A few weeks ago, I was hopelessly addicted to the historical drama, The White Queen. I went on to read The White Princess by Philippa Gregory straight after and while the book didn’t deliver quite in the way I had hoped, I did enjoy it and I did fall in love Henry and Elizabeth, so I took a chance on watching the TV adaptation and this is definitely a case where the adaptation trumps the original book.
In brief, the series synopsis reads as follows:
In a tale of power, family, love and betrayal, “The White Princess” — adapted from Philippa Gregory’s best-selling novel of the same name — follows up the BBC/Starz miniseries “The White Queen.” It’s told from the perspective of three noblewomen waging an ongoing battle for the English throne at the conclusion of the War of the Roses. Promised in marriage to the newly crowned King Henry VII in hopes that it will unite the Kingdom, Princess Elizabeth (aka Lizzie) instead resents and plots against him. She matches wits and wills with Lady Margaret Beaufort, King Henry VII’s mother, each maneuvering to gain his trust. Meanwhile, Lizzie’s mother, Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, struggles with rumors that her long-lost son Prince Richard is alive — forcing Elizabeth into choosing between her new Tudor husband and the boy who could be her own blood and the rightful York King.
This synopsis truly gives little away in terms of story development, but The White Princess is every bit as good as the series it follows on from, The White Queen, and both are now at the top of my list of favourite historical dramas. Interestingly, The White Princess picks up two days after the point where The White Queen left off. However, four years separate these two series and a whole new set of actors are in The White Princess (bar one – Caroline Goodall plays the same character in both, the Dowager Queen Cecily, a nice dash of continuity). I thought this might have been disconcerting but it in the end, it didn’t bother me a bit. The 2017 cast is terrific and mould themselves to their characters exceptionally well. An old Game of Thrones face plays the King’s mother – Michelle Fairley, who was Caitlin Staark in GOT – and she’s pretty sensational as the devout and scheming Lady Margaret.
But who do I love the most? Henry and Elizabeth, of course. In the TV series, I got what I was missing from the book. The TV series is as much an examination of their relationship as it is a portrayal of court politics. Both of these characters are far stronger on the screen than they ever were on the page. Within the book, Elizabeth was more Henry’s Queen, yet in the TV series, she becomes THE Queen, with her royal heritage coming to the fore. Henry is more solid within the TV series, his honour showing through and its weight on his decisions more apparent. Elizabeth is shown to have more influence, not only over him, but with the people too, which makes a lot of sense given her royal upbringing. She also stems from a long line of strong women and as she grows into her Queendom, she becomes more formidable, more intent on cleaning up the kingdom and taking care of business. She is forced to make a heartbreaking choice, yet she is not the first monarch in history to have secured the throne by means of murder. In fact, holding the throne without murdering someone seems to be more of a modern inclination! I wanted so much to like Henry throughout the book but the author seemed determined to not let us. With the TV series, this was not the case. Henry still doubted and feared, but he was honourable and devoted, in love with his wife and deferred to her opinion increasingly as the years went by. She brought an army to battle for him and secured the house of Tudor in his name. There is nothing he wouldn’t have done for her, including giving up the throne to secure her safety. Theirs was a splendid love story and a monarchy ruled as a partnership. They may have entered the marriage agreement as enemies but they soon realised they had more in common, and more to gain in partnership, than they had initially thought. These two were the parents of King Henry VIII and the grandparents of Queen Elizabeth I, two long reigning and historically significant rulers. While this TV series is only an interpretation of the true history, I liked the way it played out.
“We are as one.” – Elizabeth to Henry after the removal of the last York heirs.
If you love historical dramas, I urge you to give this one a view. While it follows on from The White Queen, it still does well as a stand alone, and there’s also no real need to read the book beforehand. The costumes were glorious, Elizabeth looking every inch the magnificent Queen and Henry splendid as King. I’m not sure of the authenticity to the era of some of the plunging necklines worn by Elizabeth, but all in all, stunning fabrics and headpieces. I’m not sure if the history allows for a second season, but if it was to eventuate, I’d definitely be watching!