A suggestion on how to watch “The White Queen,” an elaborate costume drama on Starz: Don’t think too much. It’s tempting to scour for historical inaccuracies and scribble down notes to keep track of the tangled English lineage. (So he’s talking about Richard, Edward’s brother, not Richard, Elizabeth’s son. Why are there so many Margarets?)
Instead, revel in the gorgeous costumes, impressive scenery and the epic story of a feuding family so complicated that it makes your own look blissfully normal by comparison.
Based on Philippa Gregory’s best-selling novels about the War of the Roses (or the Cousins’ War) from the perspectives of the women, the 10-part miniseries explores the daunting power struggles of England in 1464, when the houses of Lancaster and York were locked in a battle for the throne. Though the series drags whenever it becomes bogged down in political aspects of the fight, it’s inherently entertaining to see such back-stabbing, and possibly literal stabbing, between supposed loved ones.
The series is also engrossing because of the smoldering chemistry between the two leads, Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson) and King Edward IV (Max Irons, son of Jeremy). Elizabeth’s husband died in battle, leaving her with nothing, so she makes the strategic decision to put herself in the king’s line of sight. Edward, who has just overthrown King Henry VI but is more interested in bedding all the ladies of the court, is powerless to resist, ignoring the potential problems of such a courtship.
Besides the fact that Elizabeth is a Lancaster and Edward is a York, Elizabeth is a commoner. And although that situation is in right now, 5 ½ centuries ago, not so much. This leads to a falling out with Lord Warwick (known as “The Kingmaker”), Edward’s cousin and the brains behind the operation, who was hoping to smooth over a peace treaty with France by offering Edward up to a French princess. Instead of doing that thing where you pretend to like someone’s significant other for the sake of everyone’s sanity, Warwick goes ballistic, and that’s the jumping-off point as he plots to bring down Edward.
Given that the series is supposed to be from the perspective of the three women who wanted the throne, many story lines are centered on their struggles. There’s Elizabeth, trying to hold on to her newly bestowed Queen of England title; Margaret Beaufort, a Lancastrian who is convinced that her son, Henry Tudor, is in line for royalty; and Anne Neville, Warwick’s daughter, whom he uses as a pawn in his power plays.
The women battling one another is far more dramatic than when the men are at one another’s throats, such as an excellent scene when Elizabeth and her mother, Jacquetta (Janet McTeer), meet Edward’s mother, who is even less thrilled with the match than Warwick. A few moments of emotional blackmail later, and Elizabeth has suddenly won over her mother-in-law.
“The White Queen” already aired in the U.K., where viewers are angry over 15th-century anachronisms such as zippers and drain pipes. But it’s also unlikely that Warwick really used the phrase “he’s thinking with his britches” in reference to Edward marrying Elizabeth — so it’s best to forget about logic, and enjoy the compelling drama.
(one hour) airs Saturday at 8 p.m. on Starz. Future episodes will air at 9 p.m.