Mantel's Tudor 'soap opera' strikes chord in modern London

Mon May 19, 2014 4:15am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - Five centuries after he ruled the roost in Tudor England, Henry VIII’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell is playing to packed houses in London in two plays based on the best-selling novels of Hilary Mantel.

It is further evidence of how her double Man Booker prize-winning books "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies", which have sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, resonate for modern audiences with their mix of political and sexual intrigue.

The story of the matching and despatching of the king's wives - and the resulting political earthquake as Henry breaks with Rome to create a new Church of England - speaks across the ages, according to Mantel.

"This is our national soap opera," she said in an interview. "Henry is a monster king - a Bluebeard - with his wives and their various fates. No-one else has a king who marries six wives and executes two of them. It is one of our national glories, you know."

The combined six-hour drama has just transferred to London's West End after a sell-out run in Stratford-upon-Avon. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production had its press night on Saturday, winning more rave reviews.

There is also a BBC television version of the books in the works, to be broadcast next year, with Mark Rylance as Cromwell and "Homeland" star Damian Lewis as Henry VIII.

They now have their work cut out to better the RSC show, which is played out on a stark set dominated by a giant cross that underscores the religious backdrop of the plotting and love matches going on the foreground.

The freshness of Mantel's approach comes from telling the well-worn tale of Henry VIII through the lens of Cromwell, a brilliant and multilingual politician, lawyer, businessman and one-time mercenary.   Continued...

Actors Ben Miles (as Thomas Cromwell) and Lydia Leonard (as Anne Boleyn) perform in an adaptation of Hilary Mantel's books "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies" during a photocall at the Aldwych Theatre in London May 15, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor