Earlier today we presented you with a recap of the first episode of The White Queen, a new historical show based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, and now we're following that up with a recap of episode 2, which debuted last night on BBC One. Please let us know what you think of both!
Note: The White Queen is currently airing in the UK and will air weekly on Starz beginning August 10 in the U.S. We will re-run the recaps then, but until then, American readers, beware of SPOILERS.
And now, on to the recap of The White Queen episode 2:
Remember Lord Warwick (James Frain)? He of the saturnine face and uppity manner, the one everyone called “The Kingmaker” because it was he who set our good friend, his young cousin Edward IV (Max Irons), on the throne? Well, as we saw in Episode 1, he is none too pleased with his young puppet’s recent trend towards independent thought, especially as the new queen, Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) has a large family—both immediate and extended—who have come to Court to take some of his influence for their own.
Danger, King Edward IV! Danger! (Not that you’ll take notice, in a terrifyingly Ned Stark kind of way. And we all know how that turned out...)
We open to the Coronation of a very pregnant Queen Elizabeth, an event performed with much pomp and circumstance to appease the masses denied a Royal Wedding following the secret—sorry, Jacquetta (Janet McTeer), “private” —ceremony last time around. (The Medieval souvenir plate-sellers must have been especially ticked off.) She gets all gussied up, dons a cloak, is presented with a new, horribly gaudy, hat and is declared monarch of all England by a Catholic Archbishop type, forcibly bringing to mind all of the troubles that a future King’s breaking with that Church will one day bring about. But that is for another time, and another Philippa Gregory book series. Of more interest to us here are the guests at the Coronation after party, notably Isabel (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Anne (Faye Marsay), daughters to the power-hungry Lord Warwick, and the King’s brothers George (David Oakes) and Richard (Aneurin Barnard).
Isabel is her father’s daughter, calculating and cold, sure that she would make a better, more dignified, queen than Elizabeth who is, admittedly, canoodling with Edward in a pretty undignified manner. (They’re so very in love, you see. It’s a big theme.) Anne, younger and surprisingly sweet natured, all things considered, is in truth rather smitten with Edward’s beautiful bride, but is constantly reminded that no, we hate her, actually, and agreeably goes along.
Anne is also clearly smitten with the quiet Richard, while Isabel flirts archly with George, what with him being next in the line of succession and all. George, meanwhile, is a creep of the first water, all smarmy smugness and sly hints to the disaffected Warwick that perhaps he’d be a fun project for the Kingmaker to take on. (George is so obvious about his ambitions that any later shock at his betrayal is almost inexcusable; given a new title by Edward, he complains with sincerity disguised as wit: “I was hoping for your crown.” Dick.)
But for all that George and Richard are major players in the events that are about to unfold, we hardly spend any time in their company. Indeed, Edward sums up our knowledge of them thusly: “...my brother George. He has none of Richard’s chivalry and he doesn’t like to lose.”
A description, if only Edward could admit it, that he must surely realize applies equally to Lord Warwick, a man on the edge if ever there was one. It’s hard to say who he hates more, Elizabeth or her relations, whose meteoric elevation into the King’s inner circle has left Warwick’s self-aggrandizing schemes—in particular, a treaty with France for which he was to be paid handsomely—in tatters. Elizabeth’s brother Anthony (Ben Lamb), who had once thought Edward a scoundrel, is utterly won to his side, if for no other reason than his entire family are now known to be irrevocably Team Edward. (I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use that phrase.) Anthony hopes Elizabeth can do “the thinking” for a King blinded by his love for his kinsman; if Warwick sets another in his place, the whole enormous Rivers clan are in peril.
One strategy their lady mother, the continuing awesome Jacquetta, has decided upon to prevent such a catastrophe is a series of dynastic marriages, pairing up her many attractive children—not to mention her cousins of the House of Luxembourg—with the assorted eligible aristocrats of the land, will they, nill they. Edward applauds this idea, telling his wife sagely: “We must build a powerful royal family around you, to protect you,” and tacitly giving his sister in wedlock to a foreign power in the same sentence. It is somewhat hard to understand why he has such faith in familial bonds, however; is he not currently engaged in The Cousins’ War? Is he not at this very moment enmeshed in a long campaign against his kinsman, Henry VI? Yeah, clearly family is all important to this guy.
It is time now for us to check in with one of Henry’s staunchest supporters, Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale), once Margaret Tudor. Met only briefly in Episode 1 where she accosted Jacquetta and accused her of abandoning the Lancastrian cause—which, to be fair, is entirely true—Lady Margaret presents as something of a Puritan, although to be sure that religion hasn’t been invented yet (and they would have had no truck with her fervent Catholicism). Her gowns are severe and unadorned, and she spends her time in fasting and in prayer, her every thought for her absent young son, Henry Tudor, nephew to the deposed King and next in line to his throne. Her book is called The Red Queen, and it is from there that much of this episode is drawn, though I have to say, if you haven’t read it then you are left to fill in a lot of the blanks on your own; sure, you meet her unsympathetic husband, Sir Henry (Michael Maloney), her true love Jasper Tudor (Tom McKay) and her hateful mother (Frances Tomelty)—winner of the Most Chilling Utterance Ever Award, Mother to Child Category: “I do not care if you are happy.”—but basically the Lady Margaret stuff is painted in pretty broad strokes, and it is only through the sheer aching brilliance of Hale’s performance that this pious yet proud, impassioned yet sanctimonious woman can be at all understood, at least at this early stage.
