Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The White Queen's final bow

And then we came to the end.  After ten weeks, five kings, three consorts, endless princes and a plethora of princesses, The White Queen took her final bow.  Well, sort of.  She was mysteriously absent for most of the programme but her story, the tale of her rise and fall and the epic legends that arose around it were all wrapped up as we finally made it to Bosworth and got our Tudor king.  The White Queen's dynasty has begun.

The White Queen gave her name to the show but not much else this week as she wandered round the garden while England fought for her husband's crown
But before she could start setting up a brand new royal house, we had to get everyone else out of the way.  First to go was Anne Neville.  She started the episode looking on while husband, Richard III, made eyes at his niece, Elizabeth of York. In the first twenty minutes she was humiliated by the couple and lost her only son.  It was all too much for her and she ended up in the wrong section of the wardrobe department, emerging in Victorian garb for her boy's funeral.  And she knew the end was nigh when she started coughing while holding a hankie.  Every character in every period drama who coughs while holding a hankie sooner or later finds blood in it and dies of TB within the hour.  And sure enough, while Richard helped Elizabeth find her way round court, Anne got red spots on her handkerchief.  She lingered long enough to find out she hadn't been responsible for the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower before dying. 

Anne Neville tackles Richard III on his rather close relationship with his niece
Standing by as she breathed her last was Elizabeth of York who managed to look vaguely upset even though she'd spent quite a lot of time by then chasing Anne's husband.  This intriguing episode of English history took up a lot of the final part of The White Queen, partly because the scandalous attraction of niece for uncle meant that whoever won at Bosworth, Elizabeth of York was likely to be queen consort afterwards.  Except no one really found the possible marriage of uncle Richard to niece Elizabeth that scandalous.  Margaret Beaufort looked shocked at first but then went about calculating how it might affect her plans to grab the throne of England for her son while The White Queen herself managed a minor grimace and that was about it.  Even though marriage laws weren't codified until 1560 in England, an uncle was still banned from marrying his brother's daughters - it was within the degrees of consanguinity that were barred by the church.  But despite that, no one really seemed to care.  They may have had other things to think about but Richard and Elizabeth's incestuous flirtation was treated more as a case of marital infidelity than the religious, ethical and political crisis it really was.

Richard of Gloucester offers niece Elizabeth of York a hand with her music lessons while everyone else pretends not to notice what's going on

Richard III came up with one of the best all time excuses for chasing another woman that any husband has ever offered a wife - he was trying to get all his nobles to send their soldiers to fight for him rather than Henry Tudor.  Anne didn't buy it and it didn't work anyway but it made for some great scenes between the doomed king and his dying wife.  The psychological trauma encountered by Richard in the last months of his reign was brought vividly to life by Aneurin Barnard who managed to steal the episode from usual stars of the show, Margaret Beaufort and Lord Stanley.  I have never felt sorry for Richard III until now.  But unlike previous weeks where the king had spent a lot of time preparing things, this week he just got on with the business of trying to keep his fragmenting kingdom together and his determination and isolation, as well as his relationship with his right hand man Brackenbury, were poignant in the extreme.

He didn't get to cry out for a horse in exchange for his kingdom but Aneurin Barnard gave a great interpretation of Richard III, doomed king of England
Quite how Richard managed to lose at Bosworth to Henry Tudor is one of the great questions of history and along with the relationship between the king and his niece, the final fight for the crown in the battle that ended the Wars of the Roses was the main theme of the final episode.  It all came down to Lord Stanley who famously waited on a nearby hillside to see which way the fight would go before throwing in his lot with Tudor and turning him into a king.  In this telling, Stanley really was the kingmaker as he grabbed the fallen crown of England and presented it to his stepson in the aftermath of the battle.  The wait on all side to find out which way this uber powerful man would go was brilliantly done and even though we all knew the ending already there was plenty of tension as Lord Stanely kept us guessing until the very end.
Look what I found in the gift shop....Lord Stanley keeps stepson Henry amused at Bosworth
It was lucky really that Henry had his stepdad fighting for him because he looked terrified for most of the episode.  Henry VII ruled England by conquest but it was hard to imagine this Tudor conquering the stairs on his way to bed, let alone a king and country.  He started off looking worried, moved on to extreme anxiety and by the time his mother inexplicably turned up to see him the night before the fight he was quaking in his boots.  Uncle Jasper was left to rally the troops while Henry wibbled and wobbled around the edges.  It's no wonder Elizabeth of York wasn't keen on marrying him, he took wimp to new levels. 
Henry didn't look to keen on conquest in The White Queen's last episode
But then with a mother like Margaret, who could blame the boy.  Amanda Hale was fabulous as ever.  OK, we still don't know how she got out of house arrest and galloped from Bletsoe to Bosworth in about half an hour to take on her husband and then see her son before the great battle but it didn't matter.  She's always great to watch and the scene between mad Maggie and Elizabeth of York promises great things if we do get a sequel based on the White Princess' story.  But it was her sparring with Stanley that was the real highlight, as always, and Rupert Graves' snarling nastiness towards his wife made for some great viewing.  Her revenge, at the end of the battle, was totally made up and totally marvelous.  You can stay kneeling, she snarled, and treat me like a queen.  Not even hard nut Stanley was going to argue with crazy King's mother Margaret at the moment of her greatest triumph.
Henry got to rule England for at least five minutes before his mother turned up to claim the power and influence she had fought for over two decades
The Red Queen was in charge which left just one question - where on earth was The White Queen?  She was back at Grafton in her parents' home and had found a very big hessian shawl to constantly wrap around herself.  She cropped up intermittently, always with shawl, but did and said very little.  At the end, her now 30 year old son Thomas Grey appeared to have inherited the condition endemic throughout the whole series of looking considerably younger than he was meant to be but he made up for that by bringing back his half brother, Richard of York, from exile.  Elizabeth had sent him into hiding to save him when Richard III wanted to put him in the Tower of London with brother, Edward V, and he came back as the series wound to an end with a very strange fur rucksack stuck to his back.  He promised vengeance but was told by his mother that revenge was futile - a strange remark from a woman who spent a lot of time casting spells and putting curses on her enemies - but a happy ending for now for one of the York princes.
Elizabeth had a new shawl for the final episode of The White Queen
And that was that.  Elizabeth began this series as a mother struggling to make ends meet and that was how she ended it.  She hadn't had the best lines, the best scenes or even the best frocks but she got he last word.  Just as her mother, Jacquetta, had told her to be brave as she got ready to wear the consort's crown, the final scene of The White Queen saw Elizabeth tell her own daughter to be strong and prepare to rule.  The story came full circle, even if it had been uneven on the way there.  Elizabeth's reign as queen of England and queen of Sunday night television was over and the baton was being passed on to another Elizabeth.  And The White Queen's final words were an order to her namesake daughter and a promise of a follow up series.  Go, she told her, and be queen of England...as she herself once had been.
Her reign is over - farewell to The White Queen


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