This review contains spoilers.
What a pity it is for The White Queen to have hit its stride only this late in the game. The penultimate episode, with its shadowy plots, simmering guilt and double crosses, was such smashing telly that our one remaining visit to the fifteenth century on a Sunday night doesn’t seem enough. Who’s for joining me in whipping up a frock from the dining room curtains and staging a saints’ knees flash mob outside Media City until the BBC promises to return next year with The White Queen 2: Lancastrian Boogaloo?
Episode nine’s focus on a single plot – the fate of the Princes in the Tower – made for particularly satisfying viewing. Not only is it a fascinating and much-fictionalised story, but each of the main players had a stake in its outcome, leading to The White Queen’s most cohesive instalment yet. Elizabeth wanted the boys out, Richard wanted them in, while Margaret and Anne, not without their guilt in the matter, wanted them slaughtered.
Said princes spent much of the episode like Schrodinger’s paradoxical cat, both alive and dead until someone checked. Richard III (absolved of guilt by this telling of events) discovered them gone, and the last we saw Edward and his brother-impersonating commoner, a hooded figure had crept into their room at Buckingham’s behest, and not, we suspect, to sing them a lullaby.
One character who didn’t appear to care either way about the boys’ fates as long as the upshot left him closer to power and wealth was Rupert Graves’ enjoyably self-serving Lord Stanley. The telly viewing public loves a bastard, and the number Stanley pulled on poor Margaret this week was bastardry of the highest order. Since his introduction mid-way through the series, Graves’ modern performance has helped to tip The White Queen’s scales from melodrama to drama, largely by delivering his lines free of stagey declamation.
The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for Arthur Darville’s Buckingham, who was already facing an uphill struggle with realism and sympathy in that Beatles wig. Believe me Bucks, a beheading was the best thing for it.
The real praise of course, goes to Rebecca Ferguson, Amanda Hale and Faye Marsay as the Queens White, Red and – what colour would Anne be? Let’s say Green, on account of her favourite fur-collared frock. Hale was this week’s stand-out as Margaret, and not just as an fanatic oddity able to simultaneously convey religious devotion and gender-stymied dismay with just a twitch of her magnificent chin, but as a properly sympathetic character. Done over by her scheming husband, I wanted to reach through the screen and pull out Margaret by the hand. Look Mags, it’s the twenty-first century. Why not channel all that energy into doing a nice PhD or presenting a documentary series on BBC Four? Or maybe you could run for political office, you’d be frighteningly good at that.
Similar plaudits to director Colin Teague, whose camera found a different inventive angle through which to frame the shadowy action for every day of the week. We saw the story unfold from perched up high over Richard and Anne’s royal chamber, swung low underneath a doorway, and even looking squarely up Lord Stanley’s nostrils at one point. You’ve never truly grasped the political nuance of the Wars of the Roses until you’ve seen it expressed through the medium of Rupert Graves’ quivering nose hair.
Philippa Gregory’s project – and so that of this series – was to tell a ripping yarn whilst refocusing history’s lens on the women whose political and emotional lives were buried beneath their official portraits and lists of issue. It’s taken nine bumpy, often disappointing hours, but The White Queen has finally arrived there. Better late than never.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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