Review of ‘The White Queen’ on TV


Although technically not the Tudors, I am going to write my review of The White Queen which was shown on BBC1 for ten weeks. For those in America where the entire series has not been shown yet, beware of spoilers.

'The White Queen' starring Rebecca Ferguson and Max Irons on DVD.
‘The White Queen’ starring Rebecca Ferguson and Max Irons on DVD.

Synopsis:-

Episode 1 – In Love with the King

Elizabeth Woodville meets Edward IV for the first time. They marry in secret and consummate their relationship. Elizabeth’s brother, Anthony, believes that Elizabeth has been conned, until Edward announces in council that he is married to her. Elizabeth goes to the court and meets Edward’s brothers, George and Richard, and the family of the Earl of Warwick.

Episode 2 – The Price of Power

A great coronation is planned for Elizabeth to silence critics of the marriage. Warwick and George make an alliance against Edward, sealed by the marriage of Warwick’s eldest daughter, Isabel, to George. They are joined by Margaret Beaufort, who hopes that she may have her son, Henry Tudor, returned to her.

Episode 3 – The Storm

The Earl of Warwick’s rebellion results in the deaths of Elizabeth’s father and brother and she, along with her mother Jacquetta, puts a curse on both Warwick and George in retaliation. Warwick flees to France when his rebellion fails with George, Isabel, his wife and younger daughter, Anne.

Episode 4 – The Bad Queen

Warwick makes an alliance with the wife of Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou, in which his daughter Anne marries Margaret’s son, Edward. Warwick takes London and puts Henry VI back on the throne. Edward IV flees and Elizabeth enters sanctuary with her daughters and mother, where she finally gives birth to a baby boy called Edward.

Episode 5 – War at First Hand

Margaret Beaufort brings her son, Henry, to court, to meet Henry VI. Margaret of Anjou and Anne Neville return to England, only to find that Edward IV is returning with an army to reclaim his throne. Warwick and Anne’s husband, Edward, die in battle. Elizabeth is dismayed when the York brothers smother Henry VI in his sleep in order to halt his claim to the throne.

Episode 6 – Love and Marriage

Elizabeth finds that Edward has a new mistress, Jane Shore. Her second son dies shortly after birth, along with her mother Jacquetta. George tries to control Anne Neville to gain the entire Warwick fortune. Anne is saved by the intentions of Edward IV’s youngest brother, Richard, who marries her. Margaret Beaufort remarries.

Episode 7 – Poison and Malmsey Wine

Both George and Richard are horrified when Edward IV makes peace with France. Both Elizabeth and Anne give birth to sons, but George makes a deal with the French King. When his wife, Isabel, dies in childbirth he accuses Elizabeth of poisoning her. George is arrested for treason and condemned to death; he drowns in a vat of wine.

Aneurin Barnard as Richard III in 'The White Queen' (2013).
Aneurin Barnard as Richard III in ‘The White Queen’ (2013).

Episode 8 – The King is Dead

Edward IV is dying. On his death bed he appoints his younger brother, Richard, as Lord Protector of his son, Edward in his minority. After Edward dies and the new King is on his way to London, he is intercepted and taken to the Tower of London. Elizabeth substitutes her second son for a common boy in the Tower and flees into sanctuary.

Episode 9 – The Princes in the Tower

Margaret Beaufort instructs her men to kill the Princes in the Tower in the siege to supposedly rescue them. Buckingham sides with the Tudors, and it is assumed that the boys in the Tower are dead. Richard visits Elizabeth in sanctuary and she realises that Margaret Beaufort double-crossed her. Elizabeth curses her. Buckingham is executed.

Episode 10 – The Final Battle

Henry Tudor begins to recruit an army in France. Richard begins to look for a second wife in his niece, Elizabeth of York. Anne dies of tuberculosis, shortly after her son. Elizabeth of York has been promised to Henry Tudor when he attains the throne, but her children would be cursed. The Battle of Bosworth Field ends with the death of Richard and the crowning of Henry Tudor.

Review:-

The above is just a vague summary of the episodes. There are a lot of smaller sub-plots running through the episodes as well, a large one of these is that of witchcraft.

I am currently reading the novel of The White Queen and found that George, Duke of Clarence’s fall and execution was done a little differently on screen to how it was in the novel. It was certainly more fun on screen, but I did feel that it could have stayed truer to the novel. For example, Elizabeth had a woman in the household of the Duke of Clarence – Ankarette Twynho. She was accused by Clarence of giving poison to his late wife, Isabel Neville and their child who died shortly after birth. She was found guilty and immediately executed on Clarence’s orders. This reflected negatively on the Woodville family.[1] None of this was included in the television series, although it is in the novel.[2]

The Telegraph reviewed the first episode of the series after it was broadcast in the UK, and claimed that, as a romance it had its moments, but as a historical drama it had “serious failings”, as there was a lack of clarity in the writing, though the actors were good enough. However, the review does applaud the supporting cast, particularly Janet McTeer as Jacquetta Woodville, who is described as being “a woman of such Machiavellian depths she more than filled the vacuum of her daughter”.[3] The supporting cast did seem to be very well done, but the two leads, Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson, had a difficult job to make the story believable, as the writing wasn’t brilliant.

Conversely to the British reviews, the American reviews don’t focus so much on the cast, the acting and the writing, as on the period itself. British children and adults are apparently more versed in the history of the Wars of the Roses than the Americans. It has been suggested that “shovelling three novels and 30 years of very confusing history into even 10 hour-long episodes requires that The White Queen become a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive narrative”.[4] To me, it did feel from episode to episode that it wasn’t always a cohesive narrative. A lot of the episodes could technically stand alone.

Regardless of these flaws and negative reviews, it is nevertheless a very gripping piece of television and will leave a hole in my Sunday nights. Good job there’s a DVD to satisfy my cravings!


[1] Sarah Gristwood, Blood Sisters: the Women Behind the Wars of the Roses (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013) p. 151

[2] Philippa Gregory, The White Queen (London: Simon Schuster, 2013) pp. 236-7

[3] Gerard O’Donovan, The White Queen BBC1 Review, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/10121856/The-White-Queen-BBC-One-review.html

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