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Summer 2013 Review: The White Queen

14 Aug

She's white, and a Queen

Here’s the best thing about The White Queen.  In an incredibly bizarre coincidence, the first episode was written by a writer named Emma Frost, the pseudonym of Marvel character White Queen.  Now the not as good.

The first episode of The White Queen, in short.  The series takes place during The War of the Roses, beginning when Edward IV has just been crowned king. A recently widowed woman whose family is on the Lancaster side of the conflict meets the Yorkist king.  In about five minutes, they fall in love, and he loves her so much in these five minutes that he proposes marriage.  She can’t tell her parents, who are wary of her even seeing the king.  He’s on the wrong side, and even though Romeo and Juliet wasn’t invented yet, opposing loyalties are powerful and all that.  She accepts, because, fuck, he’s the king, and he’s handsome to boot, and they get secretly married.  The show then basically spends the last thirty minutes going back and forth between whether the secret marriage was just a ploy by the king to have sex with her or was a legitimate marriage, and it turns out it was legitimate, although the King’s cousin and closest adviser and the king’s mom are both opposed to the marriage, which presumably will lead to trouble later on.

As previously mentioned, The White Queen is a piece of historical fiction about the marriage of Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner, and King Edward IV during The War of the Roses. While the White Queen is historical, and Game of Thrones is fantasy, Game of Thrones, like most fantasy, is set during quasi-medieval times, and in particular based some of its conceptual framework on the War of the Roses  White Queen may not actively be attempting to imitate Game of Thrones, but  some of the ideas and characters and themes seem similar enough to look kind of like the original, but a version that came out all twisted and broken.

Examples of similarities include a young king who halts a potential kingdom-making royal marriage to marry a commoner he’s smitten with, dueling royal familie, with people switching sides depending on which way the wind is blowing, a strong maternal female character who is the brains behind her family’s oafish male counterparts, and even some magic.   I won’t get on the show too much for not looking as good as Game of Thrones because of the probably production budget differences, but it doesn’t.

The White Queen is like Game of Thrones without all the parts that make Game of Thrones good.  That’s probably too harsh for the sake of being snappy and concise but it’s not off point.  The biggest single condemnation I can make of the show is that feels hollow. Everything that happens feels like empty exposition with nothing behind it and I struggled to find a reason to care or invest myself.  Obviously it’s hard to create a ton of characterization in the first episode of a series, but I don’t feel like I know the characters at all.   The characters felt like written descriptions rather than actual characters.  Not only do I feel like I know nothing about the new queen and king, but they didn’t sell me at all on their unlikely love that is supposed to get this story going.   She’s supposed to be such a mind-mindbogglingly charismatic commoner that the king would swear off a smart foreign marriage for her, and I don’t get that here. The episode felt largely artless; even outside of the characters there was no sense of direction, writing, or aesthetic that gave me reason to want to step back into this world for another episode.

When I finished the episode, I just didn’t care, not about the forbidden love, not enough to root for the king, or the White Queen, or the queen’s practical, possibly magic mother, or, well, anything.  It’s not compelling, and in a post Game of Thrones world, it’s hard for me to not watch this fantasy show without making the comparison, which as mentioned above does not suit The White Queen well. I’m not sure whether the mere existence Yorks and Lancaster is supposed to make us feel the charge of how forbidden this love. Maybe in England, you can just say Yorks and Lancasters and you automatically get the sense of instant rivalry that North and South in the Civil War would bring in America.  I understand historically that Yorks vs. Lancasters was a big deal, but I would like the show to convince me of that through storytelling rather than mention it a couple of times and have it assumed so due to historical context. There’s a real cheap attempt in the last two minutes to keep prolonged interest in the show when the new queen sees a possibly magical vision of her own blood, but other than that I’m not sure what I have to look forward to.

Will I watch it again?  Nope.  Honestly, the best I can say about The White Queen is that it reignited my interest in the War of the Roses. I know I’m a history nerd, but it’s probably not a great sign if I enjoy the reading about the real life characters on Wikipedia more than I do watching the show.