The White Queen (Blu-ray Review)

White Queen TNThe Golden Globe nominated (Best Actress in a Mini Series-Rebecca Ferguson, Best Mini-series or TV Movie) mini series The White Queen arrives on Blu-ray from Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment.  The series originally aired on the BBC in June 2013.  It was followed by being acquired by the Starz network and aired there two months later in August.  The series is work of historical fiction based on a popular book series.  The BBC declined a further series and claimed it to be a one-shot, but Starz has stepped in and is developing another mini series, The White Princess which is also based on books in the series.  This is definitely a title cashing in on the success of HBO’s Game Of Thrones, and those are big aspirations, but how does it stand in its own right?  Well, keep reading and I’ll give you my two pennies.

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Please Note: I have not read the novels this is based on.  I’m coming at it purely based on the television adaptation itself.  Any references to the novels come from knowledge gained from research I did and bonus feature interviews.  Any suggestions or criticisms I make are based purely on knowledge of basic television writing/production aspects.

The White Queen begins during the 9th year of the War of the Roses.  The War of the Roses was a long battle between the houses of Lancaster and York over the right to the throne of England.  At the tale’s beginning, King Henry has been overthrown and is in hiding as Edward has claimed right to the throne.  Henry’s wife, the crazed and unpopular Queen Margaret is also on the run separate from her husband.  It is a vicious battle with two sides, many who believe Edward to be the perfect fit and just as many in the wings who believe him to be a false king, that he stole the throne.

When we begin our tale, a widowed commoner woman with two boys, Elizabeth Woodville of the house of Lancaster heads off King Edward at a pass.  Edward is taken with her and they wind up meeting in private, but Edward is a bit too aggressive with her and what was going to be an affair doesn’t seem to take off.  Elizabeth’s mother then uses some of her witching powers to assure her daughter that she will become queen.  When next her and Edward meet amongst her people and his, he professes that he cannot live without her and they marry in private.  Unsure whether her marriage is real, once a long battle is over, Edward makes it public, uniting a marriage between the two rival houses.

Elizabeth has many detractors.  And the story follows her and the other women who were major players during these royal times.  There are 3 main players; Elizabeth, who seems to be using some bits of sorcery to achieve her powers. Margaret Beaufort, who believes God has chosen her son as the rightful heir.  And Anne Neville, who is driven for the throne by revenge.  These women strongly influence and play the men while they are busy worrying about battles.  There’s plenty of politic’ing going abound and many allegiances forged and broken, throughout.

The White Queen is a 10 episode mini-series based on the The Cousins’ War book series by Philipa Gregory.  This mini-series is an adaptation of the first three books in the series; The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.  While each book includes all the main characters, their focuses on the protagonist change hands throughout the series.  The White Queen follows Elizabeth as a hero, The Red Queen follows Margaret and The Kingmaker’s Daughter has Anne as the preferred character.  In the mini-series adaptation, the decision was made to have Elizabeth Woodville as the protagonist for the duration, with Margaret as more of the antagonist and Anne as the ultimate villain waiting in the wings.

While I did find the series entertaining, I couldn’t help but note its impatience and constant jumps forward that hampered it for me.  Upon reading that this was based on 3 separate books, it made sense, but still felt really rushed.  The series had big moments and plot turns, but ones that might felt much more earned and impactful had it kind of settled down.  They should have thought bigger and done one mini-series per book and this could have easily propelled from being good, to being great.  With the setup the way it is, it sacrificed its gravitas for a much more pulpy approach.  Due to the nature of this style, things that could have been dramatic arcs became almost humorous devices.  I witnessed the Queen go through 4 pregnancies and childbirths from Episodes 2 through 7.  The first 8 episodes felt like they would start with the king being stricken his title only to magically gain it back by the end of the episode.  The story also jumps years a bunch.  One episode has 3 sizeable time jumps within it.  Its all feeling a bit rushed.  These are things that with more patience could have made from some real suspense and high end drama.  Instead, its rushed and all feels more forced and goofy than anything.

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The show is pretty entertaining, don’t get me wrong.  It just feels like had it taken a one novel approach it could have been great.  The White Queen desperately wants to be Game Of Thrones, but doesn’t have the patience to go book by book with a season and instead crams it all in one 10 hour mini-series.  Like Game Of Thrones, it does have a vast array of characters, alliances and agendas that are quite confusing.  In comparison to Thrones, it is really light on the graphic sex and violence.  The violence is non-existent give or take 2 episodes as they really focus on the behind the scenes political drama more.  Also the sex is rather boring and neutered (we watch Edward and the Queen have sex 3 times in one episode in the same position).  The sex is done more tastefully than Thrones and the show is more interested in important matters than that titillation, so I will give it credit there.  Also, the characters in this have pretty damn good hygiene, are all really pretty and when they age, they don’t age quite enough to make them unattractive.  This is almost as if Game Of Thrones was adapted for ABC.  So, I suppose we could call it “Tame” Of Thrones.

The biggest star of the show might be the director of photography.  This thing is high on production value and the camera doesn’t waste a cent.  The sets are breathtaking and the camera work and lighting create such a gorgeous look for this mini-series.  Here are many scenes that a still would work as a lovely painting.  Many scenes are incredibly well framed and make grand use of the location they are shooting in (Bruges).  The battles may be dirty and gritty, but everything else is really healthy on the eyes to just sit and marvel at.  There’s a wonderful color palette that just shines right on through.

