The much-anticipated, no-expense-spared BBC television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s multi-award-winning books about King Henry VIII’s advisor Thomas Cromwell hit the screens this week and achieved one of the largest audience figures for a new drama on the channel in a decade, together with near-unanimous praise from the critics.
It was good to be sure, but for myself I have to say I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t even better, twisted and ungrateful though that sounds. I loved Mantel’s original book after which the series is named (the latter half of the six-episode run will be based on the sequel, Bring Up The Bodies) and found it one of the best books I’d ever read, whereas this all-star screen version is … merely excellent television. Read the rest of this entry »
Hilary Mantel certainly doesn’t need any help or favourable reviews from me for her work: she’s wowed all the professional critics and absolutely dominated the literary scene over the last few years, scooping up pretty much every major award going with her most recent two novels, Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies, both set in the court of King Henry VIII.
Usually, the label ‘award winning’ when applied to a novel is a clear sign that it’s not my type of book and that I should steer well clear: I tend to go for the sort of genre fiction that awards committees wouldn’t look twice at (thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, that sort of thing.) Nor did the subject matter appeal to me, since if there’s one tale in history that’s been done to death over the years in various page and screen adaptations then it has to be the tale of England’s much-married 16th century monarch.
So how was it from such unpromising signs and portents, that I ended up reading this book? Well, I blame George RR Martin. I’ve recently finally been drawn into the world of Game of Thrones and become mildly obsessive about it, but I have an aversion to reading the books so soon after seeing a TV adaptation (or vice verse) so when it came to finding a book to read while waiting for the new HBO episodes I went looking for something “similar to Game of Thrones.” You might think that meticulously researched historical faction couldn’t be further from Martin’s fantasy world of Westeros, but you would be wrong: the thing that appealed to me about Game of Thrones is that it’s not a story stuffed full of orcs, goblins and elves but instead takes its inspiration more from the medieval War of the Roses and its aftermath than it does from anything in Tolkien’s writings.
That was enough to get me to download the e-book ‘sneak peek’ of the first pages of Wolf Hall, even though I wasn’t expecting much. Instead, it gripped me from the very first line, and the hold only grew as I read on. Read the rest of this entry »