George Weigel takes on the BBC’s paean to anti-Catholicism and bad history:
Wolf Hall, the BBC adaptation of Hillary Mantel’s novel about early Tudor England, began airing on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater” Easter Sunday night. It’s brilliant television. It’s also a serious distortion of history. And it proves, yet again, that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable bigotry in elite circles in the Anglosphere.
The distortions and bias are not surprising, considering the source. Hillary Mantel is a very talented, very bitter ex-Catholic who’s said that the Church today is “not an institution for respectable people” (so much for the English hierarchy’s decades-long wheedling for social acceptance). As she freely concedes, Mantel’s aim in her novel was to take down the Thomas More of A Man for All Seasons—the Thomas More the Catholic Church canonized—and her instrument for doing so is More’s rival in the court of Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell.
Hillary Mantel does not lack for chutzpah, for Cromwell has long been considered a loathsome character and More a man of singular nobility. In the novel Wolf Hall, however, the More of Robert Bolt’s play is transformed into a heresy-hunting, scrupulous prig, while Cromwell is the sensible, pragmatic man of affairs who gets things done, even if a few heads get cracked (or detached) in the process. All of which is rubbish, as historians with no Catholic interests at stake have made clear. Thus the president of the U.K.’s National Secular Society, historian David Starkey, finds “not a scrap of evidence” for Mantel’s retelling of the More-Cromwell tale; Mantel’s plot, he claimed, was “total fiction.” And as Gregory Wolfe pointed out in a fine essay on Wolf Hall in the Washington Post, historian Simon Schama has written that the documentary evidence he examined “shouted to high heaven that Thomas Cromwell was, in fact, a detestably self-serving, bullying monster who perfected state terror in England, cooked the evidence, and extracted confessions by torture.”