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BBC ONE: The White Queen Review

Rarely am I satisfied with a dramatisation of a novel. I have yards of checklists constantly comparing it to the original book – does it match the literary style of the author? Does it create the same mood and atmosphere? How historically accurate is the depiction?

What impressed me the most was how well the characters were brought to life. It was as if they had chewed and chewed on the descriptions on the novels’ pages, digested it, and the words had become their very blood and flesh. Jacquetta’s ever brimming eyes full of her shrewdness, and how Warwick calls out ‘Edward!’ in the very first episode, as if a parent is trying to gently persuade a child, but with slight underlying intimidation. So simple, but encapsulating perfectly the Kingmaker’s initial overriding influence over the King Edward IV. It was marvelously done.

The drama combines the three books from Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins Wars series: The White Queen, Kingmaker’s Daughter, and The Red Queen. This has its limitations – whereas the portrayal of each characters on their own merit were fantastic, how these key women (Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville, Margaret Beaufort) were emotionally interconnected were only fleetingly shown. The intensity of the terror Anne felt for Elizabeth, or the icy coldness Elizabeth shows to the Warwick sisters is definitely there, but is not tangible enough to be the central driving force of the story.

If you are planning to watch The White Queen to learn more about the Wars of the Roses, you would be slightly disappointed. It doesn’t really bother explaining family lines and why Yorks and Lancasters are both claiming the throne. I haven’t read The Red Queen yet, and even on Episode 6 I am utterly clueless why Margaret Beaufort believes her son would be the the King of England or who the hell is Jasper Tudor.

To make up for this, you can also watch The Real White Queen and Her Rivals, a documentary series narrated by Philippa Gregory herself, that digs deeper into the relationship and history of the three women at the War of the Roses.

Despite a few limitations, I am still thoroughly enjoying BBC’s The White Queen and am gutted to see that it only goes up to 10 episodes.  I give it five stars, without hesitation.

The White Queen

* And here is a show for the ultimate history geeks who are going through The White Queen obsession like I am:

The Time Team Series 18, Episode 7. It’s about Groby Old Hall in Leicestershire which was once home to Elizabeth Woodville.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/time-team/4od#3182876

Was there a romance between Richard III and Elizabeth of York?

Royalty - English Monarchs - King Richard IIIelizabeth_york

In Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins’ War series, Elizabeth of York falls in love with King Richard III while she is serving as a lady in waiting for Queen Anne Neville. So what? – You may ask. Did I mention that Richard III is her uncle who had declared his brother’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid and made all their children (including Elizabeth of York) bastards? Did I mention that Elizabeth of York’s brothers (the heir to the throne) had gone mysteriously missing while under the guardianship of him?

It seemed extraordinary that out of all men, Elizabeth would fall for someone who had ousted her family out of their rightful place. And I was dying to know if Richard did flaunted their courtship in order to weaken her family’s alliance with the House of Lancaster who were continuous threat to his throne.

So how much of this is a creation of a novellist, and how much of it is a fact?

The speculation of their incestuous relationship actually dates back a long way – to their very own time.

After Richard’s wife Anne Neville’s death in March 1485, rumours spread that the King intended to marry his niece, Elizabeth. Although a marriage between uncle and niece was not strictly forbidden by the church, it had caused much revulsion among the councilors, and Richard’s most trusted men Ratcliffe and Catesbury warned him that such decision would lose support of Northerners as it would seem Richard had caused the death of his wife in order to marry Elizabeth. Twelve doctors of divinity were also summoned by Parliament to put forward their objections and Richard then publicly denied the accusation.

There is also an account by Sir George Buck, an antiquarian and Master of the Revels to King James I of England, claiming that he has seen a letter from Elizabeth to the 1st Duke of Norfolk asking him:

“to be a mediator for her in the cause of [the marriage] to the king who was her only joy and the maker in the world, and that she was his hart, in thought, and in all, and then she intimated that the better half of Feb was past, and that she feared the queen would never [die].”

Unfortunately the original letter failed to survive and his account cannot be validated.

It is also worth bearing in mind that Richard opened negotiations for himself to be marry Joanna, the sister of the King of Portugla, and Elizabeth to marry Joanna’s cousin, Duke of Beja. The negotiations came to a sudden halt with the news of the Battle of Bosworth.

From my research trudging through resources online, it seems that factual evidences to prove or disprove the speculation is too scarce to draw any assertive conclusion on Richard’s feeling for his niece. The air of unease and suspicion surrounding the supposed romance seems obvious, but again the evidence is only circumstantial. The supposed letter written by Elizabeth may or may not have existed, and Richard’s marriage negotiations with Portugal does not necessarily deny the feelings they may have shared together.

For those of you who would like to read deeper on evidences surrounding this supposed romance, try:

“Yorkists: The History of a Dynasty”  by Anne Crawford or “Elizabeth of York; The Forgotten Tudor Queen” by Amy Licence.

 

 

The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory: Book Review

kingmaker

This is the fourth book of The Cousins War series, which tells a story of Anne Neville.

As the daughter of  the most powerful magnate, the Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’, she has no choice but to be at the heart of  the political game in 15th century England. As a young girl, she witnesses her father slowly lose his grip of influence over the King Edward IV, making the Queen Elizabeth Woodville a sworn enemy of her family. In Warwick’s constant struggle for power and ambition, she finds herself marrying the son of  ‘the Bad Queen’, Margaret of Anjou, is imprisoned by her sister Isabel, falls in love with the brother of the King, and finally rises to the position of Queen of England.

It is basically the same story in The White Queen, told from a completely different perspective. Already knowing how the story unfolds meant I felt like trudging through the book without any suspense or climax, but that aside, I much enjoyed how events and characters took a different shade of tone.

First of all, the beautiful and charismatic Elizabeth Woodville becomes the epitome of evil seductress, who is regarded as the cause of all misfortunes. It is she who corroded Edward’s favour on Warwick, it is she who divides the three York brothers, it is she who whistles up a storm resulting in the death of Anne’s sister Isabel’s baby. She is greedy, she is a minx, she is a witch.

In The White Queen, when seen through the eyes of Elizabeth, George the Duke of Clarence is portrayed as a shallow drunkard who chooses to be drowned in wine as a punishment for his treason. Elizabeth is aghast at this sick joke.

In The Kingmaker’s Daughter, we see a much darker picture. Fear never leaves Anne and Isabel as they believe the Queen has cursed them in revenge of her father and brother’s execution ordered by Warwick, and George gathers evidence that it is the Queen who has poisoned his wife, Isabel.  With so much hatred, enmity, as well as terror built up against this witch Queen, George makes his last gesture by choosing to die in the Queen’s favourite drink, malmsey wine: it is her doing that killed Isabel and poisoned justice.

 

There isn’t much to be said on the character of Anne Neville. She is voiceless and always ever so obedient, keeping her quiet struggles to herself. Yes, I understand that as a woman of that time, she had no other choice but to be obedient. But I found her lack of response and her tendency to be defiant frustrating and bland. If her journey and growth as a character was well developed, I would have appreciated the moment *spoiler alert* when she finally takes her future into her own hands and persuades her husband Richard to take the throne for himself. But I didn’t. It just felt like it was out of her character. Had her relationship with her father been explored deeper, allowing the reader to see the affection between them, Anne  finally fulfilling the lifelong ambition of her father by becoming the Queen would have been touching, but it wasn’t.

On so many levels, I felt the book could have been more emotionally engaging had it been so and so. But it didn’t. An okay book, but not so memorable.

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