Many keen fans of the historical drama were counting down the hours last Sunday waiting for the BBC’s version of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen. Well, I certainly was! I had just been at a talk about the Lindisfarne Gospels (quite an obsession round here at the moment – blame the church festival) and there was a bit of concern that the speaker would get back to Durham in time.
Well, it was fairly faithful to the book:
Which, having read most of Gregory’s books as they have come out I read a few years ago. I remember it being a bit difficult to follow; as Ms Gregory said at her talk in Alnwick in 2010, everyone being called Mary or Elizabeth or Margaret doesn’t help. Also, I think I know about the Tudors, but the various battles, sides and would be Kings and Queens of the Wars of the Roses (or Cousins’ War) is a little baffling. It is undoubtedly a fascinating period in British history, and the women probably did play an enormous part in motivating, enabling and caring for the men who were actually doing the fighting. I was particularly touched during the novel at the fate of Elizabeth’s family, not just her famous sons who disappeared in the Tower, but also her other children and brothers. What comes over from the novel is a strong woman who does so much to protect and provide for her family. I believe I enjoyed the novel because of Gregory’s skill at depicting a woman in difficult or impossible circumstances, who loves greatly if ultimately tragically.
As for the tv production, well, it was very pretty, with pretty people in a family setting. So many children around in such sunny times it reminded me more of the Sound of Music…The King going off to battle seemed no worse than him popping off for his daily commute, and the mild peril of whether he would choose to remember his marriage to Elizabeth was a little worrying. The whole thing seemed to have been filmed in a sunny bit of France rather than anywhere in an ordinary British summer. In many ways it only improved when they got to court, when there was some promising skirmishing between Jacquetta and Cecily. The floors, the clothes and the interiors all looked so clean! I was so keen to see a non- Tudor drama that I will watch the next episode and indeed the whole series if possible, but let’s hope for a little more drama and a little less prettiness.
I have read this week the very interesting The Lady of the Rivers, the third book in the series of Gregory’s novels on the Wars period. It actually goes back into the life of Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta, who was an influential force as England descended into war. It is a book full of her trials and tribulations during a life full of supporting Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, and worrying about her gifts of foreseeing the future. I really felt that this was a love story, complete with many children. The characters felt real, the battles muddy, the deaths tragic. Despite the complexity of the power struggles, I felt that I had managed to understand the narrative and get a sense of the reality of the people’s plight. Given the strength of the performance of Janet McTeer in the first episode, it seems a shame that I think that this book is not due to be dramatised. I think that this is a better book than the White Queen, but I may be alone in that…