While Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) sits out his exile in the north, Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) fights for his favour in the English court - and grows closer to King Henry VIII (Damian Lewis).
With this second episode, and with the main players now set up and well established, Wolf Hall is able to enter deeper, richer and somewhat darker territory. The story is gradually growing more complex as Cromwell is led towards jumping ship from his slavish devotion to Wolsey to the greater fortune - although riskier landscape - of following Henry VIII directly. Events gradually become more complex, as Cromwell is not only drawn into the orbit of the ambitious and aggressively combative Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy) but continues to fend off the antagonistic Duke of Norfolk (Bernard Hill) and spies sent by court rival Stephen Gardiner (Mark Gatiss).
Damian Lewis gets a lot more exposure here than in the first episode. His Henry is a much warmer representation that perhaps viewers are accustomed. He shows genuine inner conflict and turmoil over his actions and responsibilities, and perhaps lends the character a bit more sympathy than the real Henry deserves. That said there are still moments that betray a somewhat cruel character: despite regularly professing love for Wolsey, Henry has no hesitation about laughing at masques displaying the Cardinal in hell once he is dead.
Claire Foy makes a fabulous Anne Boleyn, packed full of vanity and ambition. She is the closest thing the series has presented as a fully-fledged villain, and knowledge of her ultimate fate makes her over-confident taunts and insults doubly entertaining. There is a small niggle about that approach, however, in that Boleyn is one of a few female characters within an overwhelmingly male story. Being presented in such an unlikeable fashion here does feel as if half the story is being sidelined in Cromwell's favour. A more even hand might have increased the subtlety and depth of the story even more.
I believe him.