What Can We Expect from “The White Princess”?

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Elizabeth of York (Freya Mavor) with her mother Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson) in The White Queen. Image: (c) Starz.

Philippa Gregory has confirmed she is in talks with Starz to produce “Season Two” of The White Queen. While The White Queen show began as a co-production between the BBC and US company Starz, the BBC never intended to go beyond one season, treating it as a mini-series. Starz is hoping to develop The White Princess, the fifth novel in the best-selling Cousins’ War series.

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Obviously the show has been more popular in the United States than the United Kingdom. A spokesman for Starz says American audiences are more forgiving than their British cousins when it came to historical inaccuracies. That may be the case, but American audiences may not have been as forgiving with the toned-down sex scenes the BBC presented in the UK version of The White Queen.

The Daily Mail dubbed the Starz version “The Blue Queen!” In an article comparing the far more explicit sex scenes shown on American television than on British television, Chris Hastings said “American audiences, it seems, prefer our dramas without the costumes.”

Young (and young-looking) Faye Marsay, who played Anne Neville, said of the sex scenes “I looked at them and went ‘wow’. Because it’s my first job and I’ve never done them before, but it’s important to the story.” Apparently, the producers feel that “important to the story” included Cecily Woodville being shown topless while taking a bath.

You can read the full article “The Blue Queen!” at The Daily Mail. Warning, contains extensive nudity, but it is hysterically funny.

Interestingly Philippa’s sex scenes in The Cousins’ War novels are more of the cut-to-the-fireplace sort. So what can we expect from The White Princess TV series, besides more nudity?

The White Princess is one of the bleakest books in The Cousins’ War series. It is an observation of the early years of the new Tudor Dynasty, but it is also an observation of a marriage. There is a great deal in this book that can be exploited. I’m not going into spoilers,  but there is a rather scandalous start to the book that I can’t imagine is going to come across on screen well at all. Philippa Gregory unfairly demonised Henry Tudor. Historical inaccuracy doesn’t usually annoy me a great deal, but completely fabricated inflammatory incidents, which will probably start to be repeated as fact, do not sit well with me.

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Now if you’ve seen the finale of The White Queen you know Elizabeth’s younger brother Richard will factor into the next series. Returning characters would likely include the children of Isabel and George, Edward and Margaret Plantagenet. Elizabeth Woodville,  Margaret Beaufort, and Stanley still have important roles in the story. For plotting, treachery and rebellion, The White Princess will satisfy you well enough. The Tudors did not have an easy start to their reign.

My favourite aspect of the novel, however, was the relationship between Henry and Elizabeth (after the first quarter anyway). The concept of an arranged marriage is quite alien to some of us, yet at the time necessary for a dynastic marriage. Watching the relationship between Henry and Elizabeth unfold and grow over the years is fascinating. The novel also explores the impact of the constant dangers and rebellions on their marriage and on Elizabeth’s relationship with her mother, her mother-in-law and sisters. These are the subtle nuances that give the story its strength: the explorations of love, family and sacrifice. It is also probably what will get lost in translation in the screen adaptation.

The White Princess is the best story of The Cousins’ War so far. It leaves behind the whimsy of its predecessors; it is gritty and real and its characters are better realised. I am expecting even better things from Philippa Gregory’s next book, The Last Rose. Starz will have to pull out all the stops to get the next series up to scratch. If they get it right, it will be compelling viewing.

 

By Olga Hughes. Olga enjoys Philippa Gregory and history, to the horror of many. She runs the online magazine Nerdalicious (http://nerdalicious.com.au/) with her partner C.S. Hughes. Olga also writes book reviews at the blog for her bookstore, Crickhollow Books.  http://crickhollowbooks.com.au/blog/

Olga Hughes

Olga runs the online magazine Nerdalicious with her partner C.S. Hughes. Nerdalicious is the best source of Game of Thrones and other pop culture news, including books, film, sci-fi and medieval history.

12 Comments

  • Reply October 25, 2013

    Patricia

    Oh dear….I’m afraid Mrs P G just isn’t my cup of tea. If I wrote a geography book saying the North Pole was in Antarctica I’d be shot down in flames so I don’t know why inaccuracy in historical fiction is deemed alright. I guess it’s “different strokes for different folks”. If they make a second series I know one person who won’t be watching….

