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Emily Nussbaum on Wolf Hall

Emily Nussbaum on Wolf Hall


In a review full of quotable passages, Nussbaum raves about the intricate and uncompromising adaption, acknowledging that it might be too much for viewers, while rejoicing in the director’s refusal to use boring voice-overs or other expository tricks.

From the New Yorker review:

Wolf Hall,” the BBC adaptation of two Booker Prize-winning novels by Hilary Mantel, looked ominously like the same old, same old: a costume drama set in sixteenth-century England, scored to classical music, starring actors with faces like romantic ruins—yet another relic wheeled out of the vault.

Instead, the show’s deliberately paced six hours turn out to be riveting, precisely because they are committed, without apology or, often, much explanation, to the esotericism of their subject matter. (“Riveting” is what you call shows like this when you enjoy them; “dense” is what you say when you don’t.) Once I got comfortable with hitting Pause and consulting Wikipedia as needed, I found the series beginning to expand and deepen, intensifying with each episode.

Nussbaum focuses on the many ways the show ignores convention, and the real power dynamics and manipulations behind the storyline.

Now that the show has developed, do you agree with Nussbaum? Has it maintained your interest?


Posted by David Streever


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I’ve read the books. The production is true to Mantel’s telling: no glitz, no long romantic interludes. For those of us who are intrigued by the complexity of human nature and of the test of power, this offering is riveting. (Mostly) subtle yes, boring no.

Ann Fontaine

Lera – please use your full name when commenting. Thanks. Editor

John Banks

I often watch historical programs with Wikipedia at the ready. “Wolf Hall” is no exception.

David Allen

Make that a “me too.” But I do that with a lot of TV shows with any kind of fact based or historic nature. What did I do 15 years ago?

Bro David

Richard Edward Helmer

I find it refreshingly nuanced, especially when compared with the often overblown, over-acted, over-sexed, and otherwise banal depictions of the key players in the Tudor period.

Most compelling to me is the dynamic between Cromwell and Moore. They seem to effortlessly portray the prescient political struggle between pragmatism and idealism, culminating dramatically not so much in More’s execution, but in Cromwell’s devastating decision to separate his life-long idol from his beloved books and writing.

The BBC adaptation captures the mix of motivations and the dark complexities of the time without any characters pandering for special sympathy — except, perhaps, from the King!

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