Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Confused by The White Queen

I've watched episode seven of The White Queen twice now and I still don't get it.  Not the history.  That was well done and managed to pare the details down to make them understandable without losing too much of what really happened.  The bit I don't get is why we are expected to believe anything about Elizabeth Woodville in this interpretation of her story.  The Philippa Gregory novels on which this TV spectacular are based are far more mysterious and interesting when it comes to bringing this queen consort to life.  In this series, the first commoner to wear the crown of England is nothing more than a beautiful bystander to the Wars of the Roses rather than one of its causes.  And that leaves massive holes in the story that can't be filled by longing looks alone.

The White Queen - yes, she was lovely to look at but as well as beauty beyond compare her ambition was pretty unmatchable as well
This week we reached the soap opera part of Edward IV's reign with more family intrigue than a Christmas episode in Weatherfield and Walford combined.  The king was secure enough from the threat of Lancaster but found plenty of things to worry about closer to home.  Not least the rather false looking stomach that he'd been provided with to show he was getting older and unhealthier.  Edward IV was handsome, dashing and gorgeous.  But the years of excess he indulged in after finally defeating Lancaster in 1471 quickly took their toll.  Max Irons had the body of an am dram Henry VIII but the face of, well, Max Irons.  Still young and beautiful, it's hard to believe he's aged a day let alone a decade since the story started.
Being king is a walk in the park for this Edward IV - not so much as a grey hair or little wrinkle
While he caroused with mistress, Jane Shore, Elizabeth delivered another son who was apparently saved by Margaret Beaufort.  The bond between the two women seemingly strengthened and within minutes Maggie was off spying for the queen at court, listening in magnificent style to every conversation being whispered in corners.
Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) found a new role this week - curtain twitcher
The Neville sisters fluttered around the edges, giving voice to the fears that Elizabeth was ruling the king and thus his kingdom through both fair means and foul.  But while we've lived every moment of the White Queen giving birth, Anne and Isabel dropped three sprogs between them without batting an eyelid.  Suddenly, baby Margaret was being bounced around by Isabel and husband George while Anne was telling Richard that their son, Edward, was still small but would grow.  The arrival of heirs to the brothers of Edward IV was one of the reasons the bond between them began to fragment as each could offer a son to take the crown in the future.  And yet, Edward of Middleham and Edward, last of the Plantagent men, were confined to bit parts in this telling of the saga.
Isabel and Anne Neville with mum in happier times
But the real star of this week's show was George, Duke of Clarence.  Having not spoken for at least four episodes suddenly David Oakes came into his own.  George's treachery and the decision of the king to execute his brother is one of the most spine tingling, sensational and strange chapters of English history.  Hats off to the script writers for making it understandable in one hour long episode but it's a shame that we haven't seen more of the double dealing all the way through.  We had him siding with Warwick in the 1470 battle of the red and white but that was all very short and neat and with little inkling of the anger and fraying of fraternal relations that this entailed. 
George, Duke of Clarence let brotherly rivalry get the better of him in this week's episode
George made it clear he wanted a crown for real and nothing was going to stop him. First he tried to be regent of France then when Edward decided not to wage war, he cosied up to King Louis in a strange scene involving lots of floating material and not much dialogue.  France gone, only England remained and George crashed through several crazy attempts to change the head wearing the crown.  He accused the queen of being a witch then hired a sorcerer to bring about the death of the king.  Meanwhile, he'd convinced his pregnant wife they were in danger of being poisoned by Elizabeth.  Off they went to Warwick Castle where she promptly died leaving him to accuse the queen of killing her.  And when Edward refused him a foreign royal bride off he went to Louis again - fortunately this time we were spared the floaty curtains and menacing looks.  
Isabel Neville's death led to George putting about more rumours about the queen
He finally lost his marbles, and any hope of making it through to episode eight, when he gatecrashed Edward's celebrations to mark 15 years as king.  The effect of a masked ball with no one sure who hid behind the rather scary animal heads being donned all round added real drama to the episode as did the silence of the trial scenes and the begging by Duchess Cecily that one of her sons would spare the life of another.  Caroline Goodall's magnificent begging was all in vain and the drowning of the duke was played out in gruesome colour, ending the reign of the three sons of York.

Drowned in a butt of malmsey wine - Edward IV allowed his brother one tiny piece of clemency and that was to choose the method of execution
It was a shame that time meant we couldn't get into some of the more intriguing subplots  In the run up to his last act of treachery, George became convinced Isabel had been murdered and held a show trial of a woman he accused of poisoning her.  That was lost, as was Anthony Woodville who is meant to be Elizabeth's closest relative and confidante as well as adviser to the king.  This week he went on pilgrimage, just like that, and returned at the end for a chat in the garden.  His integral role in the hatred directed towards the Woodvilles when they were at the height of their power hasn't even been mentioned.  Instead he makes just like his screen sister and wanders around looking blonde and beautiful but with little substance.
Anthony and Elizabeth Woodville - making pale very uninteresting
And all the time, in the background, are Margaret Beaufort and husband number three, Lord Stanley.  They lurk in the shadows, whisper in the silences and hold gallons of venom and determination hidden behind poker faces.  Amanda Hale and Rupert Graves are magnificent as the ultimate power couple on the make.  They shifted sullenly through the intrigue and drama this week, shaping events to their own ends without anyone noticing.  And their exchange at the beginning of the episode when husband begged wife to play her part properly was a married couple brought to life to perfection. 
Lord and Lady Stanley may be about to emerge from the shadows as The White Queen heads towards its conclusion
Not wanting to spoil the ending, but thank goodness they'll be around to the end of the series.  Unlike Edward - I fear Max Irons may be bowing out next week as the story gallops to its conclusion.  His one consolation is that his character will be the only forty year old with wrecked health who still looks nineteen.
Maybe he moisturizes.  Max Irons as Edward IV, still impossibly young and handsome after two decades of war and retribution not to mention the wine, women and song.
The White Queen is on BBC One on Sundays at 9pm.  All photos from the BBC.

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