  • Reply October 28, 2013

    Jaime Adair

    I’d be curious to know what other Game of Thrones fans think. We did a series on The White Queen because it is Wars of the Roses related. But, at least from where I sit, it seems like people have really mixed reactions to the series and the books. Assuming you’re a Game of Thrones fan, what did you think of The White Queen? Is it more Wars of the Roses fabulousness? Or, is it a poor man’s Game of Thrones?

    • Reply April 25, 2017

      Banditqueen

      Game of thrones is fantasy, aired as fantasy, so we know it’s fantasy. This crap is history dressed up as fantasy porn. Utter rubbish and even comparing it to Thrones is an insult.

  • Reply July 12, 2014

    Erich Wladkowski

    I’m a big GOT fan, and I loved The White Queen. So I’m definitely keen to see The White Princess made into a sequel series. I’ve just bought the novel, but I’m yet to read it.

    My only concern is the non-involvement of the BBC in the sequel. I’ve seen both versions of The White Queen – the UK BBC cut, and the USA Starz cut – and I’ve no doubt that the UK cut is far superior. The US version has ramped up the nudity and sex scenes to the detriment of the story. Some key scenes and dialogue have been cut, in order to add some extra bare flesh. The UK version makes the story clearer, is more believable, and the nudity and sex scenes are subtle, and don’t take the focus of the intriguing storyline. This is the version to watch, people. 🙂

    • Reply July 12, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Welcome Erich. I agree with this comment. I live in the United States, but I have seen both versions and the story is better in the UK version. I think US premium cable TV companies like Starz, HBO, and Showtime (who made or co-produced the White Queen, Game of Thrones and the Tudors respectively) are nervous that people won’t pay for premium cable if they don’t have enough sex, nudity, violence, and swearing. Even in my beloved Game of Thrones the nudity is sometimes gratuitous — the actress who portrayed Ros mentioned in an interview that it took something like three seasons before she got a costume! I really felt for her when I read that.
      In The White Queen, those little extra scenes fleshed out the characters a little more and as you said made the already too compressed story clearer.

      • Reply July 13, 2014

        Erich Wladkowski

        Thanks Jamie. I understand the cable companies POV, that their product needs to be far more explicit than free TV allows, to attract and retain their subscribers. In the case of The White Queen though, the added nudity and sex scenes take precious screen time away from the story. It would’ve been great if TWQ had been given a few more episodes to cover the timespan of it’s story. At one point, when Elizabeth was about to give birth, the story skips ahead 3 years and suddenly she has 3 young daughters!
        Yes, the nudity is gratuitous in GOT, or it was in the earlier seasons. Imo it’s been more restrained in S3 and S4. Maybe HBO is trying to broaden GOT’s appeal, and make it a bit more family friendly. 😉

        • Reply July 13, 2014

          Jamie Adair

          I noticed the restraint as well. There have been rumors reported in the press that Emilia Clarke is refusing to do more nudity – and before they wrote off Ros, she demanded a costume. Still, I would love to think that HBO is finally realizing that its viewers don’t necessarily tune in for the sex scenes. Perhaps, they are realizing that the nudity alienates certain demographics. In general, I don’t mind – and sometimes even like – the sex scenes provided they don’t feel overdone. But, I agree with you: the story should be paramount.

  • Reply July 13, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Anything by Mrs G makes me want to head for the hills. She’s a bit naughty to pass herself off as Dr Gregory the historian when her Master’s is in eighteenth century literature, though I believe her first degree was in history. I’m not a lover of the “but it’s historical FICTION” argument as justification for inaccuracy in historical novels, though I have to concede I have enjoyed books where the facts have been “bent” (not any books that have been written by Mrs G though). When “The White Queen” was being shown I got more fun from some of the tongue in cheek reviews about it in some newspapers (somebody pointed out that one could see a zip in the back of Elizabeth Woodville’s dress). There was one reviewer (who I can’t recall after the best part of a year since the show was broadcast) who gave it two marks – one was a serious mark and the other was on how the “howlers” made him/her laugh.
    I will accept that there would have been historical aspects that Mrs G had to study to obtain an eighteenth century literature Master’s and it does show that she has some brain. I was so cross with the hatchet job she did on Anne Boleyn in “The Other Boleyn Girl” that I have been put off her novels for life. Having said that, many friends and acquaintances of mine really enjoy her work.

