It’s not brilliant, is it? There are some great actors with very good performances. Mark Rylance and Damien Lewis are very good, and it’s nice to see Mark Gatiss in a serious role. The story stays fairly tight to the book (possibly a good thing when dealing with history and such good source material). The settings and costumes are impressive. There are many positives, but it seems to lack direction – both in pacing and (for want of a better word) in direction.
I’m not a fan of the hand held style of camera work that Peter Kosminksy uses and it’s a bit uncompromising towards viewers unfamiliar with the book, who will barely get time to register the characters before one scene jumps into another. These jumps make the script a bit of a letdown, lines and events that should stand out are neutered by the lack of suspense. The show simply does not have time for the level of detail that Mantel can use, and it desperately needs to make some.
There have also been discussions on the accuracy of Mantel’s book. Historian Tom Holland criticized it for being “a wee bit boring.”, but also weighed into other criticisms of its pro-Cromwell/anti-More/anti-Catholic bias. Personally, I don’t have too much issue with this – it’s from Cromwell’s point of view so leaning to his side seems reasonable. And as I said in my review of Peter Ackroyd’s The Tudors, even in a factual account I did find it genuinely surprisingly how unsaintly Thomas More was at times. It isn’t entirely accurate, but it is a work of fiction and it uses that freedom to err effectively.
Maybe it just needs time to settle in, the second episode was an improvement. In the world of post-“The Wire” television, you can’t really write off a series after just an episode (even for a shorter series like this). Along with a grasp of history, it requires the viewers attention to really work but so far it isn’t really earning that level of effort.