BINGE-R #65: The White Princess + Broadchurch
THE WHITE PRINCESS S1
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
Sansa Stark. Margaery Tyrell. Cersei Lannister. If you recognise these names – hint: they’re from Game of Thrones – and like the idea of a mediaeval drama underpinned by female machinations, then Stan has a show for you. The White Princess, an American production deep in British history, is set at the end of the War of the Roses, the internecine conflict for England’s throne in the 15th century that divided the country. Defeat, it turns out, isn’t the end of the line for the women of the losing House of York, it just means that they marry and cohabitate with the victorious Tudors and the new monarch.
Having claimed the throne, King Henry VII (Jacob Collins-Levy) must wed Elizabeth York (Jodie Comer), who was previously betrothed – and in love with – the slain King Richard III. Their union is meant to unite England, which appears unlikely given the hatred and paranoia evident in the initial episodes. Each half of this arranged marriage have a formidable widowed mother in their corner: Henry pays heed to austere zealot Margaret Beaufort (Michelle Fairley, one of several Game of Thrones veterans in the ensemble cast), while Elizabeth is intertwined with the maternal schemes of the spirited Elizabeth Woodville (Miss Fisher's Essie Davis).
If you like some shade with your corsetry, the dialogue has you covered: “you are descended from a servant!” declares Elizabeth’s unimpressed grandmother, the Duchess of York (Caroline Goodall), to Margaret prior to being sent to the Tower of London. The story is alert to the public constraints upon these women, as well as their private angling, and the ways they have to earn their status and safety (or even sunlight). As the spoil of war, Elizabeth’s submission to Henry is grimly painful, but despite the story’s intrigue and the sturdy period detail the series just can’t quite escape the feeling of being busy but insubstantial.
Henry VII was the last British monarch to take the throne by force (although we shouldn’t write off an impatient Prince Charles), but after that he enjoyed a long and relatively prosperous reign before his son and successor, Henry VIII generated many TV and movie adaptations. The solidity of his rule and marriage means the writers, adapting Philippa Gregory’ 2013 novel of the same name, have to get inventive. Seeing Elizabeth Woodville cast the odd magic spell is no substitute for dragons, and it leaves The White Princess adrift between fantasy excess and historic intensity.
>> Bonus Binge: If The White Princess does work for you, Stan also has The White Queen, which takes place during the War of the Roses with younger versions of Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort in play. Netflix’s Tudor programming includes Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen, with Anne-Marie Duff as Henry VII’s grand-daughter and a young Tom Hardy.
Streaming Services: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming (plus S2)
In outline, Broadchurch resembles a generic British murder mystery: a death in a seaside small town, complications and clues, and a detective juggling suspects and suspicion. But this 2013 series, which has recently snuck onto Netflix, is so artfully made and emotionally articulate that the mechanics of the plot become gripping; there’s a good chance you’ll be bingeing this one. There’s nothing reassuring in this investigation, which turns up dysfunction and failing so that the community starts to look at itself with a sharp self-doubt that matches the stylised compositions of rotating directors James Strong and Euros Lyn.
Take the moment when the mother of Danny Latimer, an 11-year-old boy found dead on a local beach one morning, visits the foreshore. Beth (upcoming Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker) remembers her own visits there, quantifying her grief without slipping into melodrama. There’s a similar astuteness to the way creator Chris Chibnall outlines the investigators, unsteady newcomer to the district Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (former Doctor Who David Tennant) and local resident Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), whose rocky partnership may not be strong enough for their trials.
While there are twists and false avenues, the show’s best quality is that it becomes about whoever is the focus of the police enquiry, even just for a few minutes. The village of Broadchurch reveals a complex, frayed tapestry of lives, sometimes painful in their shortcomings, and yet recognisable as the outcome of human failing and not merely the creativity of a writer. I remember watching this keenly when it first aired, although the second season, which Netflix also has, didn’t draw me back. Broadchurch got it right just once.
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