Wolf Hall

Royal Pains

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

The lives of the British Monarchy have been the subject of endless fascination for generations. One would think they’ve no relevance given the times we live in, but the celebrity treatment of the Royals, which began with Princess Diana, has well and truly exploded today. Forget Prince William and the Duchess, Kate Middleton – even their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, are not spared from the constant public scrutiny of not just their behavior, but even their outfits. You’ve got to hand it to the Royals though, their public appearances are always so put together, so polished, so perfect, but the inner workings of their family are kept tantalizingly private. Occasionally a scandal breaks out, but the finer details are buried deep and stowed away, far, far away from the rest of us. Consequently, there’s a Royal rumour mill that never loses steam, and a slew of ‘inspired’ films and television series that try to offer some perspective on their lives.

the crown on netflix

The latest, and perhaps the most promising endeavor in this regard, is Netflix’s newest drama series, The Crown. What makes this series special, isn’t that it’s Netflix’s most expensive production yet (they seem to be topping their previous record for spending every three months now), or even that it is written by Peter Morgan, who was also the writer behind the 2006 film starring Dame Helen Mirren, The Queen, as well as Frost/Nixon. The Crown is special because, for the first time, the Royals seem to have approved of the show- Peter Morgan had revealed at a Press Conference that they were ‘very, very, aware’ of it, and that it might not be too long before Netflix manages to get the Queen’s opinion of it.

The Crown is a drama that seeks to explore the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and the first season, which comprises ten episodes and releases in a few weeks, begins at the very beginning. The year is 1947, the second World War has just about come to an end, Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) has been re-elected as Prime Minister, and Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy) is getting married to Prince Philip (Matt Smith). In the middle of all this, King George VI (Jared Harris) is ailing – he is frequently coughing blood, which his faithful attenders dismiss as a symptom of “the cold”. It isn’t long before he discovers that it isn’t the cold, but cancer, and realizes that he must do all he can, while he can, to prepare his barely 25 years old daughter for the throne. The Crown explores the impact that the adherence to duty, to royal duty, has over family and relationships, and the immense burden that is placed on a young woman’s shoulders.

Claire Foy plays young Queen Elizabeth, which is interesting because this series would be the second time she’s playing an important English queen on television – she was spectacular as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall, and her performance in The Crown doesn’t seem any different. Matt Smith is also wonderful as Prince Philip, a man who is caught between the boundless love he has for his young wife, and hating the monarch that she must become.

The Crown is the story of a Princess who became Queen, but make no mistake – it isn’t a fairytale.

{The Crown releases on Netflix on November 4th}

2015 in Television

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s time for us to welcome the new year with family, friends, celebrations, and of course, somewhat pointless lists. So without further ado, here are my TV favourites from 2015 (in no particular order):

  • Empire – Empire is a musical soap opera about a Hip Hop mogul, and the lengths he’ll go to stay on top. It’s the television equivalent of the pizzas that have cheese stuffed in the crusts, the kind which oozes yellow, processed glory, on to your fingers. Yes it’s disgustingly over the top, and you can’t really tell people how much you enjoy it, although you know that they’d enjoy it just as much as you do when they eat it, I mean, watch it. {FX India}

cookie lyon, cookie lyon gif

  • Better Call Saul – Better Call Saul was my favourite show this year. Yes, it’s a spin off of Breaking Bad, and there are plenty of recurring characters, but surprisingly, it has an entirely unique tone, and while one is occasionally reminded of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul stands on its own. {Colors Infinity}

better call saul, better call saul gifs

  • Wolf Hall – Wolf Hall is a literary mini series which was produced by the BBC. The cast and screenplay is splendid, and Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece comes alive over the course of 6, hour long episodes. I do hope that more show makers take the hint from Wolf Hall and make more mini series from literary classics – that way I don’t have to pretend like I’ve read them anymore.

wolf hall gifs, wolf hall

  • Game of Thrones – Dragons! Kings! Betrayals! Dragons! Death! Snow! Did I mention Dragons? The fifth season of the epic fantasy story came to an end this year, with a finale that shook the world, or at least, broke the internet. Game of Thrones is the show whose return I’m most looking forward to in 2016. {HBO}

jon snow, jon snow gifs

  • Daredevil – While I enjoyed both The Flash and Arrow, Daredevil takes the super hero genre of television to a whole new level, the way Nolan’s The Dark Knight changed the game for films. Netflix has come out with a winner, yet again, and there is no doubt that Daredevil is the benchmark for super hero television shows to come.

