“Wolf Hall” Season 1 Episode 1 “Three Card Trick” premiered on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, at 9:00 p.m. on BBC Two. The dense story of the pilot episode charts the origins of Thomas Cromwell’s rise as King Henry VIII’s most trusted advisor. Read on for the recap.
The episode begins with a foreword that says it is 1529. King Henry VIII (Damian Lewis) is pushing for the annulment of his marriage with Queen Catherine (Joanne Whalley). The queen, married to the king for two decades, has not given him an heir, so the king intends to marry Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy) in her place. This is strongly opposed by the church, specifically Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce).
Wolsey has many enemies, including the Duke of Norfolk. He demands that because of his refusal to grant the king’s annulment, the cardinal should be stripped off his seal. Boleyn is the duke’s niece, by the way.
But Wosley has a loyal ally on his side, the lawyer Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance). He regards the cardinal like his father, when his own father has failed as a parent. In a flashback, it is revealed that Wosley is also fond of Cromwell because they come from similar backgrounds. They’re both sons of laborers — Cromwell, a blacksmith’s son, and Wosley, a butcher’s son — who worked their way to the posts they currently hold.
The episode goes back to eight years ago, before the cardinal’s ouster. Cromwell is a witness to the dinner between the cardinal and the Duke. They’re discussing the king’s affairs. The duke sees Cromwell and acknowledges that he is a nobody, thus their discussions are safe and secure. But Cromwell, early on, exhibited that he is smart, sharp and capable. Wosley knows his talent all too well, which is why he keeps him in his employ.
Eighteen months before Wosley’s downfall, and he’s hearing grounds for the annulment of the King’s marriage to Catherine. She stands on trial, barring the state of her first marriage to Arthur, Henry’s older brother, to determine its legality. It’s a long and tricky process, one that puts Cromwell’s master on the spot.
Back to the present period, Cromwell arranges to fight for Wosley’s case, as well as seek a post back in the parliament. He thinks he can reason with the king’s mistress, Anne Boleyn. She agrees to meet with him, only to antagonize him. But Cromwell establishes that he is a man who cannot be easily dissuaded, impressing Boleyn with his mastery of many languages.
Cromwell discovers that Anne has a secret lover, Mark Smeaton (Max Fowler). He threatens him that he will not forget their encounter.
Cromwell is invited to dinner by Thomas More (Anton Lesser), the Archbishop of York and the cardinal’s biggest rival. He convinces Cromwell to leave his master as he is the chancellor now. Of course, he doesn’t do that. He remains loyal to Wosley. It was despite losing his wife and daughters to a plague while serving the cardinal in France.
Cromwell is only left with a son, Gregory. His father thinks little of as he’s not smart like his departed sister. The episode segues to flashbacks of Cromwell’s childhood, where he endured beatings from his father.
In the final minutes, King Henry appears and takes his private time with Cromwell to discuss the accusations against Wolsey. He has to be tried on several indictments, 44, in fact. Cromwell also boldly speaks to the king of his policies and the matter with Boleyn.
The short conversation they have makes the king see that Cromwell is hardly a nobody. This man’s opinions bear weight. He makes sense, even if the king does not like what he said at this point.
The episode ends with Cromwell returning to Wosley’s residence. A servant asks if they should paint over the cardinal’s coat of arms. But he instructs to do otherwise — to paint it brighter and bolder. He’s on a mission to fight back for his master.
And that’s the recap of “Wolf Hall” Season 1 Episode 1 “Three Card Trick,” which premiered on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, at 9:00 p.m. on BBC Two. The series will also air on PBS in the US beginning April 5, 2015.
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