'The White Queen' is a riveting portrayal of one of the most dramatic and turbulent times in English history. A story of love and lust, seduction and deception, betrayal and murder, it is uniquely told through the perspective of three different, yet equally relentless women: Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) and Anne Neville (Faye Marsay). In their quest for power, they will scheme, manipulate and seduce their way onto the English throne.
The year is 1464, before the Tudor dynasty ruled the country, and war has been ravaging throughout England over who is the rightful King. It is a bitter dispute between two sides of the same family, The House of York and The House of Lancaster. The House of York's young and handsome Edward IV (Max Irons) is crowned King of England with the help of the master manipulator, Lord Warwick, "The Kingmaker" (James Frain). But when Edward falls in love with a beautiful Lancastrian commoner, Elizabeth Woodville, Warwick's plan to control the throne comes crashing down. A violent, high-stakes struggle ensues between Elizabeth, her most fierce adversary, Lancastrian Margaret Beaufort, and Anne Neville, the pawn in her father's power game; each woman vying for the crown.
I'm always wary about watching a new series on the Starz network. Not because they haven't aired some entertaining shows, but because it seems as if the vast majority of them get cancelled after one or two seasons, and usually right in the middle of a good storyline. Thankfully, potential viewers won't have to worry about any of that with 'The White Queen'. A BBC production (which aired on BBC One in the UK, but Starz here in the States), this is a mini-series with a definitive end, as opposed to a potential ongoing series that leaves viewers hanging. Therefore, viewers and potential buyers of this set can rest easy in knowing they're getting a full storyline.
'The White Queen' is based on a series of novels by Philippa Gregory that details the 15th century Wars of the Roses from the point of view of the female participants. So, instead of a lot of action sequences (as is par for the course for many productions like this), viewers get a dialogue-heavy series that puts the focus on both personal and political maneuvering. It's clear that 'The White Queen' is targeting more of a female audience than a male one (in addition to being based on a female writer's work, the primary writer of the series is also female – Emma Frost), but things don't get overly-romantic or "soap-opera-ish", so potential male viewers shouldn't be scared away – just know that every episode doesn't feature swordplay (and the ones that do are brief and non-epic in nature).
'The White Queen' focuses on three women and either their dealing with being in a powerful position or their desire to obtain power. The first we are introduced to, and the one most viewers are likely to latch onto as their favorite of the three, is Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), who is really the catalyst for everything that follows. The widow of a knight from the House of Lancaster, she winds up marrying the recently crowned House of York King of England, Edward IV (Max Irons) – which leads to a huge amount of controversy, not the least of which comes from the King's cousin, Lord Warwick (James Frain).
Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale), on the other hand, believes that her son, Henry Tudor, is destined by God to become the future King of England, and tells the young boy as such, despite the misgivings of those around her. Her ties are with the House of Lancaster, so she immediately seeks to align with the King's cousin when she discovers that he, too, wants to remove Edward from the throne.
Finally, there's Anne Neville (Faye Marsay), one of Warwick's daughters. Warwick tries to marry off both his daughters to put them in advantageous positions to be wed to the next-in-line to the throne. Anne starts out as the most naïve of the three women featured in 'The White Queen', but eventually winds up as one of the most powerful.
As a series, 'The White Queen' is kind of a mixed bag. While most of the actors here are rather good, the storyline does take a few episodes to 'get into', and even then it ranges from average to slightly above average throughout the remainder of the series. While I can't claim to be passionate about what I saw, things were interesting enough throughout to keep my attention. This is one of those shows that falls right in the middle for me – not entertaining enough to 'hook' me as a viewer, but not bad enough to get me to tune out.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention one particularly bothersome aspect of the series. While production values are impressive for 'The White Queen', there are tons of historical mistakes where costuming and sets are concerned. For a show set in the late 15th Century, we get costumes that have zippers, machine-sewn buttons, and rubber-soled shoes. We also get buildings with concrete steps, metal handrails, and modern-day guttering. These are the kinds of things that, once you realize are there, start taking one 'out' of the reality the show is trying to create. It didn't factor into my rating of the series, but it's something I wish hadn’t been brought to my attention (although it's hard not to notice).
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The White Queen' gets coronated on Blu-ray in an Elite keepcase that houses three 50GB dual-layer Blu-rays (one on each inside cover, plus a plastic hub for the other), plus three inserts: one containing a code for an UltraViolet copy of the series; one containing a coupon for $5.00 off select Starz series on DVD or Blu-ray; and a trifold that shows a family tree of how all the characters in the series are related. A slightly embossed slipcover fits over top of the case, with artwork matching the slick.
The first disc of the set is front-loaded with trailers for Starz's 'Black Sails' and Season 2 of Magic City. The other two discs contain no trailers. The main menu consists of a montage of scenes from the series, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen. Disc 1 contains the first four episodes; Disc 2 contains the second four; and Disc 3 contains the final two plus all the bonus materials. Each episode (other than the first, obviously) contains an option to watch a recap before viewing it.
Shot digitally on Arri Alexa cameras, 'The White Queen' is presented with a AVC MPEG-4 codec, but only at 1080i resolution. However, viewers will be hard-pressed to find a difference between this and a full 1080p transfer, as details are sharp, contrasts are solid, and colors are particularly lush without being oversaturated. Skin tones look natural and are consistent throughout the series' 10 episodes.
Black levels are decent throughout, although many indoor shots – particularly those that are primarily lit with natural light (sunlight streaming through windows is a frequent occurrence in 'The White Queen') – can sometimes look softer than others. When the series is shooting outdoors is where this transfer really shines. The production design for this series is quite impressive, especially in the costume area (despite my misgivings with the historical mistakes detailed above), and some of the exterior shots show off a rainbow of different colors (again, without being over-saturated) that really impresses in HD.
In terms of any glitches, they're few and far between on this set, with no significant instances of banding, aliasing, or the like. All in all, this is a very solid transfer from Anchor Bay that viewers should be pleased with.
The English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track delivers as expected. 'The White Queen' is a dialogue-heavy show, so there are not a lot of instances of huge action (although there are a few) that allow the audio to 'show off'. However, everything here is properly balanced, and we still get plenty of rear speaker use – allowing for an immersive feel to scenes, even when there's not a whole lot happening on-screen. Everything is properly balanced here as well, so the soundtrack and/or other sounds never drown out the spoken dialogue. There are no noticeable issues/glitches, and while the audio may not show off all the capabilities of your set-up, it's still very well-rendered.
In addition to the 5.1 TrueHD track, each episode has an optional Spanish 2.0 track, as well as subtitles available in English SDH and Spanish.
At first glance, it appears that 'The White Queen' comes with a healthy selection of bonus materials. Then you watch them and realize that each of them are only a few minutes long, and many of them are just 'fluff' pieces. So while the box lists 11 bonus featurettes, the total running time of all of them together is only a little over 30 minutes. Very disappointing.
The best thing I can say about 'The White Queen' is that it's different from any other recent series of its type. While most bringing this story to the screen would have focused on the action, 'The White Queen' delivers a tale that centers on family and political maneuvering. Still, while the story was interesting enough to keep my attention, I can't imagine this is something I'll want to sit through a second time. For that reason, I'm placing 'The White Queen' firmly in the rental category.