By Jeffrey Edalatpour
When you tune in to PBS’ long-awaited Wolf Hall this Sunday night at 10pm on KQED 9, you’re going to recognize some familiar famous faces and then ask yourself, “Wasn’t he in…? And I’m sure I’ve seen her before!” To save you the trouble of endless Googling, here’s an abbreviated cast resumé.
Among the many stars who populate this production of Henry VIII’s court in the 1520s, you’ll surely recognize the captain of Kate Winslet’s Titanic, Bernard Hill a.k.a the Duke of Norfolk. Game of Thrones fans loved Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Jojen Reed. Here in Wolf Hall he’s sidekick Rafe Sadler, sporting the jauntiest of jaunty trousers. Joanne Whalley, late of The Borgias (and the former Mrs. Val Kilmer), is cast as the unfortunate first wife of Henry, Catherine of Aragon. And who can forget Jonathan Pryce (playing Cardinal Wolsey here) harmonizing with Madonna, the Material Girl herself, as the ambitious Perons of Evita?
However, Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell — the king and his consigliere — are the principal players matching wits in Wolf Hall. Damien Lewis as the sovereign imbues the spirit of Henry VIII with the kind of menace that can only come from holding the power of infinite privilege: he simply will not be constrained by the established rules of the court and country he presides over. In some ways, it feels like a natural progression from his Emmy-winning role on Homeland, as the traitorous Sargeant Brody who betrayed his family and country. Lewis does willful like nobody’s business.
In contrast, Mark Rylance as Cromwell is reserved and restrained, yet just as steadfast and principled. The director, Peter Kosminsky, often shoots Cromwell in shadowy light, indicating an interior world of thought that is half-seen, or merely hinted at. Rylance, celebrated for his stage work in England, is currently shooting his second film for Steven Spielberg. If any actor’s career is on the rise in this production, it’s surely the 55-year-old Rylance.
And if you’re interested in learning more about Lewis and Rylance, Desert Island Discs recently interviewed them both in support of Wolf Hall. Among their music choices, you’ll learn that Lewis was an early Elvis imitator, and that Rylance’s wife composed the music for Wolf Hall.