Want rippling abs, heaving bodices and more sex and magic than Vegas? Here’s why you should be watching “The White Queen.”
History has been ruined by the modern age of television—and it is glorious. Sure, there’s the occasional serious historical drama with traumatizing small pox vaccinations and naked Benjamin Franklin in the bath. (Hat tip: HBO’s “John Adams.”) These productions massage our brains like an NPR-podcast, making us smarter by proxy of Laura Linney’s historically-accurate brown teeth.
Then there are other dramas that dress history in chiseled abs, heaving bodices, and more scene-chewing than a badger in a woodshop. Ladies and a few gentlemen, meet “The White Queen.”
Starz’s import from across the pond tells the story of Britain’s War of the Roses, but through the eyes of the womenfolk. A period piece set during the 30-year feud between the House of Plantagenet, there’s lots of magnificent hair, explosive acting, and impeccably-lit sex scenes where proper hygiene is never an issue.
We start off following the life of Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner who married King Edward IV in 1464. Elizabeth was a 27-year-old widow of fertile breeding who once sweet-talked the king under a tree while begging for land rights or something non-bosomy. The King, a cable TV-handsome youth who appreciated a good plea for real estate, was bewitched—possibly literally.
Elizabeth and Edward secretly married, everyone freaked, and power struggles abounded for the next two decades.
Over the ten-episode arc, we follow Elizabeth and Edward, but also Anne Neville (Faye Marsay), the daughter of the “Kingmaker” Warwick, as well Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale), who is the mother of the future king, Henry Tudor.
Starz, which just started airing the first episodes, crows that the “The White Queen” is told through these three “different, yet equally relentless women.” But critics haven’t exactly loved the ten-part series, which The New York Times found seriously “not-as” interesting, sharp, compelling, layered or adventurous as HBO’s wildly-successful “Game of Thrones.”
Well, yeah, if you take it seriously. But shall we compare a direwolf to a house cat? We shall not, because we’d miss out on some of the best reasons to watch “The White Queen.”
1. The hair.
Sure, “The White Queen” may not be a cinematic masterpiece to regale the senses. But check out Janet McTeer’s hair. The impeccable McTeer plays Elizabeth’s mother, Jacquetta Woodville, a character who also believes herself to be descended from a river goddess and therefore, magical.
But Jacquetta isn’t the only woman sporting elaborate braids and a bitchy attitude. “The White Queen” is ripe with characters whose lives are ones of “love and lust, seduction and deception, betrayal and murder.” Its Alexis and Krystle all over again, this time in a coronets and combs.
2. The scene chewing.
Sure, “The White Queen” boasts Oscar-nominated names like Janet McTeer and British mainstays like James Frain. McTeer in particular makes you buy what she’s selling, so much so that you feel like you’re watching a completely different production when she steps on screen.
But sans McTeer, it’s acted by lesser-knowns who would be just at home on a CW shoot or sparkling it up as a brooding vampire/wolf/elf. This means you get dialogue like “You will have to wade through blood!” uttered by gorgeous faces that are not only historically-inaccurately washed but probably steam-cleaned and pressed.
The actors are hammy, hilarious, and no one has nightmares after an unexpected red wedding or castration. Everyone wins!
3. The lads.
Beefcake, be thy muse. The White Queen and her co-horts may flash Pilates-sculpted derrieres at will, but their rugged male conspirators are the real draw. It’s like casting hung up a brooding beacon, immediately drawing in every chiseled-jaw Brit with a SAG card.
There’s Anthony Rivers (Ben Lamb), Elizabeth Woodville’s brother, keen in the ways of courtly behavior and political struggles. There’s King Edward IV (Max Irons) a “fierce solider” who follows his heart. Sprinkle in various sculpted Dukes and we have a fantastic medieval Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue.
4. The magic.
Magic. Sex. Seeing. “The White Queen” has it all. Sure, it may be considered (to be read in hushed tones) pagan, but the women of the War of the Roses know how to make life magical when necessary.
Usually, this happens at conveniently-plotted expository moments, like when Elizabeth stares dramatically into a mirror, while a woman covered in blood stares back at her and she thinks it is her own blood.
Or Jacquetta, armed with ominous music, mysteriously knows that the Duchess Cecily, mother of Edward IV, is a common whore who lay with an archer and cuckolded her husband. But how does she know this?
5. The sexy sex.
Want more skin and moans? Then be sure to stay on the revolutionary side of the Atlantic, because the Starz version has a lot more bang for your buck.
As Kind Edward (Max Irons) himself told the Metro via The Daily Beast, “You get a lot more arse in the Starz version—the cameras kept rolling after the BBC stopped the scene.”
(See also: “tastefully shot but historically dubious soft-core porn.”)
“The White Queen” airs Saturdays at 9pm on Starz. You can watch the first episode free online.
Photos courtesy of Starz.
For further reading:
Women on Film: Daenerys Targaryen Shows Us Strength
Best Braid Hairstyles for Grown-Up Girls
Follow Katherine on Twitter @KathieButler