But back to those dynastic marriages. With Elizabeth having delivered herself of a useless daughter and not the male heir everyone was hoping for—the disappointment at this failure is palpable, though Edward hides it well; Warwick, of course, is delighted—it is more important than ever that her siblings are wed to the high and mighty. We are therefore cordially invited to witness the joining in holy matrimony of Catherine Woodville to the Duke of Buckingham, which might be a more joyous occasion were the bride and groom in question not even middle school-aged. To be honest, the sheer conspiratorial glee on the faces of Jacquetta and Elizabeth as the littlest Rivers girl is given into what amounts to slavery to a surly kid who surely thinks she has cooties makes me like them a whole lot less. Oh, sure, it was the times, and it is to be hoped that the legal consummation of the affair takes place many years in the future, but to be calling the cynical pairing of a beloved child to an entitled brat “a happy occasion” is really going too far, Jacquetta. I’m surprised at you.
A far happier event this day, for Edward and his supporters at any rate, is the capture of the recalcitrant King Henry VI (a.k.a. King Not-speaking-in-this-episode) by Lord Warwick. On the back of which, more dynastic marriages are proposed: Warwick wants Edward’s brothers for sons-in-law, Isabel to marry George and Anne to marry Richard, which particularly delights her. But, sorry, Anne! It is not to be, I’m afraid. Your queen doesn’t like to think of your dad with so much Royal blood in his family, and so you and your sister are to remain single at least a little while longer. (Hey, at least you didn’t have to get married before you could read chapter books, like poor little Catherine.)
The viewer may wonder why we then spend a good deal of time with the be-nightgowned Isabel and Anne at this point, with the latter fretting over their futures and the former blaming Elizabeth for all of their ill-luck. This is because the third book on which this show is based is The Kingmaker’s Daughter, and it is Anne’s story. So we have an interlude here in which Isabel puts on a shadow puppet play about Henry VI’s wicked queen (who is mentioned so often in this episode that surely we will be meeting her soon) and it’s all very... unnecessary. Especially as there is so much to be getting on with, plot-wise.
Indeed, things move along at a pretty good clip from here on out; we jump across the years to a time when Elizabeth has not one but three adorable daughters (still no sons? What a loser. Oh, wait, yes, she already had sons, didn’t she? Where did those kids get to?) and Lord Warwick has had enough of being the current King’s errand boy. He has raised an army and now George is claiming himself the rightful monarch, and his brother illegitimate—thereby making of his mother kind of a hussy, incidentally. Isabel is wed to George, and before long the much vaunted battlefield commander that is King Edward is taken prisoner without even drawing his sword. (Oh, and there you are, Elizabeth’s sons!) He manages to get a letter to his queen, however, and while urging her to get to safety he sends her all his love, because their love is still a big theme of this story and its importance cannot be overestimated. Even Isabel knows it: “Do you think George will adore me, Annie? The way the King does her?” (Hint: No.)
So Elizabeth finds herself in an untenable situation, a queen without a king by her side and hated by the new power in the land. But worse news is to come: her kindly father (Robert Pugh) and her brother John (Simon Ginty)—oh no! Not the cute one who’s good at falconry! Because, oh yeah, there was falconry before—have been slain, beheaded by a spiteful Lord Warwick without even the benefit of a trial. This makes Elizabeth go all kung-fu movie, “You killed my father” revenge-happy, and hey! Remember how Jacquetta is a witch, with powers granted to her by an ancestor goddess? Well, let’s just say, if there is such a thing as a curse, and Elizabeth has even a vestige of true power, I’d hate to be Warwick or George right about now. (Avada Kedavra, suckers! In, like, a few years or so, anyway.)
And so that’s where we leave things, except I totally forgot the best part! Lady Margaret, overcome with joy at Edward’s capture, goes to see her son Henry to tell him some even better news: he is to be King! It has come to her in a vision from God—interesting, isn’t it, that Elizabeth’s visions would be considered sorcery and earn her a swift death at Lady Margaret’s virtuous hands, but when they’re from God, it’s cool? Her husband begs her not to fill the child’s head with lies and won’t listen to this treason, while Jasper is utterly swept away by her conviction, and believes in her vision as much as does she. It is at this point that the steadfast attachment of Edward to Elizabeth is finally overshadowed, because for Jasper to go along so utterly with Lady Margaret’s crazy is simply adorable, and there is nothing more fascinating to a romance fan than a forbidden love too long denied—especially one with little chance of a Happily Ever After. (What can I say? Angst is fun.)
I find it delightful that amid all the jockeying for position and playing at politics and the random sleepover puppet shows—seriously, I still don’t see the point of that scene—there is still room in here for romantic tales taken either from history or from Gregory’s always fertile imagination. Margaret is a zealot and a snob and an elitist, but she is also utterly fascinating, as is her relationship with the quietly devoted Jasper, and I am looking forward to seeing how all this develops.
As develop it will, next week and beyond! See you anon.
Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.