A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wolf Hall is a historical drama about Thomas Cromwell, an important advisor to King Henry VIII. The drama is largely faithful to real historical events, though it jumps around in time, which may confuse younger viewers or those with less background in the history of the English monarchy. Events move briskly; viewers may find themselves doing quick Web searches as they watch. There are many references to sex, virginity, body parts, sexual acts, and procreation; characters also drink alcohol. References to war and violent threats to political rivals; a boy is beaten terribly by his father until he vomits. Henry VIII was known for executing his advisors and wives; viewers can expect to see this kind of behavior. A mother and two little girls die suddenly; we see their bodies and relatives kneeling over them, weeping.
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What's the story?
Centered on the historical time period of King Henry VIII and the English Reformation, the six-part Masterpiece Theatre series WOLF HALL takes the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance), an influential advisor who rose from a humble background. We see him meet and grow in importance to Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce); we also see his part in the rise and downfall of Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy). As Cromwell ascends in power, he plays a vital part in the annulment of King Henry VIII's (Damian Lewis) marriage with Catherine of Aragon (Joanne Whalley) and becomes an important member of Henry's court. But even a casual student of English history can tell you that Cromwell was headed toward an untimely end.
Is it any good?
Beautifully written and acted, Wolf Hall has the sheen of a classic PBS production from the word go. With magnificently decorated and gilded settings and dramatic political turns in every episode, what we have here is House of Cards transported into the world of The Tudors (but with a lot less sex). Whereas the latter drama was concerned with Henry's romantic intrigues, Wolf Hall keeps things above the belt, focusing on the politics and personalities of the court. The only drawback is that viewers with no background in English history will be swiftly confused. Who's he? Why did he say that? Why is Cromwell mad at him? Events are not underlined or explained; keep the Wikipedia entry on Thomas Cromwell open as you watch.
The drama's choice to follow a nonlinear time line is particularly confusing. In one episode, we may see Cromwell as a young boy, in the court of the king late in his career, and midway in his rise. It definitely adds to the drama -- in real life, years went by between political imbroglios -- but doesn't make figuring out who's who and what's what any easier. All that said, this immersive drama is so beautiful and sumptuous in its details it's hard to look away, even if you may be slightly bewildered.
Talk to your kids about ...
Why does Wolf Hall elect to move around in time? What dramatic possibilities does this offer? Does it make the drama more interesting or confusing?
Wolf Hall was filmed in various historic mansions and palaces. What do these settings add to the drama? Does it make it more or less believable?
Does a viewer need to know something about the period of English history depicted here to enjoy the drama? Why, or why not?