Monday, August 12, 2013

From Page to Screen - Starz/BBC THE WHITE QUEEN

Well, I hadn’t planned on reviewing THE WHITE QUEEN until I was in England when I could watch the entire series since I don’t have Starz, but the cable channel surprised me by offering up a sneak preview of the first episode this weekend.  So since they were so generous, I couldn’t refuse to watch the show now could I? I’m not going to go into the historical accuracy of the show so much in this review since I have a series of blog posts planned on the women of the War of the Roses planned for the next two weeks.  Instead I plan on focusing on my first impressions of the series and whether or not I think it’s a good adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s novels.  The series is going to be based on three of Gregory’s novels, THE WHITE QUEEN, THE RED QUEEN, and THE KINGMAKER’S DAUGHTER.  It’s going to be 10 episodes and I will recap each episode as I watch it, trying not to get to ahead of the broadcast in the states.  Lucky for me, I have a region-free DVD player, so even when I’m not in England, I can continue to watch along with everyone else!
The series opens up in 1464; Elizabeth Woodville (Lady Grey) wakes her two young sons up and drags them out into the forest to waylay King Edward on his way to somewhere.  It appears that her lands have been confiscated for some reason. The script doesn’t make it clear if it’s the crown who has taken her lands because her husband fought on the losing side during the war, or what really happened which is that the lands were taken by her mother-in-law who feared that the Grey lands would be lost if Elizabeth remarried, the property of her new husband.  Edward is instantly smitten with the young widow, although Warwick, who has accompanied the King, sneers nastily.  The King tells Elizabeth that if she writes up her petition, he will pick it up on the way back.  Elizabeth is pleased as is her mother Jacquetta who practices a little magic to help her daughter win the king.  Her father Baron Rivers and older brother Anthony are not pleased.  

The King returns and immediately makes a play for Elizabeth.  She gives way to a point but refuses the king when he tries to go further, threatening to kill herself in front of him.  He realizes that she means business and tells her that he loves her and wants to marry her.  They arrange to marry secretly in the Woodville family chapel with only her mother as a witness.  They spent their wedding night romping in the family hunting lodge which for some reason has a nicer bed than the ones in the main manor.  Her brother Anthony finds out and is pissed that she’s slept with the king.  Elizabeth confesses that they are married.  Anthony tells her that she’s an idiot, the king has done this kind of thing before, and he will repudiate her just like he did the last woman he married secretly.  Elizabeth queries the King when he returns for a second helping of marital bliss.  She wants to know when he plans on revealing their marriage. Edward admits that Warwick has been planning a French marriage for him. 

All is revealed at a meeting of the court when Warwick believes the King is going to announce the French marriage.  Instead the King announces that he is married to Elizabeth Woodville.  The episode ends with Elizabeth and her family arriving at court.  The King’s mother reluctantly accepts her son’s marriage but only after Jacquetta threatens her. Margaret Beaufort shows up briefly with a sour expression at the end of the first episode.  She and Jacquetta spar a bit, and she introduces her new husband Henry Stafford.  I loved that she was wearing a red dress. What do you want to bet that she continues to wear red during the entire series? You know, just to emphasize that she’s a Lancastrian, in case we forget.

I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed this first episode, despite some rather laughable scenes. Rebecca Ferguson, a young Swedish actress, does a remarkable job with Elizabeth Woodville.  She’s certainly beautiful enough, but you get the sense that she’s holding something back, that she has a secret of some sort, in her scenes.  Many of her scenes are with the always awesome Janet McTeer who plays Jacquetta Woodville.  I enjoyed the interplay between the two of them, Elizabeth’s reluctance to deal in witchcraft and her mother’s insistence that it is her birthright since they are descended from the water goddess Melusine.  Her later visions come as a surprise to her and not a welcome one.  It will be interesting to see how they develop this part of the story.  The supernatural element was actually the most interesting part of the book and I’m glad that they kept it.
Max Irons, who plays Edward, in this episode is a more of a callow king, one who is still learning to flex his muscles.  It will be interesting to see if he grows in the part as the series goes on.  James Frain, who plays the Earl of Warwick, does little more than sneer and make cutting remarks.  The series gets certain elements right.  Elizabeth’s family were living in genteel poverty, bankrupted by serving the Lancastrians who were always slow to pay back the expenses that were shelled out for example during the Woodville’s time in Calais. However, some things that occur in the episode are done for strictly dramatic purposes and are a little odd.  For example, historically by 1464, Elizabeth’s father had been forgiven for fighting on the Lancastrian side, and was part of the King’s Council.

In the series however, Baron Rivers and Anthony Woodville, are quite insulting to the King when he arrives at their manor to receive the petition for Elizabeth.  I found that unrealistic and bizarre particularly since Edward had been on the throne for 3 years by this time.  Also, the idea that it was an open secret that Edward had a secret marriage prior to his marriage to Elizabeth was a little ridiculous. It kinds of ruins the dramatic tension when Richard brings it up years later as a reason for why he’s seized the throne from his nephew.  I found it hilarious that Anthony Woodville was so incensed that Edward had an illegitimate child. As if no one in the 15th century had had a child out of wedlock before. 
Then there was the scene at court, where Anthony and his father are talking about this so-called ‘secret’ marriage very loudly while waiting for the King. Another scene that made no sense was the French princess Bona’s appearance at court for the announcement of the betrothal.  I’m pretty sure that her father, the King of France, would not have let her travel to England unless it was a done deal with the betrothal or unless she had married the King by proxy.  Also, the idea that Warwick and Edward would argue so loudly that everyone at court could hear them even though they were behind closed doors was silly. I know these things are done for dramatic purposes, but it would have made more sense for the audience to have seen the Duchess of York arguing with her son, along with Warwick, and telling him that if he doesn’t repudiate the marriage that she will tell everyone that he’s illegitimate, than having it occur later when Elizabeth meets Cecily and Jacquetta jumps in, forcing Cecily to accept Elizabeth.

The series doesn’t have the lush opulence that The Tudors has, probably because the series is dealing with a country torn apart by war.  There’s also a lot of sex and nudity in the first episode between Edward and Elizabeth.  I had no problem with it since Edward was known as a lusty King, and since the attraction between the two was at first sexual, it made sense.  It was a lot less gratuitous than it was on The Tudors. Apart from these few niggling things, I did enjoy the first episode and I look forward to watching the rest of the series.


Unknown said...

I think the real problem with the series is its monstrous portrayal of Margaret Beaufort - as I explain in my book Tudor (published in the US 8 October), it is based on 17th century misogynistic myths. Let me know if u wld like a guest artcile on it. I like your website! Thinking of scandalous women you might like the free access this week for an article I have done on Anne Boleyn's execution for the Spectator. At least I hope you do! Leanda de Lisle

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I've actually just written a post on Margaret Beaufort. She's a fascinating woman. And I adore Anne Boleyn. I wrote about her in my book Scandalous Women, and I was lucky enough to spend time at Hever Castle for the first Anne Boleyn Experience tour.

Serena Debesa said...

The way they portrayed Margret Beauford was terribly disturbing she was a religious fanatic she acting like a psycho path And the way she treated her son Henry gave me the creeps Talking about putting on airs and having a sense of entitlement she was a fruitcake