Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell

We are still only in January, but the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is already sure to be one of the year’s TV highlights.

Costume dramas have long been the Beeb’s stock in trade and on the strength of episode one (broadcast on BBC Two on 21st January) this looks to one of their best for a long while.

It almost goes without saying that the acting is superb and I was particularly impressed by Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell.

What makes his performance so riveting is that, although he not physically imposing, he quietly manages to fill the screen and make you understand how such a man could have risen from humble beginnings , as the son of a blacksmith, to be one of the most influential figures in Britain.

The drama has a contemporary resonance in that you can well see how Cromwell’s instinctive Machiavellian skills also have a modern-day application.

These I would summarise as follows:

  • Know your enemies (but don’t tell them that you know).
  • Move slowly yet purposefully. Always give the impression you know where you are going and that the destination is important.
  • Talk plainly and candidly but recognize when actions speak louder than words. Remember the adage that ’empty cans make the most sound’.
  • Learn other languages, especially those of your rivals.
  • Swear sparingly – make your curse words count.
  • Always keep your eyes and ears open.
  • Walk with kings but do not lose the common touch (with thanks to Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’)
  • Keep your own counsel.
  • Develop a thick skin.

Put these skills together and the world just may be your oyster.

But, then again, as we know from the history books, during Henry VIII’s reign it was  hard to keep your head when others were literally losing theirs!