August 18, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “The White Queen”


THE WHITE QUEEN:  Saturday 9PM on Starz

Previously… on THE WHITE QUEEN:  Lady Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson) was a widow with two children who captured the lust, and then the heart, of England’s King Edward IV (Max Irons) in 1465.  This was during the War of the Roses, a battle of British nobility for control of the crown, and even though Edward was head of the House of York, and Elizabeth’s family were commoners from the House of Lancaster (whose King Henry VI Edward had ousted), he insisted on marrying her, infuriating his scheming cousin Lord Warwick (James Frain), his own mother Cecily (Caroline Goodall), and many other nobles.

Episode 2:  After the opening few minutes of Elizabeth’s coronation, and apart from some witchcraft toward the end, the romance and fantasy were over on The White Queen, and the show’s characters settled down to the more prosaic business of establishing and bolstering their claims to the throne.  Elizabeth, quickly pregnant, hoped for a son, while at her mother Lady Rivers’s (Janet McTeer) suggestion, she tried to marry off her brothers and sympathizers to as high-ranking a set of spouses as possible.  Meanwhile, the scarily intense Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale), a supporter of the deposed Henry VI, was fixated on the idea that her 5-year old son Henry would end up king (and–500-year old spoiler alert!–she was right).

In this hour, written by Emma Frost and directed by James Kent, the main threat, however, came from Warwick.  By the end of the episode, he’d essentially led a coup, using Cecily’s willingness to cloud her own son’s paternity to put Edward’s brother George, the Duke of Clarence (David Oakes), in position to take over; married his daughter Isabel (Eleanor Tomlinson) to the Duke; captured and beheaded the new queen’s father and brother; and imprisoned King Edward.  All this plus some side-scheming aimed at the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy–you have to give Warwick credit for multi-tasking.

Yet all of this was much less fun than you might think, something like Game of Thrones stripped of its brilliant dialogue, incisive characterizations, shocking violence and dragons.  The night’s script was non-stop exposition, and of a very simplistic kind:  Edward and Elizabeth were presented as good-hearted innocents for the most part, and their enemies as evil (Warwick) or insane (Lady Margaret).  Compared to Game of Thrones, it’s also done on the cheap, with battles occurring off-screen as the main characters stalk through their respective castles and devise strategies.  (There was one amusing visual bit where Elizabeth and her mother plotted royal marriages with the kind of chart you might use to plan the seating at a bar-mitzvah.)

The White Queen is moderately absorbing, but no more than that.  Now that it’s expanded beyond being Elizabeth’s story, its focus is more diffuse than the first hour promised, and it has yet to make its villains more than cardboard.  After a while, all the consecutive scenes of nobles setting out who they need to marry and/or kill starts to seem like drudgery, the Middle Ages version of a mid-level corporate takeover.  We’ve been spoiled, of course, not just by Game of Thrones but by decades of great British costume drama on these subjects (leaving aside the even greater versions of these stories written centuries ago).  This version is looking decidedly less than royal.

Starz repeated the first episode of White Queen so often last weekend that it accumulated a reasonably good number, but no single run was watched by more than 500,000 people, with no more than 200,000 under 50 years old.  That probably doesn’t bode well for the show’s future, but since this is a freestanding miniseries, it’s academic for the network.  And there are still relatively few miniseries these days, so Starz could win some Emmy nominations next year in categories that aren’t heavily populated, valuable for a network trying to build its identity.  But this Queen is unlikely to earn its American financier much in the way of a crown.


PILOT + 1:  Not As Much Fun As It Seemed


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."