‘Wolf Hall’: Woe to Wolsey in ‘Entirely Beloved’

At the beginning of the second episode of “Wolf Hall,” “Entirely Beloved,” we are still playing with three cards, but will we choose the right one? Just who are the three cards? The BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize novel of the same name “Wolf Hall” continues on PBS with this episode airing on 12 April 2015 at 10 p.m.

The three card game that the clever and worldly but often woeful looking Cromwell showed Wolsey could refer to the Catholic holy trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Or is it the King, the Pope and the Chancellor? Or how about the King Henry (a mercurial Damian Lewis), his wife of 20 years, Catherine of Aragon (Joanne Whalley), and his current love interest, Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy)?

Then there’s another interesting threesome: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour (Kate Phillips). All three women appear in this episode.

The book ends the chapter, “Three-Card Trick,” with a warning. Whatever you do, wherever you dine next, do not sit down with the Boleyns. And yet, for the ambitious man in King Henry VIII’s court, who can resist the temptation?

When this TV episodes begins, it is December of 1529. Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) has taken refuge at Esher. In the book, the chapter’s full name is “Entirely Beloved Cromwell” and covers the spring through December of 1530.

Anne Boleyn and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (Bernard Hill), want Wolsey gone. Cromwell remains loyal to Wolsey, but instead of remaining with his Wolsey, he instead is in London.

Yet things are not easy with a king who so becomes increasingly impatient for a male heir. Cromwell thinks he has an audience with King Henry and yet when Henry arrives he tells Cromwell only that he cannot speak with him.  Stephen Gardiner (Mark Gatiss) can’t help but smirk.

In these trying times, Cromwell also needs comfort. If you recall, his wife, Liz (Natasha Little) died in the first episode along with his two daughters. He’s often alone at home, taken care of by his sister-in-law. He wonders if his brother-in-law doesn’t miss his wife. His wife’s sister, Johane Williamson (Saskia Reeves) tells Cromwell, “His duties not my pleasure.”

“There’s a conversation I shouldn’t have had,” Cromwell thinks. He is “beloved” in the court, but not by the king’s current favorite Anne. Anne summons him for a favor. Someone has passed a note to Anne picturing the queen, Catherine of Aragon, Henry and Anne, “sans tete.”

Again Cromwell has time for a mild flirtation with Mary Boleyn (Charity Wakefield), widow of  William Carey. She was married in 1520 and became King Henry VIII’s mistress by about 1521 and remained so until about 1526.  Mary has two children–a daughter Catherine born in 1524 and a son Henry Carey born in 1526. Both were rumored to be Henry’s children but before DNA we only had looks and the word of the mother to go on. Her husband Sir William Carey has just died in 1528.

Mary gets reprimanded by her younger sister Anne who declares, “This isn’t France and I’m not a fool like you Mary.” Ouch. Mary was easily discarded by Henry and there’s talk that Mary was also readily available in France.

Yet Mary tells Cromwell she wants a husband. “No, what I want is a husband who upsets them and who won’t die.”

Anne Boleyn is of an age, 28. She’s old and ambitious. She is also pushing her king and country recklessly.  “Never mind who grudges it; this will happen. I mean to have him.” Is she a gold digger or a deliciously intelligent and ambitious woman who wishes to serve her king?

If Cromwell is useful to Anne Boleyn and her family, then he just might survive while Wolsey fails in health. Cromwell rises to Privy Council, he hasn’t forgiven those who brought the downfall of Wolsey.

Norfolk describes Cromwell as  “a useful sort to employ” and Cromwell finds a way to interpret King Henry’s dreams to benefit both his king and himself. Despite Henry’s plans, Henry tells Cromwell that he misses Wolsey, the Cardinal of York, every day.

I’m sure Henry has said the same to Catherine of Aragon once and even now to Anne Boleyn. But the king also wants what his heart wants, no matter what the laws of heaven and earth might say.

Toward the end of the episode, Cromwell meets the quiet Jane Seymour, reminding us that the change that Anne Boleyn forced her lover to make, didn’t benefit her for long. If mistresses are disposable, so too are wives, particularly in the dysfunctional family of King Henry VIII.

“Wolf Hall” continues on PBS with this episode airing on 12 April 2015 at 10 p.m.  After the episode airs on TV, it will be available VoD on the PBS Masterpiece webpage.

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