The White Queen (Blu-ray)

Can’t wait for the sequel, The Plaid Archduke.

It’s no secret that HBO’s sensational Game of Thrones is inspired by the War of the Roses. Not to be outdone, Starz decided its big miniseries event of 2013 would be based on the actual War of the Roses. Who needs dragons and white walkers when you’ve got royal hanky panky?

It’s 1464, and everybody’s at war with everybody. Elizabeth Grey (Rebecca Ferguson, Vi) has entered into a romance and marriage with King Edward (Max Irons, The Host), even though he was arraigned to marry someone else. Elizabeth is crowned Queen of England, and finds herself in the middle of all manner of deadly politics, as everyone she encounters has sights on the throne.

Based on the novel series by the great Philippa Gregory, The White Queen is heavily immersed in the “court intrigue” subgenre. There’s a lot of talk about how everyone wants the throne, and about who is and isn’t “at court.” This is all well and good, and provides for plenty of dramatic fodder, but the bad news is that this is all the show offers. Pretty much every single scene is about characters fretting about the throne, who controls the throne, who wants the throne, plots to take the throne, and so on. It’s rather dry, and every scene starts to sound the same after a while.

Let us take a moment and consider the idea of the subplot. For pretty much as long as there’s been television writing, scripts have been broken up into the “A story,” which is the main plot, and the “B story,” the subplot, which gives the main plot a break and lets some of the supporting characters shine. Many people eschew this format as being stodgy or old-fashioned, but it serves a purpose by breaking up the action on screen so the main plot never gets monotonous. With the complex main plot taking up 100 percent of the time in The White Queen, most viewers’ eyes will glaze over after a while.

Although marketed as a tale of three women, with the other two being Elizabeth’s crown and gown-wearing frenemies Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale, Ripper Street) and Anne Neville (Faye Marsay, Fresh Meat), really the entire series rests on the shoulders of Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth. Ferguson is called upon to do a lot throughout the course of the miniseries, beginning as a lovesick young girl, and then transitioning to wife, mother, schemer, and queen. For most of the series, Ferguson portrays Elizabeth with a “strong queen on the surface and a frightened mother beneath” style, which works for the character and the series as a whole. It’s just that when she’s told that the armies of Whoever are on the move, and are attacking the armies of Whatsitz, we the audience have no context as to the importance of this, so the actresses’ efforts in selling the crisis are in vain.

“But Mr. Highbrow Critic Person,” you say. “This is a Starz show. What about all the saucy adults-only content?” It’s true, pretty much every episode has its one super-sexy scene, complete with generous nudity. The problem is, that’s just what it feels like, as if the creators are saying, “We need a nude scene in this episode, so let’s come up with an excuse for one.” Once the bare flesh has been sufficiently flaunted, it’s back to more handwringing over who will or won’t control the throne.

The miniseries is a tiring ten episodes on three discs, with solid 1.78:1 HD visuals in 1080i instead of the coveted 1080p, but still clean and clear with a lot of detail and rich colors. The TrueHD 5.1 Surround track offers defect-free dialogue and music. For bonus features, there are a series of promotional featurettes taking you behind the scenes, and UltraViolet digital copies of each episode.

It’s a historical drama seriously lacking in dramatics. Expect a lot of talking but not a lot of doing. I imagine even the most ardent history buffs will have a tough time with this one.

The Verdict

Guilty. Off with her head.

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