9 years into the bloody and gruesome war of the roses between the Yorks and Lancasters, Yorkist King Edward IV (Max Irons) sits on the throne of England, having forced his brother, King Henry VI, off the throne. The White Queen sees Edward IV trying to keep a hold of his crown and rule over a nation divided in two, but the war of the roses is secondary to the story of Edward taking a wife – Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), the widow of a Lancasteran sympathizer. This new Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne throws a wrench into the plans of the “King Maker” Lord Warwick (James Frain), who wants Edward to marry a French princess in order to prevent a war with France.
The White Queen is reminiscent of a few popular series from the past few years. The historical aspect and the subject matter specifically are eerily similar to The Tudors. Plus, this series has a magical element, which feels like it’s trying to cash in on the popularity of Game of Thrones, but thankfully these elements are muted and don’t come into play all the time. The center of the mystical aspect to the series is Queen Elizabeth’s mother Jacquette (Janet McTeer), who believes she is descended from a goddess and has the ability to see the future. This would be fine with me if it were up for debate, but it’s made pretty clear in the first episode that there is legitimate magical forces in this world and that Jacquette and Elizabeth both have the ability to use those forces.
A lot of the performances here are very good. I particularly like Rebecca Ferguson’s portrayal of Elizabeth once we get beyond the first episode. It’s not that she’s bad in the beginning; more that the structure of the first episode is awkwardly rushed. We go from Elizabeth hating Edward for being indirectly responsible for her husband’s death, to him attempting to rape her, to them getting married and her pledging her devotion and love to him. Maybe that kind of arc could play out over a 10 episode mini-series, but having it unfold in under 30 minutes is a lot to ask an audience.
I find the historical narrative of this fascinating, and it’s interesting to figure out how these characters’ lives interlace with other prominent historical figures like Richard III and the house of Tudor. Watching the unknown historical elements fold into something more familiar really pulled me into the series and kept me interested the whole way.
Special Features on the DVD include several behind the scenes featurettes concerning the making of the series, its adaptation from a series of books, and a couple of historical looks at key characters. Available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment.