In my life I have watched some marvelous adaptations on TV that I have never forgotten. These stretch back some time. Is there anybody here who remembers the Count of Monte Cristo starring Alan Badel? I remember seeing this on one of our first television sets, fifteen inch screen and in black and white. There used to be a slot on Sundays at 5.30pm and this was always the time for a 'classic' serial such as the Count and Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and many more and I watched them all. The BBC was always regarded as the home of such dramatisations and then BBC2 came along and their first such was Middlemarch with Michelle Dotrice playing Dorothea and many more afterwards.
We all have our cherished memories of our favourites and I am pretty sure that Wolf Hall is now going to join the pantheon of Great Television. I will be honest and say that I failed with the first book. I tried it three times and simply could not get on with it and gave up in the end. I also have to say that I find Hilary Mantel's personality somewhat abrasive which also did not make me feel I had to make a further effort. And in case you want to know why I do not care for her and the reason, well there is no hope of a rational reply. Just one one those things and I know full well that if I only read books by writers I liked or who were warm and cuddly, I would soon find myself in difficulties.
Wolf Hall was trailed so extensively by the Beeb that I began to feel well Sod You I am not going to watch it but realised that this would be a severe case of Nose Cutting so tuned in fully prepared to switch off after ten minutes. I nearly did but something made me hold off from waving the remote. And boy am I glad I did. By the end of the first episode I was 75% certain I was liking it and then a re-watch on iPlayer confirmed that this was bloody good. By the end of the second hour, well that was it, totally hooked.
So where to start? The beginning is a very good place to start (pace Julie Andrews): the casting. Here again I have to say I had my doubts having seen Mark Rylance as Henry V at the Globe and being left fairly unmoved. He has never been somebody I felt I had to watch, he is now. So quiet, so still the slightest eye movement, lift of an eyebrow or a look expressing so much. The only other actor who does this so well is Michael Kitchen in Foyle's War. Then Damien Lewis as Henry. Not too bluff, not too domineering at first but the outburst of rage at the French Ambassador, the chilling coolness and antipathy towards Anne Boleyn and that final shot of the series where he embraces Cromwell after the execution of Anne and the close up of his evil gloating face. Shiver. And that execution scene left me totally drained....
The entire cast was brilliant and full of British thesps all making acting look so easy it was seamless. The candlelit interiors, the feeling that we were watching people going about their business, not knowing that from a historical point of view they would never be forgotten, that the despised Elizabeth would be one of our greatest Queens (Rylance made this point in the talk after the final episode), just getting on with day to day life.
Music - yes there was music but for most of each episode it was non existent. The scenes where the protagonists spoke to each other and plotted and planned was done with no background orchestration or violins or rolling drums or anything of that kind. This made it even easier to concentrate and to understand what was going on and I found myself sitting forward totally involved and listening to every word. It gave the viewer a total theatrical experience and was quite spellbinding. BBC please note.
I have not mentioned any of the other actors simply because if I did this post would go on for pages. Just take it from me that there was not a duff performance anywhere from anybody.
Many of my readers are based in the USA and elsewhere and this will be coming your way in due course. Please do not miss.
Simply superb and I am now going to have another crack at the books.
And as a footnote, I would love to hear if any of you have a memorable TV series you remember from years back which has always stayed with you. Apart from the aforementioned Count of Monte Cristo, the 1973 War and Peace with Anthony Hopkins and Alan Dobie has stayed with me, ditto Derek Jacobi in I, Claudius. Do let me know.