So last weekend, the BBC’s sort-of-like-Game-of-Thrones-but-less-horrifying drama The White Queen finished off the season, with a rather gruesome Battle of Bosworth Field. Despite dodgy set design, frustrating characters, and a, shall we say, laissez-faire approach to history, I liked it, and I’m a bit disappointed it’s over for the summer.
This is why.
Promo picture from the BBC, but she does actually look like that a lot of the time.
1. I like that it makes me curious about a period of history that I’m far from expert in. Most of what I know about the War of the Roses comes from studying the beirdd yr uchelwyr, the Welsh poets of the era, like the fabulous Guto’r Glyn, which leads to a rather different perspective. So watching this show has given me jumping-off points to read up on–a lot of them, in fact, because there was totally more than one episode where I stopped in the middle with a ‘wait, did that really happen?’ and scamper off to Wikipedia, after which I found some books in the library and went from there. It’s a much more modern period than I usually deal with, but there’s a lot going on with it, from both an English and a Welsh perpective. And perspective is important–because it leads us to–
2. I like that it’s woman-centric history. There’s no denying that the major players in The White Queen are the women–Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, Marguerite d’Anjou in the early part later replaced by Anne Neville. I don’t like all of them; in fact most of the time they’re all frustrating. But their motivations, and their fears, which often lead to mistakes, are very clear. I may think in the context of the TV show that Elizabeth Woodville is incredibly paranoid (so did Thomas More), but it’s obvious she has her reasons for not trusting anybody–and in the context of actual history, she may well have had reason to be, because it’s only this interpretation where we as the audience can see everyone’s point of view and see how things could have gone better. (But could they, really? Philippa Gregory’s Richard might be a genuinely good guy, but her Anne Neville is scared to death of Elizabeth and like her, lets that fear rule her actions). Anyway, I enjoy seeing the machinations of the women behind the men making the decisions and the battles, because it’s a reminder they were active participants in their own lives. Even if it’s not necessarily how those lives happened. Which leads us to–
3. I like the fiction, and the closure fiction can give. So okay, the history isn’t exactly reliable. Whatever, I work with Geoffrey of Monmouth and King Arthur. It’s historical fiction, so there’s a certain amount of poetic license allowed–I haven’t found a compelling case, for instance, that Perkin Warbeck was actually Prince Richard, or for that matter that Richard III wasn’t ultimately responsible for the fate of the princes in the tower, regardless of how much later propaganda distorted his image (and it did, there’s no way around that). But then, I’m reasonably certain Elizabeth and her mother didn’t cause storms and fogs and put actual curses on people, either (I pretty much stop worrying about historical accuracy once magic shows up.) But with fiction, you’re allowed to say ‘what if this did happen?’ and then go with it. It lets us, hundreds of years removed from events, select a personal version of events that gives us some sense of closure and finality. Like if there was an episode of Doctor Who that explained the princes disappeared because they were whisked away in the TARDIS. It’s not especially likely, but it’s a good story. (And if I am ever made showrunner of Doctor Who, that will totally happen.) Which brings us to–
4. Stress relief. I’m submitting my PhD thesis in five weeks. It’s increasingly hard to pull my head completely out of the middle ages, because I basically live there and just work remotely. But I can’t think all the time, either; it isn’t possible. So chilling out once a week and watching people dressed up in costumes and basically reenacting a fantasy is good fun, and when I’m not wanting to strangle the characters in frustration, it’s relaxing.
So have you been watching this pseudohistorical drama or any others lately? What did you think? Anything else I should check out when I have a chance? (I don’t have a TV, so being able to see things on iPlayer and the like is helpful.) I hear Vikings is good….