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The White Queen BBC - A Character Review

Updated on August 28, 2013


I recently watched the new bbc series The White Queen which was based on the three best selling novels of Philippa Gregory - The White Queen - The Red Queen and the The Kingmakers daughter. What I really liked about this series was that it was told from the point of view of the women on whom the novels were based. I found the series to be very accurate to the novels and the actors themselves to be particularly well chosen for the roles that they played. The series begins with Elizabeth Woodville taking her sons to the roadside in order to meet by surprise the passing King Edward IV. Rebecca Ferguson plays Elizabeth and she really brings to life the famous beauty of this historical Queen. The choice of costumes she wears is always simple but it is designed in such a way as to bring her natural beauty out, her symmetrical face and beautiful hair stand out because she is not drowned in the costumes she wears. This series is about perspective, and to anyone whose read the three books on which it is based it becomes clear that the voices of all three women are depicted in this series as they were described in the books.

Elizabeth Woodville

When she marries Edward of York and becomes Queen she enrages the establishment of the day and her subsequent behaviour further proves to them that she cannot be trusted. Hers is a character who is hated by everyone except her husband and her own family the Rivers'. On the advice of her mother and the sanction of her husband the King she marries off all her brothers and sisters to wealthy families thereby enriching them and surrounding the King with powerful and wealthy allies. This however backfires because others view the River's family as grasping and greedy and as leaving no eligible suitors available for the children of their families. In particular the Earl of Warwick grows more and more angry at this until he finally snaps and launches a rebellion against the King. Elizabeth increasingly becomes aware of how few people actually support her and she then begins to behave in ways that antagonizes them further. However she is in a truly difficult position as even when she tries to be nice and accommodating she is shunned, so her future behaviour then becomes understandable even if it is inadvisable. The noble families of the day simply see her as an unfit Queen for reasons ranging from the fact that she is not royal or even comes from a very powerful noble family, she has been married before and has two children and her family were devoted Lancastrians. Given her background even she tries her best she is viewed as the worst possible choice for Queen by everyone around the King.

Margaret Beaufort

Played by Amanda Hale, in the series Margaret Beaufort is a good deal more beautiful than she was described as being in the novel, although to me this is only an improvement. Margaret is very devout and somewhat emotionally unstable and Amanda Hale does an excellent job of depicting this in the series. Living quietly in the countryside with her husband Sir Henry Stafford, Margaret's main concern is the welfare of her son Henry Tudor who is being raised by her brother in law in Jasper Tudor in Wales. As a devoted Lancastrian she prays fervently for the York's to be overthrown, her husband however while being a supporter of Lancaster initially is reluctant to engage his men in further war wishing he could live in a peaceful country. Eventually he decides to fight for York as he feels that they are most likely to bring stability and peace to the country. Margaret cannot forgive him for this but she still demonstrates she cares for him by traveling to the battle site after the fact and bringing him back in a wagon to die of his wounds peacefully in bed. She shows genuine remorse at his passing but even though he begged her on his deathbed to abandon her plans for her son, she is still determined to try to make her son King. Hers is a double dealing character, while she remarries a Yorkist supporter and gains a place at the court of Edward IV she is always waiting for the opportunity to bring her son back to England and overthrow the king, such an opportunity presents itself at the end of the series.

Anne Neville

Anne is the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, she is played very convincingly by Faye Marsay. What I particularly liked about the actress was that she had a way of drawing attention to herself, she was not a beauty or tall or fashionable, but her intelligence simply shines through and her sharpness of wit and self determined dignity make her one of the most fascinating characters to watch in the series. There is a scene in the series when Richard the Duke of Gloucester asks her to marry him and tells her he loves her, she is naturally skeptical because she views herself as being nothing special, but his earnestness wins her over and she accepts. Later when Richards brother George confronts him about the marriage he makes a jibe at the fact that Richard cannot find her attractive. However the series seems to contradict George as Anne is shown to have a happy marriage and Richard seems devoted to her. The series shows Anne as someone who grows up rather quickly, as her views evolve and change she becomes the bitter enemy of the Queen, and wastes no time in asserting her own authority once King Edward is dead. She does this not out of evil malice but rather because she genuinely believes that Elizabeth Woodville is a witch and is bad for the country. Anne is a complex character, my personal favorite in both the novel and the series.

George Duke of Clarence

I really loved the fact that David Oakes got to play this part, I became a fan of his after watching him in the Borgia's and seeing him here is incredible. I have to say though that I do prefer him in this role rather than in the one he plays in the Borgia's, villainy suits him but George is a better villain to play. Both the series and the books make it plain that George is character whose motives are never clear, he wants power for himself, that much is obvious. And he begrudges any favour shown to anyone else by King Edward. But beyond that he is clever, calculating and heartless, always saying one thing and doing another. It is never clear either from the novels or the series what exactly kills his wife Isabel Neville, however there are strong hints never spoken of that he is behind it.

Richard Duke of Gloucester

The youngest brother of King Edward IV, Richard is portrayed by Aneurin Barnard as a man loyal heart and soul to his brother. My heart honestly skips a beat when I see Aneurin play Richard for his looks and voice are incredibly sexy. I am not sure if this was an intended effect or not but either way it creates a character whose mysteriousness surrounds him like a cloak throughout the entire series. He is more genuinely kindhearted than George and more desirous of doing right than Edward, it is hinted at that he is the best brother, the one with the healthiest sense of right and wrong, this is ironic given history description of him. His motives however are not all that clear, when he takes the throne for himself and disinherits his nephews locking them up in the tower, the series shows this to be done on the advice of his mother and wife. However his subsequent behaviour to his niece Elizabeth and his explanation of this to his wife also leaves a lot of questions unanswered. His is a character difficult to ultimately pin down.

Who is your favorite protagonist in this series?

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King Edward IV

Played by Max Irons the son of Jeremy Irons, King Edward is the sunshine King. He believes he can do as he pleases and remain king because the people love him. To a large extent this is true and he is a capable monarch, soldier and administrator. He is largely forgiving of those who plot against him, until they refuse to stop and he is forced to punish them. He genuinely loves his wife and for a while is loyal to her, but eventually he begins to take on mistresses and increasingly revels in debauchery. As the series progresses his abilities weaken and his appetites for women and drink increase, this leads to people turning against him including eventually even his most loyal brother Richard. Edward dies prematurely and his poor decisions in life lead to a dynastic crises because of this.

Do you think the series stayed true to the stories told in the series of books?

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      Alice 4 years ago

      I haven't read the books (but plan to), so I can't answer your question. I want to thank you for this post because it definitely helps me understand the characters more. I know little of that period of history, but I enjoyed the series so much I want to find out more!