Bishop Mark Davies says 'one of the greatest Englishmen' has been presented as 'a scheming villain'

Two Catholic bishops have severely criticised Wolf Hall for its “perverse” and “anti-Catholic” depiction of St Thomas More.

The Lord Chancellor of England, played by Anton Lesser in the BBC Two Tudor history drama, is depicted as a cold and creepy misogynist who keeps a brain-damaged man imprisoned in his house apparently for his own entertainment.

Thomas Cromwell, who as King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister helped to send St Thomas to his death, is in contrast projected as a deeply human, enlightened and modern man who cuddles kittens.

Although the series opened to rave reviews a number of historians and other commentators have already voiced concerns about the narrative, based on the novels by the award-winning writer Hilary Mantel, who grew up in Romiley, Cheshire, and attended Harrytown Convent, the local Catholic secondary school.

But yesterday two bishops publicly attacked the drama for its depiction of St Thomas, a martyr who was canonised in 1935 and who was made patron saint of politicians by St John Paul II in 2000.

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury said: “We should remember Wolf Hall is a work of fiction. It is an extraordinary and perverse achievement of Hilary Mantel and BBC Drama to make of Thomas Cromwell a flawed hero and of St Thomas More, one of the greatest Englishmen, a scheming villain.

“It is not necessary to share Thomas More’s faith to recognise his heroism – a man of his own time who remains an example of integrity for all times. It would be sad if Thomas Cromwell, who is surely one of the most unscrupulous figures in England’s history, was to be held-up as a role model for future generations.”

Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth said there was a “strong anti-Catholic thread” in the series, which stars Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Damien Lewis as Henry VIII.

He said that the drama appeared to connect St Thomas and his Catholic faith to religious fundamentalism in the 21st century.