24 thoughts on “MCM: Thomas Cromwell

  1. I had seen Mark Rylance on stage in some of Shakespeare’s plays before he started doing films and television. The man is never less than brilliant.

  2. My favourite Thomas Cromwell is the late, great Mr Leo McKern, partly for his deviously burly take on Old Crumb, partly because Mr
    Mark Rylance is a curst Oxfordian and I would therefore like him to be locked in the stocks (or, failing that, burned at the stake).

    1. Agreed about Leo. And for all Rylance’s brilliance as an actor, for me he never conveyed the physical menace that Mantel’s Cromwell was supposed to; Rylance was the nice Cromwell. But I think he would have made a really fine Thomas More.

      1. The former curator of Elizabethan manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Dr. Mary Robertson, who is a Thomas Cromwell specialist and to whom Hilary Mantel dedicated “Wolf Hall,” told me that she shares the opinion that Mark Rylance was not sinister enough.

        1. My crackpot casting theory is that Mr Ray Winstone would have made a spot-on Thomas Cromwell (and I wouldn’t sneer at the chance to see him as Thomas Wolsey either).

          After all, who could better convey the “What is THIS doing in the Royal Circle?!?” dynamic so integral to the character, while also looking like someone you wouldn’t want to mess with?

        2. Glad to hear the opinion of so distinguished a Cromwell specialist. And I don’t think Ed’s comment is at all crackpot. I would’ve liked to see Brendan Coyle have a chance at Cromwell.

  3. There’s record of who was granted the Collar of Esses, unlike the Garter, but it would really surprise me if Cromwell never was; Henry gave them out to a LOT of his top legal officials, and Cromwell was certainly one of those for a decade or so. But after August 1537 when he was made a knight of the Garter it’s unlikely that he would ever worn the much-less-significant Esses often, if ever, and certainly wouldn’t have had his portrait painted in it. (Indeed, that’s the kind of promotion that often prompted people to send back an existing portrait to be overpainted with their shiny new honour.) So I think that detail is perfectly legit, especially as he got the Garter so near the end of his life; if a movie begins before 1537, the production either has to shell out for two elaborate collars, or be wrong half the time, or not give him one at all!

    But in Anne of the Thousand Days they would really have done better not to give him one at all; that biker chain looks terrible. As does that scraped-back-and-pomaded hairdo ; it looks downright

    1. The collars tripped me up as I was trying to ID photos — I’m sure costume designers weren’t always doing the research or just used what they had easy access to. Like that crappy chain in Anne of the Thousand Days, yuck!

  4. Mark Rylance for the win!

    Side fact – did you know the portraits of Cromwell and More (both Holbein) at the Frick face each other? They are placed on the same wall, forever judging each other, forever conversing, with a fireplace between them.

    1. As I recall, Bellini’s “St. Francis in the Desert” is between them; he and his–donkey? mule?–make nice intercessories. A wonderful room, in any case.

  5. John Colicos will always live in my science fiction imagination, possibly stronger than in my historical one :)

  6. I know this doesn’t count, but I VASTLY preferred Ben Miles in the RSC production of Wolf Hall to Mark Rylance. I was lucky enough to catch it NYC when it hopped the pond and on top of just having a better physical presence for someone who used to be a boxer, I think Miles straddled the cold politician and man who keeps his people close so much better than Rylance.

  7. The only two of these I’ve seen is “The Tudors” and “Wolf Hall.” I saw “Anne of the Thousand Days” so long ago, that I don’t remember a thing about it. It was interesting contrasting the portrayals by James Frain and Mark Rylance. There was an episode before things started going south for Cromwell, when he was discussing doctrine with an aide or his son – can’t quite remember – but Frain was quite warm and personable in that short scene. It felt like a glimmer of something human in his character outside of the political player, although of course, in the execution scene he was quite the contrast to Thomas More’s calm acceptance. Mark Rylance’s portrayal, on the other hand, seemed extremely controlled, contained – very much an observer of people and situations around him. In truth, considering how Cromwell rose so far above the situation he was born into, it does seem to be a more natural portrayal of someone who carefully insinuated himself into better and better jobs. He used his intelligence, but he wasn’t showing off to the people who mattered. As an aside, I had gone to a friend’s opening weekend of a play at the Gielgud, and Mark Rylance happened to be a couple of rows behind us. He seemed to be nice enough at being recognized, and thankfully the woman next to me who was waving to him didn’t run over and ask for a selfie or an autograph.

  8. You’re missing one: Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet!) played Cromwell in the 1988 version of A Man for All Seasons.
    Not really a patch on the 1966 version, but it does have John Gielgud, Roy Kinnear, Vanessa Redgrave and, er, Charlton Heston as More.

    1. Most sadly miscast. The ascetic, aristocratic Gielgud was totally wrong for jumped up butcher boy Wolsey and while I totally sympathize with Heston’s desire to play More he was physically all wrong for the part.

  9. I must Leo McKern looks the most like the portraits of Cromwell, and he is such good fun in that movie it’s almost easy to forget how unfairly they caricature him. I think his demeanour also makes sense for Cromwell. Cromwell was actually known for being quite personable, even though he was emotionally perhaps reserved inside. Rylance I think, in an attempt to capture that sense of inward imensions and cautiousness, makes him a little too reserved. Which is emphasised by the cut-short dialogue compared to the Wolf Hall books, which alllowed Cromwell to be a bit more vocal.

  10. Leo McKern is the best physical match for the real Cromwell and John Colicos is a deliciously evil villain but Rylance looks more like More than Cromwell.

  11. Interestingly the real Cromwell had something of a reputation for helping ladies in distress. Mary Tudor for example regarded him as a friend, protector and something of a mentor.

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