and uneducated teenager, whose full of himself. Being a member of the Queen’s court, Smeaton’s convinced that he’s the equal of any noble. He says they call him boy, but they all fear him. Cromwell then asks the teen why the Queen’s constantly upset and he responds because she’s fallen in love with me. Thomas says he can see why she would be attracted to Smeaton as he’s young and good-looking. He then starts asking about Anne’s other lovers.

Smeaton suddenly realizes this isn’t just some bull-session, trading tales with other commoners about his prowess in the bedroom. He says he takes it all back, but Cromwell tells him it’s too late for that. He’ll either talk to them willingly or under force, the choice is his. He starts crying saying he was just making the whole thing up and Thomas tells him he’ll spend the night in Cromwell’s home. Richard takes the teen to a room and Mark’s scared and asks what is this place, Richard tells him that’s where the phantom lives.

In the middle of the night, Cromwell’s woken by the banging and screaming of Smeaton. This time he’s very cooperative, providing a list of names and saying he had relations with Anne about three or four times. He doesn’t realize it’s only going to get much worse from here on out.

Cromwell then starts bringing in the accused men, including Harry Norris, Francis Brian and George Boleyn. Cromwell’s relentless in his questioning and uses the statements from one man to implicate one of the others. However it’s with Harry Norris that Thomas admits why he’s going after the men he’s pursuing. He asks Norris if he remembers being in a performance, depicting Cardinal Wolsey getting chased to Hell by some demons? Harry gasps and asks is this what this is about? Cromwell says I need guilty men Harry so I’ve found men who are guilty, although maybe not of the same offense.

Harry says he won’t confess to anything or name anybody else, he says we’re cultured gentleman. Henry doesn’t believe in and would never allow torture. Cromwell walks over to the table that Norris sits at, and puts his hands on Harry’s cheeks rather forcefully. He says it can be informal, right now I could put my thumbs in your eyes and have you sing Green Grows The Hollie, if he so chooses.

The Duke of Norfolk gives Cromwell an arrest warrant for his niece, family loyalty means nothing to him. He says perhaps Henry will listen to his advice after this. Anne greets her uncle, the Lord Chancellor, the Master Treasurer and Cromwell. She says to the group, this is the man I invented and Norfolk says he invented her as well and now he grieves that he did so. Norfolk asks Anne if she’s ready and she replies she doesn’t know how to be ready. Cromwell extends his hand and says, why don’t you just come with us.

Anne’s taken by rowboat to the room she’ll live out her days in, Cromwell’s in the boat with her. She stares at all the buildings as they float by, realizing deep down this could be the last time she sees them.

Cromwell meets with Henry and the Archbishop of York at Whitehall and the Archbishop berates himself for allowing Anne to deceive him for all these years. Henry comforts the Priest by saying they were all taken in by her act, then he says he believes she committed adultery with over 100 men during their marriage. He says she said she loved me, but alas the opposite was true.

Thomas goes to visit Anne and she asks Cromwell if this is all some sort of test? She asks when Henry will release her and let her return to the Palace? Cromwell says to her they are compiling the confessions as they speak and soon she’ll be on trial. She grabs hold of Cromwell’s arm and says that he doesn’t believe these terrible stories about her. She looks him in the eyes and says deep in your heart, you know I’m innocent. Thomas removes her hand from his arm and remains silent.

The trial takes place and Anne’s voted guilty by each member of Parliament. The Duke of Norfolk says that she’ll either be burned at the stake, or have her head cut off, whichever Henry prefers. The King decides to give his wife the quick death and orders her head to get cut off.

Before the execution Cromwell goes down to the stage she’ll be executed from and he meets the executioner, a man from France. The executioner tells Thomas that if she’s steady she won’t feel a thing, it will happen between heartbeats. If she’s steady.

There’s a mob surrounding the stage as Anne and he ladies in waiting descend the stairs to the stage. She quietly but calmly addresses the crowd, She says she’s come here to die, because that’s what the law calls for. She says God bless the King and she says that he always treated her kindly and fairly. The headband’s removed from her head and a bonnet’s placed upon it, then they blindfold her.

When the blindfold’s put on she starts to show her fear, sobbing softly. A stray lock of hair escapes the bonnet, she fusses with it to put it back in place. Cromwell whispers move your arm. The executioner goes to the Queen’s left and shouts out, she turns that way and he slices off her head from the right, in between heartbeats as he predicted. The ladies in waiting pick up her head and body and place them in a plain wooden casket.

Cromwell heads inside Whitehall and Henry stands there waiting for his secretary with open arms, beaming from ear to ear. He embraces Thomas and the expression on his face is one of complete joy, looking as if the weight of the world’s lifted off his shoulders. Cromwell however got shaken by the experience, his face’s creased with worry and he looks disoriented and confused.

