I have a confession to make. I have recently become addicted to sub-par, historically inaccurate and poorly scripted BBC costume dramas. Between The Returned and The Apprentice I thought I couldn’t find the time to be hopelessly devoted to any more TV shows. Yet evidently I had a ham-shaped whole in my heart, because I have taken to watching The White Queen religiously.
For those sane enough to be ignorant about the show, The White Queen is an adaptation of a trio of novels by historical-fiction writer Philippa Gregory. It charts the decaying years of the medieval era through the feminine eyes of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Isabel Neville, Anne Neville, Jaquetta Rivers and Margaret Beufort. You’ll notice that, for all the prancing around they do in poofy pants atop sparklingly white ponies, the number of male focal-points in The White Queen are slim to none.
While I admit that, in terms of viewing figures, these costume dramas are aimed at female viewers, The White Queen is the latest in a long line of BBC dramas which feature pretty awesome and pretty well-written ladies. Goshdarn it if the BBC don’t consistently represent us womenfolk well. Even stereotypically “blokey” detective shows these days feature cool, criminal female geniuses such as Alice Morgan in Luther. When it comes to costume dramas, the Beeb tend to cherry-pick from classic literature that features well-developed (if not classically “strong”) heroines such as North and South, Jane Eyre and Emma. They’ve even produced dramas which focus on fictional-historical lesbian characters, as evidenced in the productions of Sarah Waters’ novels Tipping the Velvet and The Night Watch.
It’s always refreshing when a television drama gives my gender-equality riddled brain some peace. Lots of Tudor/late medieval historical fiction seems to centre on the big macho guns – the likes of Henry VIII or Thomas Cromwell (I’m looking at you, Hilary Mantel), or the big imposing female monarchs such as Mary or Elizabeth. The White Queen focuses on the quieter ladies, the ones behind the scenes, albeit those still with a large amount of class and power. Feminism sometimes means giving a voice to women from the past who wouldn’t necessarily have been heard in their own times – even if that was because they’d been accused of witchcraft and had their tongues cut out, or because they were biting on wooden spoons while firing out sprogs from the royal vagina.
This perplexing adaptation has been lauded by the Daily Fail as being simultaneously both “one and five” stars. While I abhor Paul Dacre’s Tory Madhouse and won’t link you to the article, I completely understand the reasoning behind its judgement on this. The White Queen is at times laughably rubbish. “Magic” is frequently treated as a real, dangerous power, with Jaquetta Rivers’ enchanted fishing lines – bloody fishing lines of all things – unintentionally reeling in deus ex machina comedy gold. The White Queen also features such quintessentially medieval items as zips, bricks, buttons, radiators, double glazing, drainpipes, concrete and evidently manicures, luxury shower gel and TRESemmé. Clearly more money in this production went into the costumes and the makeup department than the historical research side of things. It even has its own OFFICIAL TUMBLR, for Pete’s sake.
Every gut instinct tells me I should hate The White Queen. It’s tacky, godawful and contrived. But I can’t help it; I love every second of it. It is nothing but hammy, through and through. Yet, it is the finest Wiltshire ham. It is the sort of glorious honey-glazed ham you would expect at a regal Plantagenet feast. Most importantly, it is unashamedly women-focused ham – and that, for now, will do nicely indeed.
The White Queen is on BBC One on Sunday nights at 9pm.