I realize they’re less Wolf Hall characters and more historical personages, but I’ve been rewatching Wolf Hall lately — thank God for Mark Rylance’s miserable, beautiful hatchet-hewn face — and consider the overlap remarkable. The key, I’ve realized, is that Fran is not Anne Boleyn, although you might be forgiven for thinking so. She’s Cromwell. From this truth do all other, smaller truths, flow.
She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens, ‘til her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes. What was she to do? Where was she to go? She was out on her fanny. So over the bridge from Flushing to the Sheffield’s door. She was there to sell make-up, but the father saw more. She had style! She had flair! She was there — That’s how she became the Nanny! Who would have guessed that the girl we’ve described, was just exactly what the doctor prescribed? Now the father finds her beguiling — watch out, C.C.! — and the kids are actually smiling — such joie de vivre! — She’s the lady in red when everybody else is wearing tan. The flashy girl from Flushing, the nanny named Fran!
Thomas Cromwell is now a little over forty years old. He is a man of strong build, not tall. Various expressions are available to his face, one is readable: an expression of stifled amusement. … His speech is low and rapid, his manner assured; he is at home in courtroom or waterfront, bishop’s palace or inn yard. He can draft a contract, train a falcon, draw a map, stop a street fight, furnish a house and fix a jury. He will quote you a nice point in the old authors, from Plato to Plautus and back again. He knows new poetry, and can say it in Italian. He works all hours, first up and last to bed. He makes money and spends it. He will take a bet on anything….He thinks, if you were born in Putney, you saw the river every day, and imagined it widening out to the sea. Even if you had never seen the ocean you had a picture of it in your head from what you had been told by foreign people who sometimes came upriver. You knew that one day you would go out into a world of marble pavements and peacocks, of hillsides buzzing with heat, the fragrance of crushed herbs rising around you as you walked. You planned for what your journeys would bring you: the touch of warm terra-cotta, the night sky of another climate, alien flowers, the stone-eyed gaze of other people’s saints. But if you were born in Aslockton, in flat fields under a wide sky, you might just be able to imagine Cambridge: no farther.
Fran Fine as Thomas Cromwell: Of humble beginnings, but with a knack for rising to every opportunity, and for creating opportunities to rise where none exist. “Street smart.” Entirely dependent on the whims of a mercurial British power broker, but knows how to make herself indispensable to him. Frequently suspected of social climbing by her enemies. Frequently accused of being a home-wrecker/facilitator of divorce. Not a Catholic.
“Why are we so attached to the severities of the past? Why are we so proud of having endured our fathers and our mothers, the fireless days and the meatless days, the cold winters and the sharp tongues? It's not as if we had a choice.”
“We begged my mother for a Christmas tree. She called it a Chanukah Bush. P.S., the candles from the menorah set the flocking on fire, and the fumes put my father into the emergency room.”
Mr. Sheffield as Henry VIII: Temperamental, self-obsessed, demanding, “you’re high-maintenance but you think you’re low-maintenance,” Andrew Lloyd Weber complex, why does everyone love him??, a mostly-absent yet overly-sentimental father, constantly saying “I love you” and then taking it back.
“You have put my honour in jeopardy! But what did I expect? What would a man like you know about the honour of princes? You’ve told him you have the king in your pocket? Don’t deny it! You would train me up, like one of your boys – have me touch my cap when you come down in the morning and say ‘How do you, sir?’ I really believe you think you are the King – and I the blacksmith’s boy!”
[Brighton has asked to go to Atlantic City, and has pitted Henry and Cromwell against each other by saying that Henry doesn’t respect her opinion] “I am his father!”
Franwell: “Well, what am I?”
Henry: “The nanny!”
C.C. Babcock as Anne Boleyn: A woman loathed, shamed, executed for her ambition! (C.C. is killed offscreen in season 4 for getting ideas above her station.) A talent for making enemies. Perhaps her greatest enemy is….herself.
Boleyn: “What is this unnatural obsession Henry has with his children? I can count the number of days I spent with my father on one hand.”
Niles as Thomas More: Somehow more British than everyone else, even among other British people. A real bitch. Primarily motivated by hatred of C.C. Knows he deserves better, but that never stops him from being a bitch again.
“Under his clothes, it is well known, More wears a jerkin of horsehair. He beats himself with a scourge, of the type used by some religious orders. What lodges in his mind, Thomas Cromwell’s, is that somebody makes these instruments of daily torture…We don’t have to invite pain in, he thinks. It’s waiting for us: sooner rather than later. Ask the virgins of Rome.
He thinks, also, that people ought to be found better jobs.”
Boleyn: “I find it very unseemly of Henry to start dating again. Isn’t the customary period of morning ten years?”
More: “Die. Let’s find out.”
Rounding out the rest of the cast: Margaret Sheffield as Princess Elizabeth (convinced no boys will ever want to go out with her, often accused of being a “nerd” by Mary Tudor), Brighton Sheffield as Mary Tudor (the worst), Grace Sheffield as Lady Jane Grey (inconsistent age, confusing timeline), Sylvia Fine as Stephen Gardiner (Fran Fine’s natural enemy), Val Toriello as Eustache Chapuys (astute observer of men, hates C.C., conveniently blamed for things she couldn’t possibly be responsible for, always over at someone else’s house instead of her own).