By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood March 8, 2013 at 1:50PM
In a casting coup, Brit Mark Rylance, one of the greatest Shakespeare thespians of our time, will play statesman Thomas Cromwell in a BBC-HBO adaptation of Hilary Mantel's bestsellers "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies." (Mantel got slammed recently for calling out the media's handling of such royal femmes as Kate Middleton.) Peter Straughan, who garnered an Oscar nod for co-penning 2011's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," is set to direct the six-part mini-series.
Rylance's screen appearances are choice but little seen, including "Angels & Insects," "The Other Boleyn Girl" and "Blitz." But the actor is renowned for his work on the stage. He received Tonys in both 2008 and 2011, for "Boeing-Boeing" and "Jerusalem," respectively. He nabbed raves for his humorous take on Shakespeare's Richard III, and memorably cross-dressed in an all-male production of "Twelfth Night." He is currently rehearsing the Minneapolis production, "Nice Fish," and in the fall will return to the UK for "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Old Vic, opposite Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.
Cromwell, Henry VIII's key advisor, has long been reviled as an historical figure, but Mantel's novels present him as a highly able member of the Tudor elite, despite retaining his notoriously manipulative behavior.
Leo McKern played Cromwell in Fred Zinnemann's 1966 Best Picture winner, "A Man for All Seasons."