****SPOILERS FOR THE WHITE QUEEN EPISODE 10****
Are you freaking kidding me, The White Queen? You are, right? You are joking, and jesting, and making with the japes. That is the only explanation I have for the final 45 seconds of this, your very last episode. Or your very last episode of Season 1, at any rate; I suppose it’s possible we’ll see The White Queen 2: This Time it’s Personal at some date in the future, perhaps depending on how well the series performs on its new US cable home. But regardless: man, did you anti-climax the hell out of this thing. Honestly, I have no words.
But, back to the beginning!
(Need to catch up? Don't miss Rachel Hyland's recaps of The White Queen episode 1, episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, episode 5, episode 6, episode 7, episode 8, and episode 9. The series is currently airing in the UK on BBC and on Starz in the United States, so beware of SPOILERS; episode 2 just aired on Starz on Saturday.)
We kick off this time around seeing our good Queen Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) returned to her beloved Rivers manor, where all of this wackiness began so very long ago. For us, it has been a mere ten weeks since she waylaid a King by the roadside and magicked her way into his fickle heart, but for her it is twenty years, ten kids, five uprisings and a bunch of dead relatives ago that she last made this place her home. Ferguson gives us a Lizzie smiling and at peace, away from the tumult of political chicanery and just happy to be living in comfort with most of her remaining children.
The eldest two, the Princesses Elizabeth (Freya Mavor) and Cecily (Elinor Crawley), are not allowed any such respite, however, but have been summoned to Court to serve at the pleasure of a very displeased Queen. Anne (Faye Marsay) has become a hatchet-faced old shrew, and still hates Lizzie and all her issue with a fiery passion. She hates them even more after her once-loving husband Richard (Anuerin Barnard) is seen making all kinds of inappropriate eyes at the beauteous Lizzie the Younger, dancing music-less measures with her to the astonishment of his courtiers, and snubbing Anne in her favour. All of this leads to much gossip that he plans to “set aside” his barren wife – they only have the one son; what a failure she is! – and take his brother’s eldest daughter onto his throne in her stead. Just like he’s believed to have already taken her into his bed.
Okay, so: ew. That’s your uncle you’re falling “in love” with there, Lizzie. Get your head straight. Sure, there were papal dispensations allowing such things to occur in your unenlightened time – Richard and Anne are close cousins, after all – but surely you realise it’s just... icky? And pretty silly of you, too, since Richard is very believable when he tells Anne that it’s all a charade, and he’s only pretending to admire you to make your in absentia fiancé and would-be King, Henry Tudor (Michael Marcus), appear a cuckolded fool. But then, there is that look in his Frodo-like eyes when he gazes upon your pre-Raphaelite form. Like you’re the One Ring and he cannot wait to put you on his... um. Anyway. That look is very unsettling, and really makes one question Richard’s general fitness to not only rule, but to breathe the same air as good, decent folks.
Then again, good, decent folks are hard to find anywhere in the vicinity of these happenings. Certainly the villainous Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) and her opportunistic husband Lord Stanley (Rupert Graves) are as black-hearted a pair as ever plotted for power and influence, for all that Maggie B remains convinced that her son Henry’s eventual reign is the divine will of God. Lord Stanley is less sanguine, and questions the Lord’s commitment to the cause, especially if Richard is to beget himself a few spare heirs on his niece, who we know comes from an especially fecund line. The certainty and disgust with which Maggie B declares young Lizzie a whore at this suggestion is among her creepiest moments in this series (of which there have been many), and is but one of many examples of Amanda Hale’s remarkable, utterly discomfiting, ability to make such a hateful character almost endearing in her fanaticism.
Faring less well is Faye Marsay as the much-beset Queen Anne, who has a lot asked of her in this outing and perhaps isn’t quite up to the task. When all royal bitchface and jealous wife, sure, okay. When a concerned mother for a sickly son, oh, absolutely. But when young Edward, Prince of Wales succumbs to a mysterious illness (and this despite his father’s clear instructions: “I command you to breathe. I am the King and you will breathe for me!”) her histrionics are tiresome rather than tear-jerking, only cementing for the Court the inappropriate closeness of Richard and Princess Lizzie, as well as my general dislike for her.
