ISABEL: Annie! Annie!
ANNE: What is it? Was George bad to you? Has he hurt you?
ISABEL: Yes…but no more than mother said I should expect. That’s not it. It’s very much worse, Annie. My wedding was never for me at all. It was a sign from father that men should rise against the king.
It is an understatement to say that in episode two of The White Queen much historical ground and time is covered. The episode opens with Elizabeth’s coronation as Queen of England and the birth of three daughters to she and Edward over the course of three years. In that time, however, after much marriage wrangling it is back to war. The old mad king Henry is caught and imprisoned in the Tower, but this is not enough for Edward to marry off both of his brothers to Warwick’s two daughters. This time, Warwick has decided to attempt to make Edward’s perhaps “more legitimate” brother, George, a king whose strings he can pull. With new boots and cash, Warwick is able to rouse rebels. The episode closes with the dashing King Edward the fourth taken captive by the traitorous Warwick and his own brother.
The episode is bookended by meteoric rises to power by brothers. Interspersed between these episodes is another kind of politicking we see in a broad sampling of mother-daughter relations:
- Warwick’s Daughters: Isabel (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Anne (Faye Marsay), which they have a mother in the series, seem to have raised one another in many ways. There are a number of brief nods to the theatrics of the 1460s in the show, but none so beautiful and the shadow puppets Isabel uses to perform the story of the “Evil Queen” (alias: Margaret of Anjou) against the candlelight. As Izzie reinforces for Annie the gravitas of their position, so does Annie comfort Izzie when they are asked to take up arms for the honor and survival of their Yorkist house.
- The Rivers Women: The relationship Jacquetta Woodville (Janet McTeer) and Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson) share is a tender and riveting, especially in this episode. From the support of presence Elizabeth received from her mother at her coronation and the physical support during labor, theirs compellingly straddles the line of true love for a child and seeing the political potentials that child represents. Perhaps it is telling that the camera briefly lingers on a shot of three players on a coronation route moveable stage (like that we believe popularly used for regional cycle plays in England in this period): the Virgin Mary and two angels. With the death of her husband and son, Lady Woodville has lost much under the false sense of security and child’s growing into a man provides.
- York and Lancaster: Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) is a stark contrast to Queen Elizabeth in terms of motherhood in this episode. While we know Beaufort’s son will eventually grow up to be Henry Tudor and inaugurate that infamous line of Renaissance monarchs, her sour disposition and blind religious zeal make Margaret tough to love. All the more so with Elizabeth now toting five angelic children and another one on the way to Margaret’s estranged only son. Despite this, while Elizabeth is ideal for monarchical propaganda, Margaret’s sense of loyalty and fidelity provide her the tenor of a queen with real power in the court, not just amongst the people.
Unlike the first episode, where the commonwealth was the central motivator of political appeal, the women are taking front and center now, as the show promotional materials had pitched. Some reviews are balking at the clarity of the political maneuvering the dialogue, but I do like the precision Emma Frost is providing. The images of Lady Woodville with her massive brood is an excellent visual queue of exactly what is behind the schism to begin with: too many family members equidistant to the throne. It is certainly on Shakespeare’s mind as a major cause: the opening scene from 1 Henry VI with all of the elderly uncles, all equal heirs but for age, standing around accounting the dead. While I wish we had more time with the city crowds and the coronation procession, I have a feeling in episode three we will return to “the People” and the city. Elizabeth has literally been dubbed a mother to England by Edward and sent to raise London in his defense. With hints are her imagistic powers this episode, I look forward to what Kent does with his production values next.
- CITATION: “The Price of Power.” The White Queen. Television. Directed by James Kent. Written by Emma Frost. 17 August 2013. London: BBC One, 2013. STARz cable channel.
- POSTSCRIPT: As I write this I wonder if the producers have an agenda with the new British royal mother, Katherine, in mind? While their are no threats to the succession baby George—except for Parliament, perhaps—what might be some ulterior arguments in light of having such a new and maternally “successful” mother in our midsts with a posh image to boot?