'Wolf Hall' downsizes codpieces for America, actor says

The BBC doesn't think Americans can handle big codpieces.

The BBC doesn't think Americans can handle big codpieces.

That's according to one of the stars of "Wolf Hall," the upcoming BBC historical drama series based on Hilary Mantel's two Man Booker Prize-winning books, "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies."

Actor Mark Rylance, who plays the show's main protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, said producers toned down the size of the fashion accessories to make them more acceptable to viewers in the U.S.

"I think the codpieces are too small,” Rylance said during a question-and-answer session discussing the show. “I think it was a direction from our American producers PBS — they like very small codpieces which always seemed to be tucked away.... I can see for modern audiences, perhaps more in America, they may not know exactly what’s going on down there."

Codpieces are padded fabric flaps that men used to wear over the crotch of their pants to accentuate the genital area. They were popular in the 16th century, when "Wolf Hall" takes place. Actor Damian Lewis, who stars in the series as Henry VIII, explained that the codpiece "was a symbol of your virility, your derring-do, your sense of adventure. They were encouraged, it was a fashion, and Henry liked them."

The codpiece didn't last long as a fashion item but were a mainstay in 1500s Britain, writes Jane Huggett at the Guardian: "[T]he Tudor period was a time of war, change and insecurity. In response to this, men adopted a style of clothing that emphasised their manliness and virility to mask their inner insecurity."

The executive producer of the six-part miniseries, Colin Callender, didn't exactly deny the report, but said there was "no hidden codpiece memo" from either BBC or PBS. "Wolf Hall" will air on the BBC in January, and in America on PBS' "Masterpiece" in April.

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