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Wolf Hall: Episode One Recap + Pinboard

MASTERPIECE takes us into the intriguing world of the Tudors with Wolf Hall: a fictionalized account of Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII, based on the best-selling novels Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Guest blogger Amie Simon gives us a recap of the premiere episode and a hint of what’s to come in this six-part miniseries airing on KCTS 9 Sunday, April 5 at 10pm.

In contrast to the decadent world of the Tudors that we usually see in television and film adaptations, Wolf Hall aims its much grittier and less glamorous lens at Thomas Cromwell—a man who moved up the ranks from lawyer to Lord Chancellor and ended up as a trusted advisor to King Henry VIII.  

Master Cromwell (veteran stage actor Mark Rylance) starts the premiere episode—cleverly titled “Three Card Trick”—as Cardinal Wolsey’s lawyer. Having recently fallen out of favor with the King, the Cardinal is saved by Cromwell’s quick thinking. Impressed with his knowledge and quick wit, Wolsey hires Cromwell to work for him in a position that Cromwell describes to his wife as “doing whatever he [the Cardinal] wants."

Thomas quickly recognizes the political importance of the job as well as the challenges, and with that in mind he decides to pay a visit to the King’s future bride. Upon meeting the young Anne Boleyn, Cromwell immediately recognizes what the Cardinal couldn’t: on top of what Anne means to the King she is a dangerous adversary! Wolsey set his downfall in motion years earlier when he separated Anne from her lover, Harry Percy, and now the lady wants her revenge.  

As time moves on, Cromwell faces opposition from colleagues and new enemies—facing strong criticism in particular from Sir Thomas More about why he’s choosing to serve a disgraced Cardinal, among other things (something about Cromwell killing a man?!). But what his critics don’t know is that with every secret Wolsey gives him about the King, Cromwell is one step closer to taking his place at Henry’s side. 

In fact, the last five minutes of this episode introduce us to the fiery King Henry (Damian Lewis from Homeland), who confronts Cromwell and challenges him to explain Wolsey’s motives for continuing to defy his wishes. I mean, all the man wants is an annulment of his marriage after 20 years; seems reasonable, right?

Determined to make the smartest move forward, Thomas faces the King head on and plays his cards well even while faced with threats, which surprises the King. It’s clear that Cromwell will continue to impress Henry, and he’s well on his way to being appointed as his trusted advisor by the next episode. 

We can guess what happens to Cromwell based on history, but won’t it be fun to watch and see how he wins over the King, and to enjoy watching the tumultuous relationship he forms with Anne Boleyn as well? Watch the drama of Cromwell’s ascent to power. Wolf Hall airs every Sunday at 10pm with encore presentations airing Wednesdays at 3:50pm on Tea Time.  

Are you a history buff who also appreciates fiction? We put together a pinboard of fiction and non-fiction novels similar to Wolf Hall, and about Thomas Cromwell and the history of the Tudors—including Henry VIII and his many, many, many wives. 

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