Friday, July 1, 2016

The Medieval England Bucket

Review of The White Queen- by Aparajeya Dash

Many times when we go through the lanes of history or flit lazily by documentaries, we come across characters which are easily disregarded as minor characters or those which have not had much impact on the course of history. Especially if those characters are female characters. Dependent on their husbands, fathers, brothers or sons, the female members of English nobility are largely sidelined.

The White Queen, based on a series of novels by acclaimed British history authoress Philippa Gregory, challenges these very norms by providing us an insight to how some of the most prominent English noblewomen during the volatile albeit peaceful rule of King Edward IV, instead of being mere spectators, took an active part, and at times, completely maneuvered the chess pieces in the political landscape of England.

The White Queen, is a mini-series comprising of a single season, ten episodes at that, something that many of us can easily devour in one sitting :P. The series follows the ascension of King Edward after the  defeat of King Henry V till the end of the Wars of the Roses. The Wars of the Roses, going since about a half century, either by political coups or on ground battles, has all but ravaged the country and its political scene. The series gives us a mildly fictionalised account of how three women on the power stage of England, Queen Elizabeth Woodville (White Queen), Lady Margaret Beaufort (Red Queen) and Lady Anne Neville (Kingmaker’s daughter), scheme and maneuver their male relations to stay on to the reigns of power.

The best part of the show is it’s portrayal of female characters. They are shown as iron-willed and indomitable ladies who won’t mewl in front of their spouses, but shall rather take situation into their hands for personal advancement and invariably of those of they love. In the precarious times of medieval England, self advancement was as good as survival, and these ladies did not just survive, they thrived in their own ways.

The sets of the show are brilliant, and bring out the grandeur of the medieval English kings in full force. The use of on ground locales for the battle scenes is spot-on. Two noteworthy battle sequences are the one between the rear of Queen Margaret of Anjou’s army and the that of Edward and the one in the last episode of the season. The gore and brutality of the war is not spared for aesthetic sense, bringing out the callousness of medieval conflicts and their futility.

Apart from that, logistical aspects like continuity and costumes are deftly handled. Special credit needs to be given to the costumes here. The flamboyant and honestly outlandish headgear of Duchess Cecily of York, mother to Edward, the subtle cloth-of-gold clothing of Elizabeth Woodville, the flaming red couture of Queen Margaret and Lady Beaufort (as a sign of her Lancastrian sympathies, which she changes to white when she comes to serve the queen, to denote her Yorkist allegiance), the restrained clothing of Lady Rivers, the rich attire of King Edward, the royal dukes, Lord Warwick; just about every attire fits into the mood of the characters and their personalities.

Apart from that, the acting is pretty good. Most importantly, I feel the screenplay does give us a very fresh perspective to all the characters, banishing all the age-old stereotypes most of us harbour about certain people. This is most beautifully done in the case of Richard, the king’s youngest brother. History remembers him as a cruel and ruthless person whose self-serving motives earn him a place of loathing in British history. The series provides to us a more accurate and less prejudiced version of events which tell us about the internal conflicts and difficulties that the poor lad would have had to face.

Thus, the characterisation is one thing that this show is a mile ahead of many other TV shows. There is barely any character here which is one-dimensional, be it Duke George (the antagonist on the surface) or even the positively reviled Queen Margaret of Anjou (derided as the Anjou whore or as the she-wolf of France). The showmakers do an astounding job at letting the grey of the characters come out in vivid tints and shades. There are no pure and angelic Snow White's here or absolutely devilish Mother Gothels. This nimble handling of the varied traits in every character and shunning of playing absolutes is my personal favourite when it comes to this TV show.

Some fair warnings though. First of all, the only off-putting thing that I found in this TV show was the fact that they explicitly showed the use of magic (black magic or whatever) by Lady Rivers and subsequently her daughter Queen Elizabeth. This upfront way of portrayal was something that I was not exactly comfortable with, as there is neither sound logic for it nor historical proof, notwithstanding the fact that use of magic or sorcery was forbidden in England then.

Apart from this, slight historical bending can be seen which, though minor, can be unlikeable to say the least. Also, this kind of a genre can be an acquired taste for some. I will recommend it if you prefer medieval setting political dramas and rich cinema. Not the type for humor buffs. Watch it if you loved Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire is based on the Wars of the Roses in fact, which happens to be central theme of this show) or maybe even, House of Cards (political drama); the themes have a healthy amount of intersection.

That is all from my side guys about The White Queen. A story that intertwines passionate romance, violent power struggles, political betrayals, family drama and above all, a quest for survival which is inadvertently linked to holding onto the reins of a bloody crown, tainted by the blood of two branches of the same royal family, Yorks and the Lancasters, but is easily jeopardised when you start getting too near to the throne. If this doesn’t get your curiosity levels spiking, you must get yourself checked. Add this to your summer bucket list! Cheers!
                                                                                            -Aparajeya Dash