Monday, 12 August 2013

The White Queen's mind games

From historical romp to a murder mystery, this week The White Queen went all psychological and was all the better for it.  The fate of the princes in the tower consumed this whole episode and suddenly we got a taste of what we've been missing all the way through the series - a little bit of intrigue and uncertainty. 

The White Queen was far from calm and collected for most of this episode
As we were rather clunkingly told at the beginning, it is now 1484 and we are in London.  Once we'd got that out of the way, along with the even more hamfisted introduction of the three main players in the scheming that were to follow as they were presented with their titles by Richard III, things got very interesting indeed.  All those who wanted the princes eliminated were slowly shown plotting against them while wrestling with the fact that to bin this particular set of enemies, they'd need to kill two innocent children. 

Edward V and an imposter posing as his younger brother, Richard of York, asleep in the Tower of London.  Their fate, still unknown, was explored in episode nine of The White Queen

Anne Neville was the first to suggest that the boys might such a huge inconvenience, they had to go.  Desperate to know they were still in Richard's safekeeping before the royal couple went on tour, she tiptoed through the Tower to stare at them sleeping only to find herself drawn into a strange conversation with the man her husband had just put in charge of the building and its inhabitants.  Admitting to him that many still believed the twelve year old snoozing behind the door was king rather than her hubby, she then confessed that a dead Edward would be less of a threat but had to go off on progress not knowing what the constable would do.  Cue queen Anne's dilemma of whether she had sent the boys to their deaths.

Anne's crown looks quite secure on her head her but she was worried it might wobble off because of popular support for boy king, Edward V, which led to a very unfortunate meeting on the stairs

Next into the drawing room of this medieval Poirot story was Margaret Beaufort.  Mad Maggie was plotting with just about everyone last night to get her boy on the throne of England.  When she wasn't sat, quill in hand, writing to Brittany, Westminster Abbey and the whole of the north of England, she was whispering in front of fires and in the middle of forests to further the causes of young Henry Tudor.  But Maggie wasn't going to be drawn lightly into infancticide and in one of the best scenes of the whole series, she and fourth husband Lord Stanley had a ding dong of a fight about whether she would take responsibility for ordering the deaths of the two boys who stood in the way of her son being king.  Her husband hissed venom as he pointed out she needed to do something terrible if she really wanted her son to wear the crown of England.  She muttered through tears and agreed to their deaths.  But again, Margaret was left wondering whether what she had said yes to had really happened.

Margaret Beaufort was told a few very uncomfortable home truths by hubby, Lord Stanley, last night.  For the first time, The Red Queen seemed almost vulnerable.

And that was where this episode came into its own.  It would be easy to give an interpretation of the facts and point the finger at one culprit for the fate of the princes but instead we were left wondering.  The curse that Elizabeth and her daughter put on Edward's killer at the end leaves a number of suspects in the frame and one may yet be revealed before the series is over.  But this week we were treated to no one really knowing what anyone else was up to.  The sense of mistrust, the fear of betrayal, the double guessing, the lack of certainty of anyone's motives were all conveyed brilliantly.  That, combined with a sharp and clear explanation of several of the plots swirling around the crown in 1484, made the whole story compelling.

Elizabeth of York may yet reveal who gets the blame for the Princes in the Tower in this telling of their story....but did she damage herself with the curse she made at the end of the episode?

But while the men had to lead the would be rebel troops and whisper poison into ears, who was really pulling the strings?  At times it looked like Elizabeth, at others like Anne and in between Margaret seemed to be backseat driver extraordinaire.  The main victim this week was the poor old Duke of Buckingham who thought he could be king as the plots got thicker and started spreading rumours that his old friend, Richard III, had killed the princes in the tower.  Well, possibly.  Whatever he did say or do was magnified into a major plot by that major plotter, Lord Thomas Stanley, who ultimately pulled everyone's strings in this episode.  Stanley ended this week richer and more powerful than ever before while Buckingham got the chop which was quite handy as yet another pretender to the throne would be too much to handle.  Never mind the strangely old Henry Tudor who was busy training at least six men to fight for him in a forest in France, we've also now got Edward of Middleham who turned up half way through as Richard and Anne's son aged ten and all but towering over both his parents.

Buckingham gets caught in the rain but there was nothing for him to sing about - the end was just around the corner of a very muddy field for the would be king of England

Richard III meanwhile was preparing for war.  A lot.  Last week every time he spoke, he ordered someone to prepare his best horses.  This week he kept telling Anne he must prepare for war.  That preparation led to him walking through a rather muddy field with at least ten men in chainmail.  But he didn't have that much time for a proper battle as he seems to have to oversee every execution in the country.  Last week he went all Julius Caesar by waving his hand to have Anthony Woodville beheaded and this week he looked on as Buckingham lost his head.  No wonder he was too tired to get out of bed at the end.

Richard preparing to kiss his wife's hand - he likes getting ready but seems to spend less time doing things than preparing for them

Richard, however, has proved himself to be the most interesting of these three York brothers by a country mile.  Edward stayed ridiculously young and shouted a lot while George never changed his top and barely spoke.  But Richard is full of internal wrangling and deep rooted anxiety which is far more compelling than the moody staring of the other two, even if he does dip into a strange Laurence Olivier doing Shakespeare impression every now and again.

Richard III does like to prepare in The White Queen - here he is preparing to make moves on his niece, Elizabeth of York
The whole episode benefitted from taking its time.  This was a more than leisurely stroll through the months that followed the deposition of boy king Edward V and the coronation of his uncle as Richard III.  While the series so far has galloped through history at a sometimes terrifying rate, this episode allowed each of the characters to show their inner strength and inner demons so that by the end we could enjoy missed meanings leading to confusion and clever plotting taking us to unforeseen conclusions.  The most unforeseen of which was Elizabeth Woodville actually be interesting for a whole episode.  The challenge she gets from her feisty daughter is what she needs to develop into a more rounded character, rather than the hagiographic vision of perfection we've been treated to so far.

Elizabeth, queen of England, has met her match in Elizabeth, princess of England
And with the younger Elizabeth moving centre stage, hat means that next week should be a cracker.  We got a hint of it in the dying moments of episode nine with princess seeming quite overcome by the attentions of her uncle - not surprising as she's spent most of her adult life seemingly cooped up in sanctuary and has had little experience of courtly love.  Richard could be about to lose his heart and his throne all in one summer as The White Queen reaches its finale.

Spoilers - Richard III was forced to deny publicly that he intended making his niece his second queen

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