Behind the scenes of Wolf Hall: lots of tennis balls but no lawnmowers

Watch exclusive clips from the set of BBC2's imposing adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Tudor novel

Hilary Mantel’s Booker prize-winning novel Wolf Hall tells the story of Henry VIII’s righthand man Thomas Cromwell. Born the son of a lowly blacksmith, he climbs the ranks of Tudor society to become the King’s trusted advisor – and BBC2 is dramatising his ascent with rigorous attention to detail.

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“It’s a period that we will never tire of reading about,” explains series producer Mark Pybus. “There’s something deeply human about Henry’s problem. The man who had it all couldn’t have the one thing that he most wanted.” 

Director Peter Kosminsky insisted on filming the entire series on location. Over 17 weeks, the cast and crew took over 28 historic British buildings, including six National Trust properties. “All those small details add up and make a significant difference,” says Pybus.  

Some – such as Penshurst Place in Kent – were actually visited by Henry VIII 500 years ago. Others will be glimpsed several times in various guises. Chastleton House, a Jacobean stately home in Oxfordshire, for example, is the location of the small stone courtyard in young Cromwell’s Putney, while the interiors double as Wolf Hall, the Seymour family home (as seen above). 

Lawnmowers were banned for six weeks before filming so there were no telltale modern stripes marring Henry’s view. As for the tennis balls, they’re written into the contract: no equipment can pass the threshold without tennis balls on legs or wheels to prevent damage.

Using historic properties “helps bring a realness to the project”, says Pybus, “which is very much at the heart of Hilary’s books.”

Wolf Hall begins on Wednesday 21st January on BBC2 at 9pm.

See below for videos about the props and costumes used during shooting:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYnnsPvrTq4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9qp_0rKXBg

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*Videos courtesy of the National Trust, Brian Cleckner and Kevin Babey