    • Reply July 13, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Hey Watcher,
      I just wrote a long comment about Philippa Gregory over here: http://wp.me/p3jV1u-12Q. I try to go easy on her out of respect because a lot of people love her, and I appreciate that many people get into reading historical non-fiction because of her and I think that’s great. I also think she does a great job in creating very woman-friendly characters.

      Still, Alison Weir and other historians get very upset about Gregory’s work because she distorts the facts so much – a view with which I’ve come to agree. As Weir put it in one interview, to quote her loosely, “we [historians] go to such lengths to get it right.” The argument that it is “historical fiction” argument starts to fall apart when you think of the damage it does in terms of the efforts of popular historians to educate the general public.

      It is one thing to make mistakes or even to have an interpretation that people disagree with. For example, people have been extremely critical of Weir’s book on Henry VIII’s wives. Yet Weir’s intention was to be historically accurate — and to give Weir her due, she was a trail blazer in late medieval/women’s popular history. It something else entirely to write “historical” fiction in which you know major events are incorrect. The problem is these fictional events can easily be conflated with widely accepted “facts.”

      For example, and this is probably what you mean (in part) by hatchet job, most historians believe Anne didn’t commit incest with her brother. When PG writes that she did, it creates confusion in the minds of the general public. The same goes with Jacquetta and the magic. Witchcraft accusations were a weapon powerful factions used to obliquely attack political rivals – by attacking their wives. Jacquetta would probably roll over in her grave if she knew the public loved her because they thought she was a witch. It defames her memory.

      What’s ironic and kind of sad, given Weir’s criticism of PG, is that PG has publicly stated that Weir is one of her favorite authors.

      I would have no trouble at all with Gregory if she did what Martin did – write fantasy based on counterfactual history and use different character names.

      With all of this said, I will still happily watch and gobble up even any of Gregory’s works on TV.

  • Reply July 14, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I don’t want to become the “book police” and tell people what they should or should not read. While English literature studies at school can open one’s eyes to writers one might not normally have chosen it can also put one off authors for life (example, in my case Joseph Conrad – sorry JC fans). What I mean is that I had enough of being obliged to read books I did not like at school and so in adulthood would not presume to tell other people what to read. As long as people know they should take Mrs G’s works with a grain of salt and a fairly large grain at that. It’s not too bad if a writer admits to have taken creative licence; re-creating history after 500 years or even longer is not easy. If I recall correctly, Jacquetta was acquitted of the accusations of witchcraft. The “hatchet job” on Anne Boleyn also came from having Anne go blubbering to the scaffold (now I never read to the end of the book so in honesty don’t know if that was only in the film of TOBG in which case Mrs G would not be to blame) whereas from what I have read AB faced her death with fortitude. I am a person who has an interest in history, though I would never claim to be an expert, but I knew enough to have been aware since the early 1970s that Anne Boleyn had a sister, so I was a bit miffed by Mrs G’s assumption that people were unaware of Mary Boleyn’s existence.

    I don’t have the quote to hand, but Michael Hirst was up front in stating that he wrote “Vikings” in such a way to make it appealing to Joe or Josephine Public – if he had included the boring bits about everyday life in the times of the Vikings it might have been a turn off, but at least he was open about what he had done. Mrs G has been on programmes with bona fide historians like Susannah Lipscombe (who not only has a brain but looks like a blonde version of Claire Forliani – life’s so unfair) but such historians never challenge Mrs G. Perhaps they are too courteous to do so.

  • […] What Can We Expect from “The White Princess”? | History …Oct 23, 2013 – Philippa Gregory has confirmed she is in talks with Starz to produce “Season Two” of The White Queen. While The White Queen show began … history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/white-queen/white-princess […]

  • Reply February 20, 2017

    DavidSB

    I find English History fascinating and enjoyed The White Queen greatly. But I did find the american version too far over the top in nudity. If the viewer is looking for porn, it is free on the internet and doesnt need to be a movie when it does not effect the plot. I wish they would stick closer to historical fact when developing these plots however. The recent series “Texas Rising” had only a few facts correct…. there were battles at the Alamo, Goliad and San Jacinto and there were several characters with historical names. Other than that the series was pure fantasy and it didnt need to be.`The book was great and it was pure fact. A great series can indeed be produced as a movie and not a documentary. Case in point… “band of brothers”

    Histories of great nations and great events should be able to be made into a movie while holding the artistic license to a minimum/ The truth is usually infinitely more riveting than any screenplay that Hollywood writer can conjure..

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