At the time of her untimely death, British author Hilary Mantel was consulting on the TV adaptation of her most recent novel, “The Mirror and the Light” — the conclusion to her critically acclaimed Tudor trilogy that began with “Wolf Hall.”
The two-time Booker Prize-winning author’s sudden death at 70 was announced on Friday by her publishers, sending shockwaves among her fans and the literary and TV industries — but especially her inner circle of collaborators who were in constant touch with Mantel.
Peter Kosminsky, the BAFTA-winning and Emmy-nominated director and screenwriter, has known Mantel for “many, many years,” he told Variety over the phone on Friday. Kosminsky directed the Golden Globe-winning BBC and PBS drama “Wolf Hall,” and the pair have been collaborating more recently on a BBC adaptation of “The Mirror and the Light,” which covers the last four years of the life of Thomas Cromwell (played by Mark Rylance), before his fall from grace and death by execution in 1540.
“Quite apart from my personal sadness, I’ve also lost my main collaborator. So now we will have to continue this as a memorial to [Mantel], but also without the advantage of her guidance and advice,” said Kosminsky.
The celebrated director worked extremely closely with Mantel on the adaptation of the writer’s two books, “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” which were combined for the single 2015 BBC series “Wolf Hall.”
“As we were putting that show together, I was constantly in touch with her and met her on a number of occasions asking her for advice. She was encyclopaedic on the sources, and spent five years researching the subject before putting pen to paper,” said Kosminsky, “so if I needed any detail about a character or an event, or even about details like how they ate or removed their caps with a bow, she was the person to go to. A strong case can be made to say she was the greatest living writer in the English language.”
Kosminsky, who recently wrote and directed Channel 4’s “The Undeclared War,” says Mantel sent him 100-page instalments of “The Mirror and the Light” as she was writing the 2020 book, with an eye on getting the TV adaptation underway. The BBC confirmed its plans for the new series back in 2019, when the book’s publication was first announced. Rylance is set to return as Cromwell, while “Wolf Hall” screenwriter Peter Straughan is also adapting the latest book.
“The script is largely written but now is exactly the moment we would have gone to Hilary to ask her input and thoughts, and from my POV as a director, I would have sought her advice on certain specifics which would have allowed me to realize [her vision],” said Kosminsky.
The future of the TV adaptation, however, are “secondary concerns,” he hastened to add.
“A great light has gone out,” said Kosminsky. “The word ‘great’ is used very easily these days but nobody could dispute that it’s an appropriate epithet for Dame Hilary Mantel. If you look at the scale of her achievements, the impact she’s had, the breadth of her knowledge and reading… She’s someone whom people went to for thoughts and opinions on a variety of different novels ad non-fiction works. People recognized her for the massive intellect as she was. It’s hard to imagine a world without her.”
According to her publishers HarperCollins U.K., Mantel is the first British author and the first woman to have won two Booker prizes. Mantel is also the only writer to have won with two consecutive novels.