“Wolf Hall” Accurate?

Those in the UK will be lucky to see the new mini-series adapted from Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, this January. For those of us in America, we will have to wait until April when it’s aired on PBS. In spite of the long wait. Let’s review on the accuracy of this show.

So we have no cod-pieces because they thought American audiences, or others for that matter, would squirm at it. Okay BBC, first of all, not all of us in America are ignorant about cod-pieces or the fact that they are not sexual in any way. But anyways, refraining myself from an upcoming rant I will go to the most important points of this article: Accuracy. And how does Wolf Hall score in this respect?

If I could give it a score from 0 to 100 based on the photographs and articles I have seen written of it, as well as historians weighing in on it , I would give it a 90. (Yes not a 100 because of the lack of cod-pieces.)

To be honest, it was about time we had a series that other from being entertaining and being a Glee-style travesty of history, invested its big budget on accuracy. “The Tudors” was entertaining, many people liked it (myself included) but it was not accurate. Not by a long shot. In terms of acting it was great, new talent was discovered, young actors got their careers bolstered and I am glad. But the series missed a lot of good points such as Henry VIII’s two sisters that got merged into one because apparently Hirst believed we (the audience) would be too stupid to distinguish from the many Marys on the show. Hilary Mantel thankfully is not making the same mistake. And neither does the production team behind “Wolf Hall”.

There has been an intricate attention to detail, from costuming to the way people  acted or were attended by their ladies. in this scene where Anne Boleyn is about to be crowned; she is not just about to be crowned in the traditional sense as we’ve seen on TV. But the complete ritual is about to be displayed.

Anne Boleyn's Coronation from "Wolf Hall" (2015)
Anne Boleyn’s Coronation from “Wolf Hall” (2015)

She sits in the chair, crowned with a beautiful white dress and is visibly pregnant. She holds the scepter and the rod and on her forehead is none other than the heavy crown of St. Edward. Let’s remember this because it is very important! Anne was not crowned as her predecessor was with the traditional crown worn by Queen Consorts. She was crowned with the crown of St. Edward. Henry wanted to make a powerful political statement that this Queen was not only going to be his true queen and his true wife but that their heir that was nestling safely in her womb would be his undoubted successor.

Secondly, before she even reaches the chair she has to complete the long ritual of prostrating herself before the altar. For this, it had to be a complete ordeal for Claire Foy who was wearing a baby bump to simulate Anne’s real pregnancy.  Lucy Worsley gave her advice how to accomplish this:

Anne Boleyn accurately prostrates herself before the altar, before sitting on the chair and being crowned. This ritual has not been depicted in the latest historical dramas.
Anne Boleyn accurately prostrates herself before the altar, before sitting on the chair and being crowned. This ritual has not been depicted in the latest historical dramas.

“Foy reveals that the ‘baby bump’ is uncomfortable under her costume, and isn’t sure how to ‘prostrate’ herself to the ground before the altar. With his customary attention to detail, director Peter Kosminsky asks me, as a historian, how she should do it. We agree that two of Anne’s ladies in waiting should help their pregnant mistress down to the floor.”

After the Mass ended, she made her way to Whitehall where a banquet was held in her honor. Upon her arrival the heralds cried:

“Now the noble Anna bears the sacred diadem.”

Anne’s victory was nearly complete. now all she needed was to give birth to a son. Anne was visibly pregnant during the ceremony, some whispered she had conceived before their marriage in January of that year (some historians place it before or after, depending on what sources they are using). This ceremony was significant because it guaranteed Anne’s place next to Henry and their offspring’ legitimacy.

In spite of all of this; there are some things that the series missed and this is that it will keep perpetuating the ‘dark Spaniard’ myth that all Spaniards are dark-haired- dark-eyed, etc.

Now the actress portraying Katherine of Aragon is not black-haired as Irene Papas in the “Anne of a Thousand Days” movies but she wears too much make up that makes her look too old and she looks very thin.
Katherine of Aragon had grown plumper as her predecessor, her mother in law Elizabeth of York had. The series of miscarriages and tragedies she had suffered -and the added stress- made her lose her figure but by no means did she look *that* old. Secondly, it was Anne who was dark-haired and dark-eyed and had olive skin and Katherine who was red-haired and with fair skin and blue eyes. Joanna Whalley by contrast is fair skinned, but her hair is not red enough and her eyes are dark brown, but at the same time she is shown wearing gable hoods and wearing the color purple which is very important if we want to talk about accurate costuming. Tudor society was very elitist. Everyone was put into boxes, or categorized according to their wealth and lineage. Thomas Cromwell and his family wear very sober colors, they have a lot of material artifacts thanks to the social mobility experienced during this period; but this doesn’t change the fact that they are still part of the middle class and not the elite. Royals, as they were above everyone else would wear specific colors. Purple was one of them.

Wolf Hall's Katherine of Aragon (played by Joanne Whalley) looking older in the second picture, once again perpetuates the Spanish stereotype. Although she is younger in the first episode, wearing the color purple and a gable hood as the ones she wore in the portraits of her; she still doesn't fit the mold of Katherine. Katherine was red haired -a fact that is mentioned in the episode when Wolsey remarks to Cromwell how "beautiful" she was and "how she dances, that red hair"- with blue eyes. This Katherine's red hair has lost its shine, but her eyes are dark brown.
Wolf Hall’s Katherine of Aragon (played by Joanne Whalley) looking older in the second picture, once again perpetuates the Spanish stereotype. Although she is younger in the first episode, and wears the color purple and a gable hood; she still doesn’t fit the mold of Katherine. Katherine was red haired -a fact that is mentioned in the episode when Wolsey remarks to Cromwell how “beautiful” she was and “how she dances, that red hair”- with blue eyes. This Katherine’s red hair has lost its shine, but her eyes are dark brown.

But I guess, like with Katherine of Aragon, we can’t have it all can we?

Nonetheless, the production looks very good, the clothes are very accurate, the hoods, the castles -the way they are decorated-, and everything else in general looks spectacular and I, as many history buffs, will be looking forward to this production when it hits the States in April.

Sources:

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4 thoughts on ““Wolf Hall” Accurate?

  1. Aud January 4, 2015 / 11:11 pm

    Excellent article! I pretty much agree with everything here, and despite some of the inaccuracies, am looking forward to Wolf Hall!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Minerva Casterly January 4, 2015 / 11:22 pm

      Me too. It is too bad it is going to show on April on the States 😦 (Time needs to fly by soon!)

      Like

    • Minerva Casterly January 4, 2015 / 11:44 pm

      I remember that article, thanks for sharing it 🙂 I can see why some of the producers do tweakings here and there, but it is when they do it too much that I don’t like. I love the gowns too, especially the pink gown that Anne wears where she is with her ladies and sees Cromwell 🙂

      Like

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