Photo Courtesy Of The BBC

Photo Courtesy Of The BBC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Chapter four of the PBS Masterpiece Theater presentation of the BBC series “Wolf Hall,” dealt mainly with issues of principles and conscience, along with the hypocrisies those subjects highlight. We saw the comparison of two men, both stubborn and set in their ways, with the ultimate wheeler-dealer, doing his best to avoid one of those men, becoming a martyr. Despite the best efforts of Thomas Cromwell, whose shown the ability to look objectively at a situation and predict all the possible outcomes of any situation, England ended up with a martyr.

We saw similar behavior displayed in the previous episode, that time by an associate and friend of Cromwell’s, the lawyer James Bainham. Despite his encounter with torture and recanting previous statements, Bainham felt compelled to read the Bible in English. The book considered blasphemous by Rome, cost Bainham his life, as he couldn’t stop himself from reading the English bible in public. He was burned at the stake in public, before a crowd believing the punishment fit the crime.

This episode opens with a graphic, summing up the story so far. Anne Boleyn promised to bear England’s King Henry VIII a son. So he cast off his first wife and, over the objections of the Pope and Christendom crowned Anne Queen. In September of 1533, Anne returns to Whitehall with her newborn child….a daughter.

The first person we encounter is Henry himself, whose not masking his disappointment, as the only question he asks is if his daughter’s healthy. He walks away leaving behind the Arch Bishop of York, the Lord Chancellor, the Solicitor General and Cromwell. They’d been banking on the Royal Couple having a son, to give Anne the legitimacy by England that the King and Queen sought so desperately. However, the girl to be named Elizabeth just compounded the problem, as she was in reality second in line to the throne following her half-sister Mary, Henry’s daughter with Katherine of Aragon.

Cromwell comes up with a solution to the succession problem, a bill calling for Parliament to declare Mary illegitimate and for only the children of Henry and Anne, be in line to inherit the throne. However, there’s another situation to get resolved, the increased support for  the woman from the country who’s said to have visions, of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, Elizabeth Barton. The Priests who support her, have tried to increase her legendary status among the common-folk, by supplying a letter to Barton, they claim to have been written by Mary Magdalene. Cromwell decides to bring her in for questioning.

Questioned by Henry’s chief advisors, she tells them she’s seen the devil and he looks like a bird, with huge claws. He’s filthy and his claws are covered in blood and feces. She says once he appeared to her as a young man, trying to tempt her and pawed ay her. When she rejected his advances, he spit in her face and she wiped it off with a napkin. She claims the napkin turned black and emitted the stench of Hell. One of her advisors now possesses the napkin and shows to people for a donation to their cause.

She’s asked to explain why Henry hasn’t died, despite her predictions he would die seven months after marrying Anne? She says in God’s eyes, Henry’s not the legitimate King of the country. Cromwell says there are reports that she favors the Courtney family to takeover the throne. She says she’s met with both brothers and their wives and they value her support. She then tells the men that England will be struck by a plague in six months, it will kill Henry, Anne and all of them as well. She then tells Cromwell, that all the members of his family are heretics and will die by the plague. Considering Cromwell lost Liz and his daughters to the “sweating sickness,” this likely struck a nerve.

Turns out Cromwell’s got Barton under close surveillance, the young woman who cares for her is his niece and Barton realizes she’s a fake and she’s very close to confessing she got put up to her performance by those around her. Thomas then has meetings with all the prominent people who met with her, he tells them each to write Henry a letter begging for his mercy. They all follow Cromwell’s directions and he convinces Henry to pardon them all. However there’s a list of people, who’ll get arrested and tried for their associations with Barton.

Anne wants Thomas More to be put on that list, but Cromwell tells her More decried Barton long ago. However she’s insistent on him getting arrested. She considers More to be one of the main contributors to her not being accepted as the rightful Queen by many of her subjects. Henry’s silence on the matter, tells Cromwell he’s got to be proactive on this development.

Henry’s advisors beseech the Queen’s Uncle, the Duke of Norfolk to beg for More not to get arrested. After swearing and acting contrary, he agrees to do it, if Cromwell also joins in. He then cackles saying Anne will scream bloody Hell, when she finds out what he did.

Henry agrees to keeping More off of the arrest notice, in return for his signing the loyalty oath, stating he agrees with the new line of succession. The advisors travel to More’s home and present him with the bill and the loyalty oath. After reading it, he declares although he’ll not speak out against it, or encourage others to, he can’t sign the oath. Cromwell pushes a quill and inkwell towards More, stating that won’t be enough.

The Lord Chancellor, tells More they’re not allowed to let him go home, unless he signs the oath. More asks if he’ll see his daughter again, Cromwell says there’s just the matter of a few words, standing in the way of that. More surrenders himself to the guard, this wasn’t the conclusion that Cromwell hoped for.

