Thursday, 26 February 2015

He, Cromwell

 I enjoyed the BBC's "Wolf Hall" in the end and went back and got into "Bring Up the Bodies" - even finished it. Mantel and publishers took note of criticism and made it a lot clearer, at the cost of having "He, Cromwell" on nearly every page. (They might almost use it as a subtitle in the reprint.) It was obvious ("clunky") - and annoying when it wasn't inserted but was still needed. And why not just "Cromwell said..." or whatever? It smacks of crisis or even panic editing or revision.

 Mantel reminds me of a neighbour who talks about her many friends as if I know them and thinks I understand their backgrond and histories as well as she does. I'm sure Mantel knew who she meant and identified with Cromwell but why not write it as him, in the first person, if "he" is (nearly) always "he, Cromwell"?

  I enjoyed Rylance's performance but he had to go with the overdone hagiographic line on Cromwell. The evidence, including Holbein's portraits, suggests that he was much nastier - cunning, ruthless, very hard-bitten. I disagree that Rylance gives a minimalist performance. For me, he overdoes the eye movement, the surprised or fearful looks. I imagine the real man was much tougher and stony-faced. But that wouldn't be so theatrical or televisual - or interesting, perhaps.

  Rylance is made to call himself  explicitly "a banker", rather than a lawyer. The parallels are obvious but wouldn't it have been interesting to emphasise also the medieval mindset, rather than the modern British sensibility and idiom? And more emphasis on the religious fanaticism of the times might have tolled a dreadful bell and added significant depth, with continuing topical relevance, unfortunately.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Why Wolf Hall?

 As my friend and follower here and on Twitter @IvorSolomons has pointed out, not a single wolf has yet been seen in this series. But watch this space.

Wolf Effingham Hall

 There's been discussion online about the language of the BBC's "Wolf Hall". Not, mercifully, about the headache-makingly unclear pronouns of the book (who he?), but about the very modern style. This extends into body language and attitudes. When the king, with power of life and death over his subjects, asks Cromwell why he called a French town "a dog hole", Thomas almost shrugs and says with a rising intonation, like an offensively casual teenager, "Because I've been there?" Also at Sir Thomas More's dinner table he asks if his host had become Lord Chancellor by "fucking accident". It sounds like a very modern and aggressive usage quite out of character for the cool, cautious Cromwell.

It has been pointed out, btw, that the f-word does appear in a 16C manuscript. But there it is a monk saying factually what the abbot was up to and is not used as an intensifying adjective. This latter usage may not have come in till the 19C, it seems. (Thanks to world expert on slang Jonathon Green @MisterSlang and to @LoisMcEwan on that.) Although they are often referred to as Anglo-Saxon, several four-letter swear words were not used as such until modern times.

I suppose the orthodoxy is to make historical figures human and, indeed, modern. Wouldn't it be more interesting, though, if they were strange and different, weird even, almost from another planet? After all, these were very superstitious people who believed in all sorts of supernatural and miraculous things and who thought hanging, drawing and quartering and burning alive were suitable judicial punishments. It is a bit like saying if you are teaching inner-city kids, you should read stories and poems about their type of lives and environment. But perhaps they would prefer something rich and strange? Philip Pullman novels come to mind.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Just Reasons

 There are no excuses for terrorism, by individuals, by armies or by states. But there must be reasons. It is not acceptable to be an apologist for murder. But it is legitimate and, indeed, important to discuss the reasons.

This poem of mine was first published in The Rialto, Number 70, Autumn 2010. Thanks again to the editor, Michael Mackmin. Maybe worth repeating.


The women shot in the back of the neck
and pushed into ditches.
Persecution organised,
genocide industrialised.

The bombs on buses,
in restaurants,
the children blown to pieces
on the beach.

Victimisation, apartheid, the wall,
the bulldozed homes, the olive groves.

Just reason, justice, just excuses.
Executions. Terror. Exile. Torture.
Just reasons. No excuse.