Who let the Dogs Out? Male critics chew on Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen

Richard Lee

images-67How interesting that most of the UK newspapers chose male critics to get their teeth into The White Queen.

In The Telegraph, it’s Gerard O’Donovan; Sam Wollaston for The Guardian; Tom Sutcliffe for The Independent, Keith Watson for Metro; Jim Shelley for the Daily Mail; Andrew Billin for The Times. Only The Mirror (Becca Day-Preston) and The Huffington Post (Caroline Frost) handed the review to women.

And – it is fair to say – they do not love the series (yet). Variously they bemoan that it is sexy (but too ‘soft porn’), that it is sumptuous (obligatory licence-fee payer gibes), that the supporting cast outshone the leads (but everyone knows the plot for the leads in this first episode), that it is one dimensional (same problem as with the leads), that it is not The Game of Thrones (and?) and that it is filmed in a very clean and well-lit Belgium (admittedly the Woodville bedroom does seem a little open-plan). The best line is perhaps Tom Sutcliffe’s ‘I’m sure it will give innocent pleasure to many, but a lot of cod had to sacrifice their wallops to make it possible’ – but I think he had written it before he watched.

Unknown-91So what does this tell us?

I wonder.

But in case anyone wants to know what yet another man thinks of the show – here’s my take.

Yes, it was bit clean and beautiful for civil war – but entirely correctly, I believe, artistically – because this episode was all about youth, love, and an impossible romance. To quote Thomas Malory, ‘like as trees and herbs burgeoneth and flourisheth in May, in like wise every lusty heart that is any manner of lover springeth, burgeoneth, buddeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds.’ This is the world of Edward and Elizabeth for this episode. I’ll expect more grit and grime later.

images-68Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodville was excellently cast. She is beautiful, but unusual also, and her looks convey intelligence and subtlety. There was a little problem with viewpoint, I felt. In the book the story is told in her voice, and sometimes this story was too distant from/confused about her viewpoint (trying not to give spoilers, but the scene where Edward’s amorousness is discouraged). I haven’t warmed to Max Irons much yet (I keep looking for his father’s face in him, which is distracting, and makes him look pudgier by comparison than he probably is). To be fair, though, so far he has not had much to do except try to be handsome.

The magic? Well, I strongly believe that you HAVE to have magic in historical fiction, because everyone believed in it. The same with religion – and the two must snap and worry at each other, and frequently overlap. But this magic didn’t do it for me (especially not the ring). And there was no religion to speak of – except a wedding ceremony that could apparently have been denied. It was a secularist take on the people and the time, and that is always a problem for me.

But will I watch on? Definitely. I’d watch just for the photography. I’d watch because in two or three places Elizabeth Woodville shows her vulnerability, and it drew me into her story. She will be threatened again, and I want to see what she does. There are great stories of conflict and betrayal to come, and I want to see them play out.





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