Acting in The White Queen is top notch through and through.  It was nice to see veteran television actor James Frain have a regular role in something rather than just a guest star.  Frain relishes in it, chewing up scenery and playing his role with plenty of devious, but honorable conviction.  I was really taken with The White Queen herself, Rebecca Ferguson.  I’d never seen her in anything before, but I’m hoping this is the start of more strong female lead roles for her.  She truly takes her character through an arc and you can really peer into the character and see the wear and tear from the physicality in her performance as we go from episode to episode.  The rest of the cast is great as well, but don’t get too attached to a character, because a lot of them go for a string and will be knocked of pretty suddenly.

While this series is based on historical fact, there is a supernatural element of fiction thrown in for good measure.  There’s a bit of witchcraft in play with Elizabeth, her mother and her daughters as to what she pulls her strength from.  However, I feel the witchcraft is kind of just barely brushed upon and ultimately a complete nonfactor in the scheme of things after watching the series.  I found what they were doing with it incredibly interesting and really wanted to dig deeper into what was going on there.  Like I mention before with taking their time and adapting each book into its own mini series, the witchcraft could have had more time devoted to it.  It would have been great to learn or see a little more about it.

The White Queen is an entertaining little mini series of historical fiction that I just could shake the opportunity it had to achieve greatness.  Its high production value and beautiful cinematography won me over more than the story did.  While the story has plenty of twists and turns and moves really fast, it does feel rushed and doesn’t allow us to get comfortable with a lot of ancillary characters who seem to deserve a little more time devoted to them.  It’s a fine bit of entertainment for those needing something to bide the time for the fourth season of Game Of Thrones, but it is far from being a rival, let alone a replacement.  Knowing that Starz is going ahead with another mini series based on another book, where the BBC declined to, just kinda make my point about taking their time and going book by book with this a little more frustrating.

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Episode List

“In Love With The King”

“The Price Of Power”

“The Storm”

“The Bad Queen”

“War At First Hand”

“Love And Death”

“Poison And Malmsey Wine”

“Long Live The King”

“The Princes In The Tower”

“The Final Battle”

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Anchor Bay’s 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoding is absolutely mesmerizing to look at.  Every inch of the 1:78.1 frame is soaked in glorious high definition detail and glory.  The biggest plus on this is the saturation and boldness of color.  Reds, greens and blues are absolutely rich and striking.  There’s a vast palette of color in this series and this release absolutely gets every pixel of it right.  When there’s blood in this, its almost like a work of art it looks so grand in this picture.  The image is nice and sharp, featuring consistent skin tones detailed in every ounce of texture on faces and every freckle on the skin.  Surfaces feature every little bit of weather and use as if you’re looking at it through a glass window.  For example, on Margaret Beaufort’s desk you can make out every nick, scratch, tear and even notice spots where the stain is wearing off.  The picture is about as high end as high end gets.

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This series features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that does well to live up to the incredible video track offered.  While the series is light on the action it does get well with what its given.  The dialogue is clear and crisp.  The sound effects are nice, full and heavily detailed.  The audio does play well between the speakers when given the opportunity.  I think its greatest strength was being able to really replicate the feel and surrounding sounds within each room of a castle or spot in the woods.  This is not an action based series, but this track was able to kick ass with the material that it was given, be it a door slamming or a storm falling as opposed to swords clashing and punches landing (though it does have those every so often).

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This 3 disc set comes complete with Ultraviolet copies of the entire series.  The packing is a standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve.  While it may look like the extras are plentiful, it’s really deceiving.  They are all short EPK pieces that obviously aired during commercial breaks between movies and shows on Starz.  There’s nothing here but short and uninsightful fluff made to sell us on the series.  No commentary tracks are present, so really there’s nothing provided that digs really deep into the story and production on the series.  All of the following clips contain interviews with the cast, author and screenwriter of the series.

The Making Of THE WHITE QUEEN (HD, 3:24) – This one focuses on the sets and location shooting of the series.

Series Overview (HD, 4:27) – A discussion of the characters motivations and setup of the story.

Book To Series (HD, 4:15) – Interviews about adapting the books to television and how to change some of the focus and use all 3 books in 10 episodes.

The History Behind THE WHITE QUEEN (HD, 3:37) – A look at some of the factual elements behind The White Queen.

THE WHITE QUEEN: Set Tour (HD, 3:59) – This one focuses on the production design.

Queen Elizabeth (HD, 3:02) – Rebecca Ferguson discusses her character along with the author and screenwriter.

King Edward IV (HD, 2:36) – A piece focusing on the king and what kind of guy he is.

The Heir Apparent (HD, 1:32) – A history on the importance of having a son during the times of old England.

Women In A Man’s World (HD, 1:47) – This featurette discusses the involvement and importance of the women behind the throne during this medieval times.

Conjuring Up THE WHITE QUEEN (HD, 1:57) – The author discusses her use of witchcraft and supernatural elements in the mini series and books.

Dressing Up The Queen (HD, 2:37) – A look into the costuming of the characters during the time of Prince Edward and Queen Elizabeth.

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Anchor Bay delivers a fantastic top notch presentation of The White Queen, a series that is pretty good and entertaining.  Its one I couldn’t help but wonder how great it could have been had they been patient and done a book by book approach.  This felt like a very 90s thing to do with just trying to cram all the source material into one shot.  I’m sure there are many story points fans might have been excitedly anticipating, but for the sake of a rewarding experience they could have produced an epic.  The supplemental materials on the disc are incredibly weak and lacking, making this recommendation having to come soley off of the mini series itself.  As it stands its entertaining, but something you might want to wait for the price to come down on this very minimal release before adding it to your collection.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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