14 October 2021, The Tablet

The shadows of royal power

The shadows of royal power

Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell and Tony Turner as the Ghost of Wolsey in The Mirror and the Light
Photo: Marc Brenner


The enduring appeal of Tudor history is on display in London this week with the opening of both a play and an exhibition

For a dynasty that spent most of the sixteenth century agonising about obliteration and tricks of continuation, the Tudors look remarkably dominant five centuries later, culturally if not politically.

Within 48 hours last week, the world premiere of The Mirror and the Light, an adaptation of the final part of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, chief of court to King Henry VIII as he juggled wives to seek a son, was followed into London by the opening of a lavish display of documentation relating to later tensions between two of the family lines the monarch seeded: “Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens”, its subjects respectively daughter and great-niece of Henry VIII.

The first two Booker Prize-winning parts of Mantel’s Cromwell project – Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up The Bodies (2012) – were adapted by Mike Poulton into paired plays, produced by the RSC, running successfully in Stratford-upon-Avon, London and New York from 2013-15. The playwright’s punchy scripts were later “edited”, as the Broadway programme put it, by Mantel, and Poulton is not involved in the theatre version of the 2020 final book.

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