This review contains spoilers.
The fractured sons of York took centre stage in this week’s episode of The White Queen, during which Edward celebrated fifteen years of his reign, George took a fatal dip in a barrel of Malmsey wine, and Richard began a Sméagol-to-Gollum transformation into the kind of skulking villain you could imagine muttering hunchbacked about the winter of our discontent.
It was George’s story, or rather his ending, that took precedence. His plots to take the throne foiled, the Duke of Clarence was poutier than a teenager with no 3G, and with dialogue about as nuanced. “It’s all her fault, the witch”, George spat as if Elizabeth was a step-mum who’d confiscated his fags. “When I’m Regent of France, then Edward will see what I’m really made of” he said, as the pantomimic score dropped ominously. What you’re made of, George? About 14% proof by the time they buried you. The perfect, fruity accompaniment to meat or fish.
George’s death may not have moved the audience much (who’d mourn a surly prick like him?), but at least the run-up to it boasted some bonkers action. Before he took the plunge, there was a poisoned dog, a sorcerer’s curse, an (almost certainly) poisoned wife, off-screen escape, cameo as a half-man half-bull, and a mother being dragged across the floor like a disobedient toddler. Anyone coming in at that moment might have mistaken Duchess Cecily for a distraught, over-dressed, eighties Culture Club fan, such was her distress about the imminent departure of boy George.
The masked ball was the high point of not only the episode, but possibly the entire series. Like some mental new age promenade theatre directed by Peter Greenaway, leaf-wearing satyrs pranced topless around the King and Queen dressed respectively (and awesomely) as a lion and a unicorn. As so often happens at a bacchanalia, someone had one too many and started mouthing off about the Queen. In this case, it was George, demonstrating a remarkably poor instinct for self-preservation by returning from his successful escape to gnaw on the scenery and get himself arrested. It’s no longer Edward the Pushover, but Edward the Prosecutor, now.
Margaret of Beaufort, newly Mrs Stanley, lapped up the chaos from the shadows. Biding her time until her son could be brought out of exile to challenge the throne, Margaret was forced to play nicely with her enemies, and hated every moment. After practising the little-known midwifery technique of staring immobile and terrified at a dying baby until it came back to life, she won the favour of Elizabeth, affording the pair a rare moment of kinship as they compared their losses.
The birth of a new heir had done little to quench Edward’s whoring ways. Now wearing a school play-style pillow down his jerkin to indicate the toll of that last decade and a half on the throne, Eddie marked the birth of his second son with the least erotic orgy since time began. Getting your rocks off while your bored, resentful brothers and lords look on must be a peculiarity of his, as nobody else was feeling it. Even French prozzie fan George just sat there, alone, furiously stroking his whippet.
We knew things were sitting poorly with Richard, too, as Aneurin Barnard’s Frodo-ish looks took on the pallor and strain of a hobbit wearing the ring. Betrayed by both brothers, poor Richard was feeling the pressure, and Anne beginning to suspect it was her fortune, not her heart, he was after. Despite Anne having given birth to an heir larger than she was, Richard pulled away from his new wife. Even the couple’s sex scene wasn’t granted a characteristic honeyed bum shot, just a chaste bedpost cutaway.
It might have been the donkey costumes, or the magical conversations taking place at full volume a foot away from, yet unbeknownst to, the person being discussed, but there was a ring of Shakespearean drama to episode seven’s proceedings. “It’s here, the tower, or the grave”, Richard poetically told his mother-in-law (another woman utterly at the mercy of the men in her life. “They are all treacherous?” Too right, Duchess). Since the beginning, the series has had a touch of the Michaelmas term play about it, but this was the stagiest – despite the camera swooping Les Miserables-style past guttering candles and up the cast’s noses -, and consequently the most diverting episode yet.
Next week’s offering is entitled Long Live the King, a wish that Edward’s thickening waist, rising cholesterol levels, and incubating enemies may well jeopardise. Until then, let us pray we are all as fertile as our mothers (not mine though; I’m one of six. Shudder).