Rebecca Ferguson (center)
History, Winston Churchill reminded us, is written by the victors. He might have added that it’s also usually written by the men.
Based on a series of bestselling historical novels by Philippa Gregory, The White Queen – an opulent 10-part series premiering tonight on Starz after a sneak preview last night – strives to correct that gender bias by looking at a turbulent period in 15th-century English history from the perspective of the women who had a powerful influence on world-shaking events.
The story opens in 1464, during the War of the Roses between two rival factions of the Plantagenet family. Young King Edward IV (Max Irons, son of Jeremy) of the House of York sits on the throne, thanks to the cunning behind-the-scenes machinations of Lord Warwick (James Frain), whose skill at power plays has earned him the nickname “the Kingmaker.”
The cordial relationship between those two men is sorely tested, however, when Edward falls in love with a beautiful commoner, Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), a widow of the rival House of Lancaster, whose mother, Jacquetta (the magnificent Janet McTeer), is every bit as wily as Warwick.
To Warwick’s horror, after Elizabeth firmly resists Edward’s proposition that she become his mistress, the King marries her in a secret ceremony that also is greeted with dagger-like derision by Edward’s mother, Duchess Cecily (Caroline Goodall).
Their union sets into motion a domino chain of political moves by other key players in the ongoing war, including the unstable and fanatically religious Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale), who is singlemindedly obsessed with installing her son, Henry Tudor, on the throne.
Starz has pleaded with reviewers not to spill any more of the storytelling beans, and I’ll respect that since, once past a stately-paced first hour, the narrative picks up momentum and unfolds with the tension of a contemporary political thriller. And if you’re as English history-challenged as most American viewers (including this one) are, rest assured that the adaptors of this BBC co-production have done a commendable job of keeping a tight focus on the sprawling events, so you should be able to keep straight all the various Edwards and Henrys and Marys without too much trouble.
I’ve seen eight of the 10 episodes in this series (the final two are still in post-production), and I tore through them in a couple of marathon sessions, so caught up was I in the characters and their story. Unless you’re naturally averse to historical costume dramas, you’ll probably find The White Queen a well-acted and lavishly produced way to spend a chunk of your remaining summer evenings.
The main characters of ‘The White Queen’