Back at home Cromwell’s told by his sister-in-law that More’s wife has come to talk with him. Lady Alice tells her host, the last time she visited his home was a musty old place. She then says her husband always says that you could put Thomas Cromwell in prison, by evening he’d be sitting on cushions and the jailers would owe him money. He then asks Lady Alice to explain why her husband’s being so stubborn?

She says she’s got no idea what motivates his stance. She then asks Cromwell to deliver a message to her husband. She wants him to ask More if his principles are more important than keeping his wife company, giving his son advice or protecting his daughter? She wants Cromwell to stress More’s proper place’s back home with his family.

More won’t back down, or give in. He says he doesn’t cause or wish anyone harm, he just wants to be left alone to live out his days. Cromwell’s head nearly explodes when he hears More’s words, he then asks More if he remembers Cromwell’s friend James Bainham? The man he had on the rack in More’s own home, the man that More’s men beat so badly, he had to get carried to his execution in a chair. Cromwell slams his hands down on More’s desk, then says he should be grateful he’s not receiving the torture he’s inflicted on others. The Lord Chancellor informs More that the King will proceed with More’s indictment and trial.

Back at Whitehall, Cromwell attempts to soften Henry’s stance on the More situation, but the King instead displays a steely-coldness. When Thomas tells his King, the case against More for treason’s slender and getting a guilty verdict won’t be easy, Cromwell sees that he could also find himself out of Henry’s favor if he fails to come through. He tells Cromwell, that he didn’t bring the son of a blacksmith on for easy assignments. He says Cromwell’s a serpent, but he best not be a viper in Henry’s bosom, he has his assignment, go carry it out. For the first time we see Cromwell with his confidence shaken, he realizes that Henry’s loyalty will only last as long as Cromwell’s effective.

Thomas goes to visit More by himself, he tells the former Lord Chancellor that he’s been instructed to take away the man’s pens, papers and books. More lets out a sigh, then says fine you might as well take them all now. Cromwell pulls the loyalty oath out of his pocket and puts it in front of More. He then tells him his wife came to see him, she wants More home and his family does as well. He says that he’ll supply the barge to escort More home, that soon he can be back in his own bed.

When he realizes More’s refusing to cooperate, he asks if More’s not afraid of the pain he knows that he’ll soon experience. The prisoner admits he’s terrified, but he says the pain won’t be for long and God will erase the memory after it’s over. Cromwell leaves the cell and asks that Richard Riche personally removes all the pens, papers and books from More’s cell.

The day of the trial arrives and Riche says that if they lose the jury, the King will skin them alive. Thomas corrects him, saying it will be Anne who does the skinning. More enters the courtroom looking frail and weak, trying to elicit sympathy from the Parliament members that will determine his fate.

Riche questions More about the conversation that the two of them had when the Solicitor General, took away all of More’s possessions. He states that More said that if Parliament wanted to they could name Riche as the new King of England, but they couldn’t choose Riche to be God. Furthermore, Parliament lacked the authority to name Henry head of the Church Of England.

More tries denying they had that conversation, but his patience quickly wears out and his anger kicks in and he says that Riche’s as important as the devil’s spit. The Lord Chancellor says to address the Solicitor General with the respect he deserves, but More melts down and Parliament quickly convicts him of treason.

The ruling’s announced but before they sentence him, the Lord Chancellor asks More if he has any words on his own behalf. More says he no longer has to keep his tongue in check, then proceeds to rip Henry and Parliament apart verbally. Soon his words are drowned out by the boos of Parliament.

More gets his head chopped off in a public display, Cromwell stands in the crowd and flashes back to his childhood. We see young Thomas as a serving boy, likely about five or six years old and More’s a 14-year-old scholar, already being hailed as a genius by his elders. Thomas remembers watching some of the students playing in the courtyard, but More was in his room, playing his recorder in front of his open window. The young Cromwell waved to the teen, who then shut his window.

Soon after the beheading, Cromwell gets incredibly sick and seems near death as he’s burning with fever and delirious. He thinks Johane’s his late wife Liz and begs her to let him love her. The doctor comes and Cromwell says that if he’s dying he needs to speak to his son Gregory, he’s there but Cromwell passes out. He seems to wake up the next morning, but we realize he’s dreaming as Liz’s next to him in bed. He then wakes up in reality, finding himself alone, his fever broke and he’ll be fine.

Cromwell gets dressed and comes down to his study, giving Rafe the itinerary for the King’s upcoming Summer Progress. He ticks off a bunch of locations, then suddenly stops. Rafe asks him what’s wrong and he tells the young man to insert a five-day visit to Wolf Hall, the home of Sir John Seymour and family in early September.

Sir John and his family come down to welcome the Royal party and he and Henry exchange pleasantries. A couple of rows back stands Seymour’s daughter Jane and she and Cromwell make eye contact with each other.

The Story Continues Next Sunday Night at 10:00 pm on Your Local PBS Affiliate.