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  • Master of None – If you’re not socialising with your family, and have plenty of time in your hands this weekend, why not cosy up with the entire first season of Aziz Ansari’s comedy for all seasons? It’s one the most relatable shows I’ve watched on international television (and not just because Ansari hails from Tamil Nadu), and the perfect candidate for marathon viewing.

accent

  • Quantico – This is right on top of my list of unexpected favourites. I didn’t want to like it, I watched it with great prejudice but eventually gave in to the racy screenplay and exaggerated drama. The show is addictive, and Priyanka Chopra has made an assured debut into American television and proved that she is a bonafide star. The penultimate episode before the season finale, and the season finale itself were a tad frustrating and I’m hoping (against hope) that it sorts itself out when it comes back next year. {Star World}

quantico gifs

  • The Affair – One often talks about “mindless television” – The Affair is the opposite. It demands your attention in a manner that is unforgiving, and if you blink, you miss. The Affair follows a story of infidelity narrated through different perspectives, none of which are objective, and leaves it to the viewer to be the judge. I’m a chronic multi-tasker, but The Affair ensured that my attention only belonged to the screen. {FX India}

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  • Mr. Robot – A terrific and well researched show that goes into the psyche and life of hackers. Given the rising coverage with respect to the hacking group “Anonymous” in the mainstream news, Mr. Robot is an excellent way to better understand hacking, and how the right information in the wrong hands could potentially break the world as we know it. {Colors Infinity}

mr robot

  • Modern Family – It’s not from 2015, technically, but I have been watching it religiously, all year. I could never tire of this show, or it’s characters, and I am yet to find an episode I haven’t guffawed out loud in. A perennial favourite to end the list! {Star World}

modern family

The King’s Great Matter

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I was about twelve years old when Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone movie was announced. It was the year 2001, and only four books had been published in the seven book series – all four of which I had read, re-read and loved, much before there were talks of taking the novel to the big screen. There were only a few friends in school who had read the series, and once we got tired of discussing the books between ourselves, we would collectively stalk the fan websites to get our fill of anything and everything related to Harry Potter. When the films were announced, I faithfully followed the hype, developed a rather premature crush on Daniel Radcliffe and ended up seeing the film the first week it released in theatres.

The next following weeks at school though, it seemed like everyone knew about Harry Potter, and the characters weren’t exclusive to the few of us anymore. I developed a condescension then towards the “haven’t read the book but I’ve watched the movie” type of people. This condescension didn’t last too long though – I am now well and truly one of them.

wolf hall on bbc, wolf hall, hilary mantel

Any literature, when adapted well for the screen, is a joy to watch for people who are already familiar with the story, but even more so for those who aren’t. Hilary Mantel’s award winning Wolf Hall trilogy, has been on my “to-read” list for a very long time now. This year, BBC adapted the books into a six episode mini-series for television. The story itself is based on real happenings, popularly known as “The King’s Great Matter”, which transpired during 16th Century England. King Henry the VIII needs an heir to the throne, but unfortunately, his wife of twenty years, Lady Katherine, has been unable to produce one, and so, Henry decides to abandon his existing marriage, and marry Anne Boleyn, who he is infatuated with. However, the concept of divorce then, wasn’t just alien, but also illegal. The only way for Henry to legally alienate the Queen is by annulling the marriage, something that he cannot do without papal consent. His Cardinal, Wolsey, struggles for eight long years to get the order from the Pope, but to no avail, following which Henry exiles him. The entire series of events, as well as what happens next, is narrated through the life and times of Thomas Cromwell, the Cardinal’s lawyer, and right hand man. Cromwell is the son of a blacksmith, a “nobody”, as he is referred to in the series, who works his way up in the ranks to become the King’s confidante as well as an important political figure during that time.

The casting in the series has been exceptional – the show is full of faces you’d recognise if you watch Sherlock, Homeland and even Game of Thrones, such as Mark Gatiss who plays the thoroughly entertaining Stephen Gardiner, Damian Lewis as the conceited yet strangely likeable King Henry, Claire Foy as the haughty and resolute Anne Boleyn, and Jonathan Pryce who does a remarkable job of playing the wounded Cardinal Wolsey. You’d think that it would be impossible to pick an outstanding performance in a cast like this, but Mark Rylance, who plays the politically deft and determined Thomas Cromwell is in a league of his own.

The way the story ends for Anne in the series is no different from how it ends in history – she is executed on counts of witchcraft and incest, but watching the events unfurl on screen takes your breath away till the very last minute. I do hope that the show’s director, Peter Kominsky and writer, Peter Straughan earn many awards for Wolf Hall. The series is perfectly paced, skilfully written, and an overall triumph in adaptation.

Hilary Mantel is due to release the final book in her trilogy very soon, and I for one, cannot wait to join in on Thomas Cromwell discussions when it does. After all, I may have not read the book, but I have watched the series.