The White Queen: Episode One - Review

On Sunday, BBC One debuted The White Queen, a new series about neither chess nor the X-Men character played by January Jones in First Class. This is an adaptation of a novel by Phillipa Gregory, which exploits the Wars of the Roses to provide some sword-swinging/shagging action. I've been enjoying Game of Thrones lately, so I thought, y'know, why not? Maybe this is my sort of thing now.

So, was it? Is this really just an attempt to cash in on Thrones-mania, or does The White Queen stand on its own two feet? Let's find out. Spoilers follow, if these things bother you, check it out on iPlayer.

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Reviewer's Romantic Confusion

The plot is thus: young widow meets young King, they meet up a few times and get a bit obsessed with each other, he tries to rape her, they decide to get married instead, he takes her to court and literally no-one is pleased to see her, because the King should be marrying someone more politically advantageous. Yes, this is similar to the Robb Stark plot from recent Thrones, but it's hard to hold that against them, since the battle of marrying for Love Vs Obligation has been a key dilemma in period drama for ages.

More odd is the bit where the King tries to rape Elizabeth because he "simply must have her", and they resolve this situation by getting married, thus meaning they can have non-rape sex without her becoming his "mistress". Now, for all I know this is entirely accurate to the history and/or books, and I know we're dealing with different values here, but it's a very strange viewing experience nonetheless, especially the scenes where they act like naive twirling kids in love. Are we meant to sympathise with the young King as a smitten man in a nasty situation, or worry about his clearly-advertised dark side? Are we rooting for their romance, or staring bemusedly at it?

To be fair, the air of moral amibguity continues throughout, as young Elizabeth and her mother end up more or less threatening the King's mother to keep quiet, then force her to curtsey to them so she knows her place. Maybe we're just dealing with a show where everyone's willing to act like a bit of a bastard in pursuit of their dreams.

You Must Draw Your Assessment To A Conclusion, Sir

The supporting cast, meanwhile, establish their roles and don't do much else - although, as ever for British drama, you get to play "Where do I know them from?"; I spotted Jenny from Doctor Who easily enough. But there are ten episodes of The White Queen, so presumably the backing players will get more to do now we've moved everyone into the Royal Court, which seems like the setting for most of the action.

So, that was The White Queen episode one. Overall, this isn't going to be what makes BBC period drama cool, I'm afraid. Hell, Ripper Street did a better job of that - this felt like the usual stiff stuff, maybe a couple of withering one liners, mostly okay acting, but nothing hugely memorable. If you want to get into the Thrones comparisons, not many of the characters felt especially real and three-dimensional, which is the main strength of that other show. I do feel mildy curious about where it's going, though - only time will tell whether I watch the remaining nine episodes or just google the end of the novel.

The White Queen is on BBC One, 9PM, Sundays. More info on their official site, and an index of iPlayerable episodes here.

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