It isn’t long at all before Anne succumbs to a mysterious illness as well – this slow march to death executed somewhat better by Marsay – and her last anxiety on this earth is assuaged when she asks the King’s Burly Enforcer Guy if he did, in fact, kill the little princes as she had all-but ordered last episode. Turns out, he didn’t (or, at least, says he didn’t), so at least she can go to her reward knowing that... well, that her son didn’t die due to a Rivers witch curse, after all. He just died for no reason at all. Which I guess is comforting? And, actually, it may have been a Rivers witch curse that killed the pair of them anyway; Lizzie was none too fond of Richard after he took her son’s throne, and curse-like words were definitely said.
But whatever its cause, the death of Anne – during a solar eclipse, of all dramatic things – makes everything quite awkward for Richard. Since he’s been so convincingly besotted with Lizzie, gossip begins to spread that he poisoned his wife in order to hurry up the heir-begetting process, now that his only son is gone. (Hey, why didn’t Henry VIII think of that? He could have avoided religious schism with some judiciously applied hemlock.) For the sake of appearances, then, he sends Lizzie to Maggie B in her country exile, since her betrothal to Henry Tudor still stands and this makes the women practically in-laws. In the process he also yells at Lizzie and tries to disabuse her of any notion that he has feelings for her; that this was all a game, and that she is assuredly the loser. (It doesn’t work.)
Maggie B is in a poetical ecstasy after the eclipse, seeing in it a sign that the House of York is soon to fall and her Henry will devour it “like a dragon.” But even so, canny Lord Stanley warns her to be careful in her treatment of Lizzie, since if Richard wins the forthcoming battle he might still make her queen.
So don’t bully her, Margaret. I do not bully. I will merely help her to move closer to our Lord.
This she tries, with a bunch of praying that looks a lot like punishment, but eventually she can’t suppress her inner witch-burner any longer, and calls Lizzie “monstrous in the eyes of God.” But Lizzie is no cowering miss to be so addressed, and she gives back as good as she gets: “You are the monster, for murdering my poor brother!”
Okay, let’s just stop here. Lizzie, you are jeopardizing everything! “For murdering my poor brothers!” should have been your biting comeback, lest somebody figure out that the young Prince Richard was not, in fact, the child who died in the Tower after all. It’s a good thing that Maggie B is so distressed by this (true) assertion that she manhandles you roughly and silences your unguarded tongue, you ninny. But oh, there is more fun to be had here! Because Maggie B has, by this stage, so taken against Lizzie that she declares Henry will never marry her. “Yes. He will,” replies Lizzie simply. “If he wins. Because that’s the only way he’d have the support of England for his backside on the throne. So whatever happens in this battle, I will be Queen. And this is the very last time that you will ever sit in my presence.”
Aw, Lizzie. Lady Jacqetta would be so proud of your right now! Except... you do realise that you have sisters, right? Wouldn’t Cecily be just as good at uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York as, say, you? And she’s far less slept-with-her-uncle-y, as well. I vote Cecily for queen! Who’s with me?
So yeah, anyway, battle. We haven’t really seen one of those in this series since way back in Episode 5, when the not-at-all-lamented Lord Warwick (James Frain) met his ignominious, well-deserved end. It was a pretty good battle scene back then, all told, but really it was only remarkable for the sheer unsportsmanlike viciousness of our handsome Edward IV (Max Irons) and the fact that finally, in this series about the Wars of the Roses, we were seeing some actual war.
This one eclipses it so utterly it might as well be Braveheart and the last one was two kids playing with their miniature Warhammer armies on a table top. This is one well-shot battle scene, is what I am saying, and Richard is a fearsome sight to behold—though his bangs are totally in his eyes and he might have wanted to consider a haircut. Richard goes into this battle as something of a hot favourite; the men of Wales had decided not to fight for Henry, whose French army consists mostly of liberated prisoners, and so numbers and abilities are definitely on the Yorkist side. The wildcard here was always going to be Lord Stanley; he had presented himself to the King as unwaveringly faithful, but he was always playing a deep, double-faced game, and even on the very eve of the battle Stanley and his brother and their substantial armies had not picked a side.
