I’ve been waiting a long time for this adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s White Queen trilogy, about the women of the Wars of the Roses – Elizabeth Woodville, who becomes Queen of Edward IV; Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor; and Anne, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker and wife of Richard III. The Wars of the Roses are much more interesting than the Tudors. So the BBC, in collaboration with Starz, are putting on a ten-episode summer run of this series.
The first episode was basically about setting up the titular White Queen (white because of the white rose of the Yorks). Lady Elizabeth Grey, recently widowed because her husband was fighting for the Lancastrian King Henry VI, goes out to meet Edward IV with her two young sons in order to ask for her husband’s land back. These two boys were very awkward actors, and I hope we don’t have to see too much of them anymore as hopefully they’ll grow up quickly. Anyway, Elizabeth and Edward meet on the road – they’re immediately attracted to each other. Cue various flirting scenes.
Elizabeth, is the daughter of Jacquetta, who comes from a line in Burgundy and also believes that they come from the line of a French Water Goddess, Melusina. Jacquetta (played by Janet McTeer) uses various charms, and soon Elizabeth is even ‘seeing’ things, but constantly warning her mother that the use of magic is treasonous and illegal (it’s obvious where this is going).
Anyway, the crucial scene for the story is the secret wedding between Elizabeth and Edward. Their only witnesses are Elizabeth’s mother, Jacquetta, and a priest who Edward has paid (and a young choir boy). Did he marry her just to bed her (as she refused to just be her mistress?)? Is this a technique that Anne Boleyn had heard of? Was the marriage going to be just a sham as he would bed her and then run off and marry someone else? Well, although Elizabeth’s brother, Anthony, points out that Edward had allegedly had a secret marriage with someone before to sleep with them and had a child with that woman, this time he upholds the marriage and declares to court that Elizabeth is his Queen.
Now this secret marriage is going to be crucial later on, because other claimants to the throne will argue that the marriage was illegal/did not take place and that therefore the children from this marriage are bastards and can’t rule the throne…
So this episode, as I said, was about setting up these few main characters – although there are more we need to meet properly. We see Margaret Beaufort and Anne Neville briefly, but their stories are to come. There was lots of bed romping – apparently more on the Starz version than the BBC version – and although various things happened, I felt it needed more urgency to the pace and storyline. Also some more historical background about Edward IV’s claim to the throne – an accompanying family tree of the Lancasters and Yorks would be useful as a starting shot (like you get in Gregory’s books) – or that could have been used as part of the opening credits (a la Game of Thrones and the map credits, but this time on the family tree?). I’m still looking forward to the rest of it, and now that everyone’s at court, hope the real drama gets started.