History Lesson! Trace the Timeline of Juicy Drama Wolf Hall

first_img View Comments Starting From the BottomThomas Cromwell was born in 1485 in Putney, England. As a teenager, Cromwell left England, first to be was a mercenary soldier in France, later to work for the wealthy Frescobaldi banking family in Italy. Back in England he began his political career in the employ of the influential Cardinal Wolsey. He would rise to political prominence during one of the most formative times in English history, eventually becoming a member of parliament and an advisor to Henry VIII, making him the second most powerful man in England. He was instrumental in Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon (and thus the Catholic church) and marriage to Anne Boleyn, the death of Catholic stalwart Thomas More and Anne’s eventual beheading—a fate Cromwell met himself in 1540. Casting CromwellWhen playwright Mike Poulton began whittling Mantel’s novels down to two plays, Mantel was on hand to act as “the history police” in an extensive editing process—Wolf Hall the novel would take 24 hours to read aloud and has 100 characters, while the play runs three hours and has a cast of 21 actors, The New York Times. Casting Cromwell was crucial—James McAvoy played him in an early reading—but the role ultimately went to Miles, notably of the British TV rom-com series Coupling. “Ben can turn from charismatic into menace at the flip of a hat, and that’s Hilary’s Cromwell,” said director Jeremy Herrin. “You need to be appalled but amused by him at the same time.” Making (Up) HistoryMany books later, Mantel finally pitched her publisher the idea of a Cromwell novel, loosely tied to the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession to the throne. “I think it took me half a page of Wolf Hall to think: this is the novel I should have been writing all along,” she said. The book begins in 1500 and ends with Thomas More’s death in 1535. The title comes from the historic home of the Seymour family—Jane Seymour was Henry VIII’s third wife and her sister Elizabeth married Thomas Cromwell’s son Gregory. (Mantel also thought it “seemed an apt name for wherever Henry’s court resided”). It wasn’t until Mantel was nearly done with Wolf Hall that she realized the story needed to be a trilogy. Bring Up the Bodies, published in 2012, takes place in less than one year, from the death of Thomas More through Anne Boleyn’s execution. The Mirror and the Light, which will trace Cromwell’s fall from grace and eventual execution in 1540, is set for release later this year. Winner, WinnerNo matter their personal opinions of Cromwell, critics raved. “Wolf Hall has epic scale but lyric texture,” raved The New York Times. “Its 500-plus pages turn quickly, winged and falconlike.” Bring Up the Bodies fared just as well, with critics praising Mantel’s ability to write historical novels that are far from dusty. “She knows that what gives fiction its vitality is not the accurate detail but the animate one, and that novelists are creators, not coroners, of the human case,” said The New Yorker. Mantel won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2009, as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award. When Bring Up the Bodies won the same award in 2012, Mantel became the first British author, and the first woman, to even win the Man Booker Prize twice. Superman or Supervillain?Becoming a literary star didn’t make Cromwell a hero—in his review of Wolf Hall in The New York Review of Books, Stephen Greenblatt compared Cromwell to Lavrenti Beria, Stalin’s chief of secret police. Mantel herself has compared him to movie mafia kingpin Don Corleone. But that never dissuaded Mantel. “It wasn’t that I wanted to rehabilitate him. I do not run a Priory clinic for the dead,” she told The Guardian. Her life has changed so drastically since she started “working: with Cromwell that, as she told The Telegraph, “I wish I’d sent him my CV earlier.” It does explain why Ben Miles, who has played Cromwell since the RSC premiered the plays, preps for show time by letting loose on a punching bag in his dressing room. Life Imitates ArtMantel is writing the third Cromwell novel during rehearsals for Wolf Hall on Broadway, and there’s no question that Miles’ performance has helped Mantel shape it. “He’s solved certain problems for me,” said Mantel. “He’s pinned me to the moment and made me think deeply.” The epic theatrical event may seem daunting, but cast member Lydia Leonard put it into juicy perspective. “It’s kind of like House of Cards meets The Sopranos,” she told Broadway.com. “A dangerous, dangerous place to be.” “It’s a great story of success and survival against the odds,” added Miles. Both assured us that the fast-paced political drama is plenty modern for today’s audiences—as long as those seeing both parts in one day follow Nathaniel Parker’s sage advice and make a dinner reservation between shows! For hundreds of years, Thomas Cromwell was a villainous footnote in the spectacular story of Henry VIII, until Hilary Mantel turned a spotlight on the humble lawyer-turned-royal right hand and shrewd, ruthless political manipulator in her wildly successful novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Now those books, re-christened Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two for the Broadway stage, are bringing this epic, six-hour fictionalized history full of lust, passion and power grabs to the Winter Garden Theatre on April 9, starring Ben Miles as Cromwell, Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII and Lydia Leonard as Anne Boleyn. A Meteoric RiseMiles has been with the project since it premiered at Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon in early 2014, and moved quickly to the Aldwych Theatre in London’s West End that May. RSC’s artistic director Gregory Doran questioned plans to adapt Mantel’s novels for the stage when it was announced that the BBC was planning a mini-series adaptation starring Mark Rylance as Cromwell, Damian Lewis as Henry VIII and Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Wolsey—but that TV adaptation, initially scheduled to air in late 2013, arrived on American televisions in March of this year. The RSC premiere sold out, and the West End transfer broke box office records for a straight play and is currently nominated for the Olivier Award for Best Play, and the original cast is readying to open on Broadway. Wolf Hall Part One A Writer Prepares”I only became a novelist because I thought I had missed my chance to become a historian,” British author Hilary Mantel told The Paris Review. “I suppose if I have a maxim, it is that there isn’t any necessary conflict between good history and good drama.” Mantel had also studied to be a lawyer until she could no longer afford the tuition. She was working in a Manchester shop in the ’70s when she began writing her first novel about the French Revolution, but telling the story of Cromwell was already on her mind. “I got myself stuck in the 18th century; my career had developed its logic,” she said. “I had to come to a point where I could just stop and say: I’m going away to learn the Tudors, and I will be back in approximately five years.” Related Shows Show Closed This production ended its run on July 5, 2015last_img

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