August 10, 2013



THE WHITE QUEEN – Saturday 9PM on Starz – Worth A Look

Starz’s THE WHITE QUEEN is, apart from a bit of nudity (this is pay cable, after all), a rather old-fashioned historical bodice-ripper.  The bodice in question belongs to England’s Queen Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson), wife of Edward IV (Max Irons) circa 1464, 9 years into the War of the Roses.  (Edward’s House of York used the white rose as its symbol, while the dueling House of Lancaster, whose King Henry VI Edward had deposed, marked itself with the red rose.)   The series is based on a set of novels by Philippa Gregory, who’s made a career out of this kind of thing, with The Other Boleyn Girl another of her credits.

Elizabeth was a commoner and a widow with two children whose first husband had died fighting for Lancaster’s King Henry, so Edward’s choice of her as his queen caused quite the 15th-century scandal.  The drama’s first hour, written by Emma Frost and directed by James Kent, is mostly concerned with setting up the romance between Elizabeth and Edward, who is smitten on first sight, but under such pressure to marry for politics (preferably a French princess) rather than love that it’s not clear for a while whether the barely-witnessed marriage is real, or a stunt Edward has pulled to convince the lovely but proper Elizabeth to have sex with him–she’s threatened to cut her own throat rather than let him force himself on her–which was a tactic he’d used before with at least one reluctant woman.  True love prevails, though, and by the end of the episode, Elizabeth is making her appearance at court, and she and her mother Jacquetta (Janet McTeer) are facing down Elizabeth’s new foes, Edward’s supercilious mother the Duchess Cecily (Caroline Goodall) and his scowling cousin and top adviser Lord Warwick (James Frain).  Presumably much of the remaining 9 hours will be concerned with Elizabeth’s battles with them and their allies.

Although The White Queen is produced with the BBC, it appears to be a fairly standard-issue costume drama soap, less crammed with plot than the recent Ken Follett epics Pillars of the Earth and World Without End but also less rushed.  Its main assets are its pair of leading ladies.  Ferguson, not well known on these shores until now, is an appealing heroine, beautiful and steely, and the always excellent McTeer is a font of tart yet warm advice as her mother.  (Both mother and daughter practice some mild witchcraft–Elizabeth has clairvoyant visions–which may get tiresome if the show relies too much on it.)  Edward, so far, seems rather bland, while Warwick and Cecily represent aristocratic evil in a routine way.  The production is adequate in the British historical drama way–although battles are occurring mostly off-screen–and the pace, while measured, is reasonably swift.

There’s nothing very original or exciting about The White Queen (which hasn’t been a tremendous hit in England, incidentally), and it’s hard to see it developing much excitement for Starz, which is still looking for its breakout original series.  Airing on summer Saturday nights, though, among the slowest TV nights of the year, it could find an audience looking for its reassuringly familiar brand of soap.


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."