Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Distortions of "Wolf Hall"

In spite of some fine performances, Wolf Hall is a gross distortion of history, worse than The Tudors because it takes itself so seriously. Now, Anne Boleyn is not one of my favorite people. I am solidly in Katherine of Aragon's camp. However, it cannot be denied that Anne knew clothes and knew how to dress. She would not have been caught dead in an ill-fitting wrinkled bodice. And her French was impeccable. She had served in the household of Claude of France!

Of course, the coup de foudre is seeing the urbane, witty humanist Saint Thomas More portrayed as a prissy fanatic. Anyone who has ever read anything that More ever wrote would know better than to portray him as a prig. He was the ultimate Renaissance man!

I feel sorry for whatever happened to Hilary Mantel to make her hate the Catholic Church so much. The hatred overwhelms her ability to write a credible depiction of the English Reformation. As the Telegraph reports her saying: "I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.” But there she has a point. We Catholics are not respectable; we are sinners seeking redemption. To quote Oscar Wilde: "The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners. For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do."

According to The Washington Post:
Questions about “Wolf Hall” have been raised not only by the Catholic faithful but also in the academy. Professor David Starkey, a historian and president of Britain’s National Secular Society, said there is “not a scrap of evidence” for the narrative and describes the plot as “total fiction.”

Simon Schama, the respected Jewish historian and veteran television presenter, writes in the Financial Times that while he believes that historical novelists should have some leeway for invention and imagination, Mantel has gone too far.

“It grates a bit to accept that millions now think of Thomas Cromwell as a much-maligned, misunderstood pragmatist from the school of hard knocks who got precious little thanks for doing Henry VIII’s dirty work,” Schama writes. “When I was doing research for ‘A History of Britain,’ the documents shouted to high heaven that Thomas Cromwell was, in fact, a detestably self-serving, bullying monster who perfected state terror in England, cooked the evidence, and extracted confessions by torture.”

The question arises: Outside of ivory tower debates, what do these warring versions of the story mean to you and me?

Mantel’s version could obscure important lessons from that dark period that have continuing relevance for the present moment.

Mantel demonizes More, turning him into a pinched, pedantic prig, ready to torture heretics at the drop of a hat. She seems to imply that he represents little more than religious violence and fanaticism.

But the truth is that More and his fellow Christian humanists such as Erasmus were not only harsh critics of the Catholic Church but also ardent reformers. They were proponents of an educational program that relied less on abstract theology and more on great literature that renders the ambiguities and conflicts between competing claims to truth in experiential terms. The humanists of that era, including More, saw Europe succumbing to increasing polarization and “culture wars” and held out a vision of dialogue and slow, steady change. (Read more.)


papabear said...

I had not heard of this; if I watch I'll do it with the sound off so I can just enjoy the costumes.

elena maria vidal said...

The acting is really superb as well.