This review contains spoilers.
This week’s action-heavy episode of The White Queen served me up a delicious platter of my own words. It turns out that the series doesn’t ignore battles at all, it was just saving them up for the half-way point. This week had mist and creeping and mud and blood, arm-flinging battle speeches, thrusting and grimacing, slo-mo hair-flicking and swords galore. At one point, Edward IV performed a head-butt so powerful that a vase fell off the top of my TV.
Did the battle scenes shake off its reputation as a slight and stuffy Sunday night drama? No, but I’ve spent enough time with the characters now for a kind of Stockholm syndrome to have set in. Indeed, I’m almost fond of some of them.
Anne Neville for instance, who spent the preceding weeks piping a series of annoying Received Pronunciation tunes, has emerged as one to watch. Anne’s scenes with camp villain Margaret of Anjou (whom they still insist on introducing feet and cloak-first like a Darth Vader tribute act) play as a pleasing kind of Gothic melodrama. “I ‘av no sense of Anne” says the Bad Queen to her daughter-in-law’s jutting chin this week. Neither did we until now. It turns out the girl’s got game.
Evidence either of improvement or my critical faculties crumbling like an Oxo cube under the weight of The White Queen is that it’s starting to look like a bit of alright, too. It may be the changes in location in these past couple of episodes – Elizabeth’s moodily-lit Abbey, the claustrophobic corridors and cabins of the cross-Channel ships – but suddenly the late-Medieval period looks late-Medieval. It’s as if new director Jamie Payne (Doctor Who, The Hour, Ashes to Ashes) has added an extra dimension to the flat, bright settings of its early instalments. His ship scenes tilt nauseatingly and his gloomy sanctuary scenes are atmospheric. There’s new depth to the style of things, even if the script is still full of clunkers.
Anne’s sister, for one, is still suffering from a bad case of exposition-mouth. Helpfully, she reminded her snake of a father this week, “You are Lancaster, George is York. Anne is my enemy and mother is with her. But I am all on my own”. Yes love, now seeing as you’re in a helpful mood, can you explain that bit about mad King Henry again. The doorbell rang and I missed it.
We joined the Lancastrian court this week as reports of Edward of York’s death were being greatly exaggerated. Just six years after Elizabeth and Edward kicked things off with a morally dubious sexual encounter under an oak tree, he’s been dethroned and rethroned, and she’s produced an heir, a storm, and this week, a ton of mystical dry ice.
Anyone who’d done their homework knew that Edward IV and the future Richard III hadn’t been lost at sea, a notion the quivering court was quickly disavowed of by Warwick. (You’d have to be a ninny not to know that Edward died burning the cakes, watching a spider re-build its web, and ridding Ireland of snakes. Wait. No. Remind me again, was he the one with the hump?)
Warwick’s announcement that Edward had landed in England and was on his way to seize back the throne stopped the rhubarbing crowds in their tracks and made Margaret Beaufort’s jaw twitch more rapidly than usual. “If it’s God’s will for Henry to be king, why does he put another obstacle in the way?” she asked Jasper, and well she might. Her path to righteousness is less like the morning sun shining brighter until the full light of day, and more one painted with Wile-E Coyote-style false horizons. At least history teaches us it pays off for her in the end, even if she has to wait another fifteen years to reap the rewards of the sleeve-chewing.
The same can’t be said for Warwick, whose disloyalty was finally rewarded with a sword through the gut at the Battle of Barnet. After restoring mad King Henry to the throne, off Warwick went to defend him, and died in the attempt.
The body count at this stage in the game then: we’re down Warwick, mad King Henry, good-hearted “man of peace” Henry Stafford, and the Prince of Ice (aka Ant McPartlin in a Pete Doherty wig). Henry Tudor’s back in exile with Uncle Jasper, rebellious George has returned to the home team, and Edward IV is back on the throne, where he started.
Phew. It’s been an exhausting few weeks, and we’ve still five more to go. Is anyone else starting to flag?
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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