Six Wives with Lucy Worsley review – a history and drama, but not quite Wolf Hall

An interesting history lesson that could have done without the hammy drama, frocks and lutes. Plus: In Plain Sight and Finding My Twin Stranger

How do you tell a story that everyone knows and has been told a million times before? You dress up, jump in and get involved. Or, you do if you’re Lucy Worsley, anyway.

Here she is, in Six Wives with Lucy Worsley (BBC1), in Henry VIII’s court, a maidservant in the entourage of wife numero uno (Catherine of Aragon, divorced). So she is on hand to pick up spilled cards after Henry interrupts a ladies’ whist drive for a little light afternoon lovemaking/hopefully procreation with his queen. And to take away the bloodied bed linen when the resultant pregnancy goes wrong. And mainly just to lurk in corridors, or sweep out grates, while keeping an ear to the flagstones, picking up the goss.

Yes, joint honours, history’n’drama, this is one of them – though you don’t often see the historian in the action. Drama, reconstruction, whatever you want to call it – snippets of it are scattered among the 20 years between 1509 and 1529 in this first episode. And the drama scatterings are awful – hammy and lame like a wild boar with a big Tudor arrow stuck in its thigh. Such snippets can never move or involve in the way that drama proper can because it doesn’t have the momentum or the context to envelop you. So here’s C of A giving it 110% in court to try to prevent Henry from divorcing her, and I’m totally unmoved because I haven’t got to know her – she is just a lady with a Spanish accent. Wolf Hall, then, this is not – and it doesn’t help that it covers similar territory to such a brilliant recent drama. Thomas Cromwell should be showing up next time, I hope played by Danny Dyer, given that they are directly related.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I would just like a history lesson from Worsley, without the frocks and the lutes. Because she is fantastic at it, says some dead interesting things about Anne Boleyn and why she admires her, that she was very modern in a way, in that she was ambitious and knew what she wanted. Worsley and (a portrait of) Anne sit on a bench together. Earlier, Worsley took a ride in a Range Rover with (a portrait of) Catherine. OK, so maybe that is a bit weird, but it’s still better than Not-Wolf-Hall.

And now she is looking at some old love letters Henry wrote to Anne. The letters live in the Vatican (that can’t be right can it? Give them back). They are cheesy as hell, but also very romantic, and they have never been seen on television before. See, it might be an old story, but there is still stuff to show and say.

What, BBC1’s Rillington Place isn’t satisfying your insatiable appetite for eerie three-part television drama based on real-life serial killings in the 1950s? Then you are in luck, because here is In Plain Sight (ITV), about psychopathic Scottish rapist and murderer Peter Manuel, and William Muncie, the dignified detective on his case.

It is not chilling to the bone marrow as Rillington Place is, and might not creep into your dreams in the same way. But the two leads are excellent. Martin Compston, on the other side of the law from his Line of Duty role, is cunning, manipulative Manuel, and Douglas Henshall, at the other end of Scotland from his decent detective work in Shetland, is Muncie. Hurry! He’s going to strike again.

Ha! In Finding My Twin Stranger (Channel 4), people who look like each other but aren’t related are united, in London, and put in the same colour T-shirts, then measured and tested and studied a little, but mainly just gawped at.

Sometimes it doesn’t end with physical similarities. Darren is a Scottish nightclub manager; his doppelganger is a Polish former nightclub manager. Both gay, too, though they wouldn’t, you know, that would be weird. And Neil and John, whose life experiences are also spookily similar – same teacher training college, then both RE teachers, both with didgeridoo-playing sons, and now they both live in Braintree.

Yes, I remember reading about them when they discovered each other. Neil moved to the Essex town and people kept saying to him: “Hello, John.” Then one day he met a man who looked like him, so he said “Hello, John” to him.

It’s now a thing apparently, finding your doppelganger. There are sites and apps to help you. Have I signed up? Yes, of course I have. I very much look forward to meeting me.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Wolf Hall review: an ending so great we forgot we knew it was coming
So Anne Boleyn got the chop, and even the executioner was deftly portrayed; while a new two-part documentary showed the hard road ahead for women in politics

Lucy Mangan

26, Feb, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
Close to the Enemy review – pure Poliakoff: haunting, clever and arrogant
The small-screen maestro’s latest has all his hallmarks: stunning locations, strange dialogue and, of course, jazz. Plus, inside Britain’s prisons – filmed by prisoners themselves

Sam Wollaston

11, Nov, 2016 @7:20 AM

Article image
Britain’s Billionaire Immigrants review – the super-rich kids trying to fit in
Pity poor Wendy, with her hard-to-please tycoon father. But pity poor Anthony of Savile Row more, trying to tap into the Chinese market by shouting at his phone. Plus: the return of Kay Mellor’s fun pregnancy drama

Sam Wollaston

04, May, 2016 @6:20 AM

Article image
True Horror review – a few dead goats, a ghostly old woman and a scary electricity bill, but no terror
This reconstruction of one family’s nightmare in the Brecon Beacons stretched the limits of credulity, dissipating any dramatic build-up by interspersing it with subjective interviews

Lucy Mangan

19, Apr, 2018 @10:05 PM

Article image
What Facebook Knows About You review – start panicking now!
The BBC’s latest Panorama asks whether it’s time to regulate Mark Zuckerberg’s cultish dotcom. Plus, laddish app comedy Loaded soars when the women join in

Julia Raeside

09, May, 2017 @6:10 AM

Article image
Tutankhamun review – they could have called it Down-tomb Abbey
It’s a Sunday-evening ITV costume drama festooned with side-partings, moustaches and awkward love-triangles. The only twist? It’s set in Egypt. Plus, real-life tomb raiding in China

Sam Wollaston

17, Oct, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Sex: My British Job; A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley – TV review

Sam Wollaston: This investigation into sex-work in genteel Finchley was shocking in so many ways

Sam Wollaston

23, Sep, 2013 @10:20 PM

Article image
The Royal House of Windsor review – we really don’t need another history lesson
Enough of the documentaries, Channel 4 – instead, give us more comedies caricaturing the royals. Plus: some medical miracles

Lucy Mangan

23, Feb, 2017 @7:20 AM

Article image
Black and British: A Forgotten History review – this is what it means to share a heritage
From Hadrian’s Wall to Beachy Head, David Olusogo’s thought-provoking programme takes us on a timely trip back to Britain’s multicultural past

Chitra Ramaswamy

10, Nov, 2016 @7:10 AM

Article image
The Unremembered: Britain’s Forgotten War Heroes review – David Lammy condemns a shameful history
Politician examines the fate of African soldiers who fought in the first world war, finding decay, disregard, and denial

Chitra Ramaswamy

10, Nov, 2019 @11:01 PM