'Wolf Hall' Debut Draws 3.9 Million in BBC Two's Best Drama Series Launch in 10 Years

The miniseries with Damian Lewis and Mark Rylance, which PBS will air in the U.S., marks the channel's best original drama series start since 'Rome.'

Miniseries Wolf Hall on BBC Two on Wednesday drew 3.9 million viewers in its U.K. debut, according to overnight ratings.

The performance, which amounts to a 16.5 percent share of people watching TV in Britain at the time, is a strong one for the channel, which typically gets smaller audiences than the public broadcaster's flagship network BBC One. But on Wednesday night in the 9 p.m. time slot, it outperformed Crimewatch on BBC One.

According to the BBC, the ratings make the show BBC Two's best-performing original drama series launch since Rome in 2005, which debuted with 6.6 million viewers.

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Eric & Ernie, a TV film in 2011 about the early career of the British comic double-act Morecambe and Wise, drew 6.0 million, but it was a one-off, not a series.

The most-watched show in Britain in Wolf Hall's 9 p.m. time slot was ITV's live broadcast of the National Television Awards, which attracted 6.6 million viewers during its 7:30 p.m.-10 p.m. time slot.

Wolf Hall features former Homeland star Damian Lewis opposite Mark Rylance in the adaptation of Hilary Mantel's historic novel. In the U.S., it will air on Masterpiece on PBS, starting on April 5.

Lewis plays Henry VIII, while Rylance portrays Thomas Cromwell in the six-part series written by Oscar nominee Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).

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The miniseries charts the meteoric rise of Cromwell in the Tudor court, from his lowly start as a blacksmith's son to Henry VIII's closest advisor.

Jan. 22, 2:20 a.m. Updated with historical ratings comparisons.

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai