The White Queen Episode Five: Faye Marsay and James Frain shine in a well-paced instalment that features plenty of plot development
One of the main criticisms of The White Queen has been that it is hard to keep up with the constant array of characters who, annoyingly, all have the same names. Just taking a look over the cast list we have three Edwards, three Henrys, two Elizabeths and two Margarets which is incredibly confusing when you’re trying to review an episode. Indeed, anyone without a passing knowledge of the War of the Roses would no doubt struggle to keep up with the various allegiances and battles as well as trying to remember who the King of England actually is. But, at the same time, if you actually do have some knowledge of the time period you’ll probably be just as annoyed over the lack of historical accuracy.
As we start, barmy King Henry VI is back on the throne, though his bewildered stare suggests that he doesn’t really know what’s going on. At the same time there are rumours that Edward and his army have been killed, but these prove unfounded once Edward marches into the Tower of London to reclaim his bride. As Warwick prepares to launch a Lancastrian army against Edward’s Yorkist supporters, his daughters are struggling to find their place. With George once again aligned with his brothers, Isobel feels torn between her husband and her father, but Warwick tells her not to take sides until the battle is finished. Meanwhile, as Warwick has taken London, Margaret of Anjou prepares to sail to Britain alongside Anne, who isn’t happy about the situation she finds herself in. As the country prepares to take sides, Margaret Beaufort isn’t happy that her husband is rallying his men to fight alongside King Edward’s York army. Margaret’s husband Henry Stafford, who is the most reasonable character in The White Queen by a wide margin, just wants peace and feels that King Edward would try his best to deliver that. This decision doesn’t sit well with Margaret, who feels her husband is betraying her son, so he has to explain to her that not every decision he makes rests solely on how she feels. After delivering a soaring speech to his troops, Warwick leads them into battle but is later slain by a York soldier. There is a fairly emotional scene as Edward watches his former friend Warwick die in front of his eyes.
With Warwick dead, Margaret of Anjou now has to change her plans and regroups her army in preparation to join with Jasper Tudor’s men. As Anne has some of her father’s knowledge, Margaret looks to her for advice on what to do and gives her some tips about how to be a ‘queen militant.’ As Margaret’s army camps overnight, they are ambushed by the Yorkist troops and Margaret’s son is killed. Meanwhile, Anne is rescued by Prince Richard who tells her that all is forgiven and agrees to accompany her back to court. Sensing a connection between the two, Margaret of Anjou desperately tries to manipulate Richard to join her and she’ll make him the new king. However, Richard rejects this offer and has Margaret arrested. The result of the battle is another crushing blow for Margaret Beaufort as Jasper Tudor has to flee once again, taking her son Henry with him. Margaret is also unusually heartbroken when Henry Stafford is wounded during the battle and nurses him on his deathbed. It does appear that there was a genuine affection between the two, even if Margaret could never love him in the way she did Jasper. Meanwhile, Edward regains the throne and is reunited with his two brothers at court. However, Elizabeth isn’t best pleased, especially considering she still has some sort of curse on George. Later, Elizabeth witnesses the sons of York smothering King Henry VI to death and is startled by what she sees.
I’m honestly really not sure what to take from this last scene as I don’t know why Elizabeth would be surprised to see her husband killing the former king. If Edward had killed Henry on the battlefield then I’m sure she’d have no problem with it, but here it seems it’s a different matter altogether. Aside from the final scene, I felt this was another great episode of The White Queen which had plenty of significant plot developments. I found the bloody battle scenes to be incredibly well-choreographed and I even found myself warming to King Edward following his heartfelt speech about Warwick. Despite the name of the show, I’m really not a fan of Elizabeth, who has sort of drifted into the background over recent weeks and only appears every now and then to get naked. Thankfully there’s merit in the other two female characters, most notably Anne who came into her own this week. After her less than comfortable wedding night, it appears as if Anne is now longer innocent and has inherited some of her father’s cunning instincts. In this episode alone she is able to stand up to the dreadful Margaret of Anjou and manipulate her way into Richard’s affections. Meanwhile God-fearing Margaret Beaufort learnt a few lessons about humility following the death of her extremely decent and loving husband Henry Stafford. I felt the scenes involving Stafford’s death were some of the programme’s most poignant and I feel his death will change Margaret for the better.
One of the things I wasn’t too fond of in this episode was that it is the final time we’ll see the brilliant James Frain in action. Even in his final moments, Frain gave Warwick a sense of duty and made it seem like he always felt he was in the right. So far, there doesn’t seem anybody who can take Frain’s place in the cast, and I do fear that the acting will suffer as a result. I’m personally not fond of any of the actors who portray the sons of York while Rebecca Ferguson continues to strike me as someone whose been cast for her looks rather than her acting abilities. In fact the saving grace of the younger cast is Faye Marsay, who has been brilliant as Anne Neville. Marsay was utterly compelling as we saw Anne scheme her way onto the winning team and on the way learn a few things from her one-time mother-in-law. Amanda Hale also continues to be a constant thrill to watch as we saw a more sympathetic side to Margaret Beaufort in her nursing of her now late husband Henry Stafford.
Overall, The White Queen continues to improve this week with plenty of action and plot development contributing to a gripping episode. The ensemble cast once again was on form while the breath-taking battle scenes added a little extra spark to proceedings. But my main fear is, now that some of the major players have been killed off, the drama won’t flow as much as it has done. However, for now at least, I’m willing to give The White Queen the benefit of the doubt.
What did you think to this episode of The White Queen? Did you enjoy the pace of the episode? Leave Your Comments Below.