Will the real Thomas please stand up!

While we’re on books, I never got around to publishing my post on which Thomas I love. Remember my post about Wolf Hall?

I have read, watched and taught the play, The Man for all Seasons by Robert Bolt. 

In that play Thomas More is portrayed as a noble, strong and honourable man. Thomas Cromwell is plainly evil. 

Mantel’s portrayal is less simplistic, less dichotomous. 

In Wolf Hall there are no true heroes, no noble, pure of spirit men. Everyone is ambitious, out to use what they have to advance – in power, in wealth, in the king’s favour. 

The More here is not the More of Bolt’s play.  Nor is Cromwell. 

Mantel’s More is a misogynst who enjoys embarrassing his wife. Hypocritical, he claims to harm no one yet tortures heretics.  He is a wholly unappealing man. 

Cromwell on the other hand is a supreme manipulator yet sees his own foibles, character flaws, weaknesses. He has that mix of menace, physical and mental strength, self-awareness, tenderness and necessary humour that makes him so appealing. 

Is it accurate? Is the language too modern? Is the humour of its time? Was Cromwell ever thus? So perceptive, so understanding of others with such a quick mind, fast to calculate all manner of figures, concepts, verbal arguments, linguistic gymnastics. Multi-lingual. Tender and attentive to his extended family. 

 Is this rewriting history?

Well, it’s a novel so fiction can take liberties. It does make you reconsider how things are portrayed. What is “the truth”.

The BBC series is brilliant. 

As in the book, Henry VIII is presented as a self-absorbed, self-indulgent perpetual adolescent. Damien Lewis, who I loved as the maligned Soames Forsyte in the TV series of The Forstye Saga, makes a grand Henry. 

It is the Thomas Cromwell of the novel who has sparked my interest in the whole Henry-Anne Boleyn saga, more than any other representation. I so want to go back to  Hampton Court; walk the corridors and think of Cromwell, Rylance’s Cromwell. 

It is for this Thomas Cromwell that I keep reading the novel. 

And I see Mark Rylance may win the BAFTA for his acting as Cromwell. 

Cromwell was my man of last summer. And will keep a warm spot for him when I finally get around to reading the second book. 


4 thoughts on “Will the real Thomas please stand up!

  1. For a minute I was getting confused with Oliver Cromwell. Everywhere we went in Ireland there were ruined castles that Cromwell had put paid to.

    I’d love to watch the BBC series and read the book. Another for the list!

    • Yes, I got mixed up with Oliver Cromwell too. Though he was descended from Thomas Cromwell. Watch at least the first episode of the series first or the book won’t make sense. Too many Thomases and Henrys.

  2. I like learning or reading about this period in history and may eventually get to the books…so does this mean your infatuation with Ned Kelly has been downgraded?

    • No. Ned is still up there. Irish Australian rebel, Robin Hood-like, champion horse rider. Keeps him high on the list.

      I went into an English class last week. Class was looking at different perspectives on… Ned, of course. I gave them 10 minutes of my view. I think they were like, “I wish she’d stop talking so we can get on with our work.” But they are all too polite to say it.

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