I watched the first episode of “The White Queen” last night, and immediately afterwards snatched my dog-eared copy of The Kings and Queens of England (Jane Murray) from the bookshelf to review the chapter on Edward IV. Kudos to the series opener for sending me to my history book. Historical drama should inspire you to learn more, and this first episode certainly did that.
What surprised me about the show, though, was its fairytale quality. It all struck me as a little too luxurious and tidy for 1460. This was an England at war, so I was expecting something a bit grittier. That hunting lodge, for instance, where Edward and Elizabeth had their trysts was pretty darned lavish, I don’t care how much effort her mum put into tidying it up. I suppose it could just be me. Maybe I’ve been wallowing in an earlier, Anglo-Saxon era for too long. I’ll admit, 1460 is a lot closer to “The Tudors” (one generation) than it is to “The Vikings” (about 600 years), but everything struck me as just a little too lush and gauzy.
The magic that Lady Rivers employed had something of a fantasy feel about it, as well. Not that I doubt that England’s 15th century elite believed in omens, portents and maybe even a little necromancy. I used similar elements in my novel, so I can hardly point an accusing finger. It’s just that three fishing lines tied to a tree, the baubles attached to them suspended in a lake and our heroine ordered to choose one to discover her fate struck me as a little gimmicky. And in this case, not at all necessary! Elizabeth’s down-to-earth, scheming mother needed no magical incentive to nudge her beautiful widowed daughter into the arms of a king who was a known womanizer. I found mum’s ambition for her daughter a far more realistic motivator than that little golden crown Elizabeth pulled out of the water.
As for the romance between Edward and Elizabeth — well, the episode could have been titled “Four Meetings and a Marriage”. It was all very quick, especially considering what was at stake for Edward. History tell us it was a love match, and I believe that. It’s just too bad that the time constraints of squeezing three novels into ten hours of television meant that the story had to be so tightly condensed as to make the attraction between these two more like “Cinderella” or “Snow White” than historical fiction. It had to have been more angst-ridden than that, on both sides.
Still, there was a lot to like in this first episode, particularly Janet McTeer as Lady Rivers. Is it just me, or does she look like she could be Philippa Gregory’s sister?
The scene between Lady Rivers and the king’s mum, Duchess Cicely, was easily my favorite in the show. Cat fights are so delicious. No blood drawn, but lethal nevertheless. Well done, ladies.
Max Irons made a nicely youthful, randy King Edward. It will be interesting to see how he ages in upcoming episodes, and how Elizabeth deals with him. According to my history book, Edward IV’s grandson, King Henry VIII, “…was said by people who knew them both to resemble him greatly.” In more ways than one, I should imagine. I’m hoping that Part II of this series is a little less fairytale and a little more grit. Given the history of the time, I expect I’ll get my wish.