Starz has been making quite a name for itself with original programming lately. The channel first caught my eye with Spartacus, which I love, though it didn't impress me with it's take on Camelot (but I am thinking about revisiting that one on DVD).
I heard some good things about the limited run series, The White Queen, and decided to give it a try on Netflix. It initially aired in the BBC and on Starz last year. And it was....alright? I guess? I'm a big Tudor history fan, but was honestly a bit disappointed.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the series, how about some background and a brief history lesson, mmkay? The White Queen is set during The War of the Roses, circa 1460s, when the great English houses York and Lancaster vied for the throne. When the series opens, Edward IV of House York is King...and he falls for Elizabeth Woodville, a widow of House Lancaster. Whoops! Not a good idea to marry a member of your enemy's house. Edward is kind of a bastard, but Elizabeth (and more so her mother) ain't no fools, and they see that banging the King is a pretty good way to get some serious power and property. So they're down with going to bat for the Yorks. A girl's gotta do and all that rot.
So, Elizabeth is the White Queen in this scenario--because the symbol of House York is a white rose. Got it? The problem with all this history is also a problem with the show. It's SUPER complicated. Everyone is related to everyone else (thanks, inbreeding!), but people constantly change sides in the war and everyone is a pasty white person so it's kind of hard to keep things straight in your head. I spent a good 4 episodes trying to figure out who certain characters were and where they stood in the game of thrones (see what I did there?).
Comparisons to the other medieval dramas on premium cable are inevitable. So let's just get right into it. Unlike Game of Thrones, The White Queen doesn't handle the complicated plots and shifting loyalties of its characters particularly well. Starz tried to make things a bit more mysterious by implying that Elizabeth, her Mom, and her daughters have some witchy abilities, but it never really committed to that idea one or the other. Basically, The White Queen doesn't go far enough with the politics, fantasy, or battle scenes to be as awesome as Game of Thrones, nor does it have the sexiness to pull off being a guilty pleasure like The Tudors. It's kind of stuck in the middle, mired in mediocrity.
Ok, that last point might have been a bit harsh, but at the end of the day, I can tell you The White Queen didn't do a great job holding my attention, and the narrative was split between too many potential queens to tell a cohesive story. I wasn't really rooting for any of the characters to succeed (even though I knew how things eventually turned out), though ostensibly Elizabeth should be the center of the story and the "heroine."
Still, I stuck with it until the end which means I must have found some of it intriguing. It's also a welcome change to see several women featured at the center of story and to drive the action through their choices and machinations. I think what was really lacking was a character who was smart enough to effectively manipulate the situations and people. There was a lot of reaction and not a lot of actual action.
In sum, if medieval dramas are your thing, stick with the shows that have done it better and give The White Queen a pass. Now we just need to see how DaVinci's Demons and Black Sails shake out...