#TheWhiteQueen is the real thing: William Dalrymple
#TheWhiteQueen is the real thing. Streets ahead of the Borgias and the Tudors. Better than Rome. It could yet equal Game of Thrones. Watch!”
So tweeted William Dalrymple 12 hours ago – and I agree. There was so much to admire in this second episode. We have left last week’s sunshine and hope and reckless love behind us. This week it is about power plays. The Woodvilles have sprung to prominence too fast, and realise their vulnerability. They try to consolidate their position by contracting a series of marriages. But every alliance they secure also creates an enemy. And when they scheme to curb the Earl of Warwick, they make an enemy who can hurt them deeply. The episode ends in a dark place – with darker things to come. Highlights? Amanda Hale as ‘Red Queen’ Margaret Beaufort: not just in the interestingness of her strength and passion, but because she rescues the show from some of the secularism of the first episode (albeit her religiosity is presented as near madness). Again, Rebecca Ferguson is impressive, and again her vulnerability is more affecting than her romantic dominance. I also liked the Neville sisters: looking forward to seeing more of them. Faults? The opening is a little languid, the dialogue a little expositional (and I still wasn’t quite sure who everyone was – or if it mattered), and I still haven’t got inside Edward’s head – but I am more interested to know what he really thinks and feels than I was last week. One thing is certain: we are set up for a humdinger of a third episode.
Critical reaction to the series so far has been mixed. Most of the reviews of Episode One were written by men who appeared to feel safest mocking. Comments on these articles were also largely mocking, or points-scoring – but that is in the nature of comments in such forums. It is a clumsy and inexact vox pop. Curiously, in the lazy game of journalism, it seems to be given a little too much credence. (By the time Deborah Ross writes in the Mail, her piece is a concoction of ‘bloopers’ that have been cited in the comments on other people’s articles. She is, I think, the fifth journalist I have read who suggests that Rebecca Ferguson has ‘Timotei hair’: google ‘Timotei and ‘Woodville’).
The thing I am finding most fascinating about the series (and I admit this is a ‘specialist’ view) is how the three deep first-person POVs of the novels are brought to the screen (Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen, Margaret Beaufort in The Red Queen, Anne Neville in The Kingmaker’s Daughter). In episodes one and two, mostly, it has been a more traditional and distant third person – only strongly focussed on the feelings of Elizabeth Woodville in parts – but those parts are the ones that have worked best for me. This is beginning to slip with episode 2. The beginning of the coronation scene gives us Elizabeth’s viewpoint – especially the moment when she realises Edward will not be at her side – but then it becomes a less personal third person again. Then we focus on Margaret Beaufort’s feelings in the scenes that feature her – conveyed by the much bleaker, dark and gothic look (especially when she is with her son Henry: the contrast is stark between well-lit Elizabeth with her doted-upon blonde children and rejected Margaret in unlit crypt-like scenes). I also felt we saw Anne Neville’s scenes from her POV: the moment when Richard offers her the status of a seat beside him, and her infant glee in her sister’s story-telling. I am curious about the technicalities of how this works – from writer and director’s point of view. Also, how consistent is it?
As the audience, so far, I think it is only half working. There is definitely more interest the closer we are to the single characters’ viewpoints. But when the men are present it always seems to be a more distant third person – and we are cut off from being able to empathise with their stronger emotions. I see what the writers (Philippa Gregory and screen writer Emma Frost) are trying to do here: telling the women’s stories, and keeping a feminine frame on all of it. I’m just not quite certain (yet) that it works in this medium. As the audience I want to have some access to all the characters.
The trailer for episode 3 – includes a spoiler from the start.