The White Queen (2013)
a TV miniseries based on Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War series
Elizabeth Woodville, a beautiful widow of the Rivers family with two young children, captures the heart of King Edward IV and like Cinderella, rises from commoner to royalty when she marries the young monarch. But the life of Queen Elizabeth is anything but a fairy tale. The court stews with intrigue and treachery as the powerful families of England fight to gain and retain wealth and power over the king. When the powerful Earl of Warwick decides that the Rivers must be destroyed, he turns on Edward and helps return the throne to Henry VI and his powerful queen, Margaret of Anjou. England hangs in the balance as the Houses of York and Lancaster tear the country to pieces.
If you’re looking for a history lesson, The White Queen will disappoint you. Liberties aplenty are taken with the historical record as time is compressed (thirty years in ten hours!), events rearranged, and characters combined to keep the cast manageable. But for fans of Philippa Gregory’s distinctive spin on the period, The White Queen brings her characters to the screen in a very vivid, memorable way. Her focus on the women of the time period Elizabeth Woodville and her mother Jacquetta, the Neville sisters Isabel and Anne, the dominating mothers Margaret Beaufort and Duchess Cecily and the influence they wield over the men ruling the kingdom invigorates the familiar story. Witchcraft, a third source of influence, also plays a major role in shaping the fate of England as some women cast spells while others live in mortal fear of them.
The casting of the show is very good in that all of the actors suit their roles well and do an excellent job bringing Edward IV’s court to life. Some of the actors are so comfortable in their roles I suspect they’ve played them before does David Oakes excel as Edward’s jealous older brother George because he played a very similar character in The Borgias a few years back? Is James Frain such a perfect Warwick because he’s already had a turn or two as the man behind the throne, like when he played Thomas Cromwell on The Tudors?*
* No, James Frain really is just that amazing. I love that actor and get a giddy little thrill whenever he pops up unexpectedly in a TV show I’m watching, like his too-brief appearances in Grimm and Sleepy Hollow last year.
There’s a strong temptation to compare The White Queen show to Game of Thrones. After all, George R. R. Martin has said that he was inspired by the Cousins’ War when he created his own fictitious families vying for the Iron Throne. It’s a tough comparison to make, though. After all, The White Queen has no dragons, and characters tend to be shallower and more single- note since they only have a few episodes to develop them. But I do think there is a lot of potential for crossover fans, and perhaps during the next gap between Game of Thrones seasons more people will take the time to check out The White Queen.
** Fun show trivia: One of the head writers for The White Queen is named Emma Frost. In Marvel’s X-Men series, there is a character named Emma Frost who also goes by the White Queen. True story.