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Colyngbourne 18th Jun 2013 12:18

The White Queen
Now I know some good people here are watching superior Gallic fare on a Sunday evening, with The Returned. In all other times and worlds, that would be my first port of call too – but in a year that is turning out to be stuffed full of Wars of the Roses themed events and causes, my unfortunate loyalty has to be to the costume-drama dross that is the adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen (which I reviewed in Books some time in the last two years).

Pity me then. This is the only Wars of the Roses drama that has ever made it to the screen in my entire life (disbarring Shakespeare) and I’m blowed if I am going to be put off by anachronistic clothing (Cecily Neville, I’m looking at you with your horned hat of horror at least 15 years out of date! ) – or by appalling scripting for the two romantic leads, or by the basic trashing of history to accomplish dramatic ends (Richard of Gloucester is 12 and Warwick’s daughter Anne is 8 in 1464, rather than the 20 yr olds depicted here; Edward didn’t fight at Hexham; Warwick didn’t even know Edward had met Eliz Grey until he announced his marriage at court in Reading in Sept of that year, when Bona of Savoy was NOT present).

Well, all things can be woven to suit a dramatist’s eye, and I can broadly accept the spinning of historical fact into historical theory and supposition, but as the episodes run, there will be distortions heaped upon various characters. My sympathies in this episode were principally for Cecily Neville, supposedly the part-inspiration for Lewis Carroll for the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland (she has a baby who turns into a pig – her youngest son Richard of Gloucester famously has a boar for his cognisance). Tenniel’s illustrations for Carroll recalled the well-known 1515 painting The Ugly Duchess (no historical connection to Cecily), and this image was deliberately played on in Cecily’s main scene, both in costume and in depiction. Cecily was a known beauty – the “Rose of Raby” in her youth and “Proud Cis” in her adult days, and very up to date with her fashions, so to be transfigured into an objectionable and ridiculously-dressed harridan seemed a real injustice that turned her into a pantomimic figure.

But that’s all this is – a broad-brush introduction to the complicated familial and political entanglements of the Wars of the Roses. Virtually all viewers will have brought little or no knowledge of the period, and will come away with some scorn as to the production values (elements ticked boxes but many failed) but at least with the beginnings of an understanding of the York/Lancastrian struggles. And that’s no bad thing. There are more balanced treatments of the period, in novel and film-script form, but Gregory sells many thousands and may well draw a big crowd to the Bruges setting, the luxuriant but over-polished set-dressing and the good looks of the younger actors. I enjoyed James Frayn as a sarcastic and sidelined Warwick, and anticipate a fine Margaret Beaufort (my medieval villain of the year) from Amanda Hale (who plays Emily Reid in Ripper Street).

amner 18th Jun 2013 12:58

Re: The White Queen
I have this lined up (I too am taken with The Returned) but I may simply not bother. There was a wave of opprobrium across the networks during air time, and I just don't think I can be arsed, frankly. I'm not really sure that I expected any different, if I'm honest.

To add another slant, a stately homes gardener whom I follow on Twitter was aghast at the horticultural anachronisms!

It reminded me of the birder who complained (probably justifiably given the title of the piece) that the Collared Dove heard in Birdsong was all wrong, and they hadn't spread that far north from the Med by 1918! I guess you have to be pretty sharp to produce an historical piece as accurately as some would like.

Colyngbourne 18th Jun 2013 13:03

Re: The White Queen
I am no gardener (those coming to the BDO will find!) but the groomed driveway to Grafton Manor was like something out of Regency England - indeed many of the scenes there had, I think, a deliberate evocation of the Joe Wright Pride & Prejudice, with Jacquetta as the scheming and overbearing Woodville mother, determined to get her daughter Elizabeth wedded well to the King of England (just one daughter amongst a brood of thousands).

amner 18th Jun 2013 13:08

Re: The White Queen
I was going to ask you, actually Col, what think ye of Sharon Penman? A reader of my blog gifted me her When Christ and His Saints Slept after I mentioned Stephen and Matilda.

Isn't The Sunne In Splendour supposed to be better than the Gregory stuff?

Colyngbourne 18th Jun 2013 16:31

Re: The White Queen
Yes, it's a lot better - a mixture of straight history pieces, then into fairly detailed plotlines. Penman is the best basic introduction to "the story" that you can get in one sitting, I think: yes, she novelises the characters - Edward is Ned, Richard is Dickon, Warwick's brother John Neville is Johnny - but this works because there are so many characters with the same names. It was the way I got Older Daughter into the Wars of the Roses in preparation for her A level history assignment. I haven't read any of her other books though - I think I would probably appreciate them if I was into any other period of history so keenly.

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