A wild-eyed Maggie B, of course, pleaded with her husband to fight for Henry; even though Stanley’s son, Lord Strange (Andrew Gower), was held as a hostage against his loyalty to the King. “You son will be honoured as a man of courage, the first to fall in Henry’s service,” she promises him, as though conferring the most generous of favors. Yeah, cause that’s the kind of argument that will endear you to a loving father. So when Lord Stanley arrives on the field of battle the next day, to a call of “Charge!”, there is a tense succession of slow motion moments as both Henry and Richard hope wildly he will come down on their side – but in the end, he and his men are “for Tudor!” and Richard is swiftly dispatched, though not before Burly Enforcer Guy can call out hopelessly: “Get the King a horse! Get the King a horse!”
That’s for you Shakespeare fans, who got the quote almost right, it seems.
You know what’s the worst part about Henry Tudor’s victory this day? Oh, it’s not that he’s about to become progenitor to a line of sociopaths, nor is it the defeat of Richard, who may have been drawn in a more sympathetic, non-nephew killing light here, but did, nevertheless, betray his dead brother and usurp his nephew’s throne. (And then sleep with the kid’s sister.) No, the worst part is the fact that damn Maggie B gets exactly what she has always wanted here, and gets to infuse herself with all kinds of reflected glory. Her whiny son (“Why won’t Stanley declare for me?” he pouts as battle looms – jeez, wanna-be King dude, have a cry, why don’t you?) has won the day and has just been given the dead Richard’s crown, and she swans onto the battlefield full of “I told you so” and proclaiming beatifically: “I am the King’s Mother. I am Margaret Regina.”
Ugh. Rather than proof of God, I tend to think Maggie B’s triumph here is proof of the infinite nothing.
So now, we’re left with the throne in the hands of a madwoman and her son, who hasn’t stepped a foot in England for over a decade and so is still up for marrying Princess Lizzie, so that people might actually care about him at all and/or recall his name. (Remember how she was made illegitimate when her parents’ marriage was declared illegal by Richard? That’s all forgotten about now.) The former Queen Lizzie is also for it, despite Cecily sensibly pointing out that if her sister marries Henry Tudor, her sons will die “because you cursed the line of whoever killed my brother.” (Oh, and by the way? New Rightful Heir Prince Richard shows up, swearing vengeance for the death of his brother, Edward V. Here we go again...)
But here’s the thing: just how potent is this magic of theirs? After all, this battle clearly did not turn out the way at least one of them – the one in love with her uncle – wanted, and yet here there was no eldritch fog, no lashing rain, no twinge in the sword arm to forestall a Tudor victory. Really, where were all your witchy powers when they were needed here, Lizzie x2? We can only assume that you wanted a Lancaster victory, and Richard dead, after all. (And if the guy seriously was molesting his teenage niece – good on you. Indeed, I like to think her lack of supernatural intervention here was the abused Lizzie’s subconscious crying out for justice.)
You may recall though, I mentioned something about an anti-climax earlier? Yes, indeed. You see, sure, the game of thrones, the clash of kings, all of that gave this episode a rather potent punch that this series as a whole has, for the most part, been sorely lacking. And so to end with something so utterly prosaic as having both Lizzies in a quiet moment, with the elder telling her daughter simply: “You will be Queen of England. As I once was” and then, boom, credits? Letdown. For ten ever-improving episodes, this has been a show full of pomp and pageantry and grand, garish gestures. It’s a show that should have ended with a joyously shouted “Hell, yeah!” and instead, just kind of finished on a muted “Huh.”
And in that vein, I will end this series of recaps on a similarly undramatic note. Thanks for making it the distance with me! Perhaps I’ll see you next time, for The White Queen 2: Electric Boogaloo. (The Queenquel? The White Queener? 2 White 2 Queen? The possibilities are endless! Get to it, BBC. You’re welcome.)
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.