I am weeping already. Tonight at probably around 9.30pm Richard of York is going to give battle in vain. It’s fair to say I am dreading it.
If you haven’t watching The White Queen BBC1 Sunday nights at 9.00 pm what have you been doing? It has been the most wonderful, glorious historical drama based on the War of The Roses, which I now know was called the Cousins War at the time and was one of the bloodiest periods of English History. So it is educational as well as hugely entertaining. Double Whammy! This time though it most originally and refreshingly told from the female perspective. Women may have living with little control in their own futures, but this drama shows you just how much power they held as wives, daughters, sisters and mothers. Margaret Beaufort (played by Amanda Hale) mother of Henry Tudor is scarily ambitious for her son, believes she is on a mission from God and demonstrates political nous Machiavelli himself would have been proud.
I won’t deny I found it hard to follow at first. Everyone seemed to be called Edward, Henry, Richard, Margaret or Elizabeth. Where there no other names in Medieval times? Luckily the Earl of Warwick was also called the Kingmaker, which helped him stand out a bit but there was so much double-dealing and swapping of allegiances it made my head spin! Thank God for internet on phones these days, a quick consult with various historical websites before every episode and suddenly I got it, I understood how everyone thought they had claim to the throne. It was as if I could spot the money every time in a con man’s game of 3 cups, no matter how fast he moved them around.
The whole cast has been wonderful, full of the next generation of British Acting talent. It was brave of the BBC to commission a 10 episode drama containing very few star names. But I am so glad they did. I will admit thought at the start I watched for Janet McTeer as Jacquetta, the White Queen’s mother, another compelling performance (if you haven’t seen her in Albert Nobbs I recommend you rent it out straightaway, she is a joy and delight in every scene). Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson has been excellent as the titular Queen, a commoner whose radiant beauty helped her rise to be Queen of England (some things never change even in 600 years!) but as you might have guessed my eye has been most caught by Richard of York, better known to the world as Richard III, played brilliantly and with increasing intensity as his proximity to the Crown drew ever closer.
Played by Aneurin Barnard, Richard, Duke of Gloucester is no bunched-back toad or bottled spider of the Shakespeare play. He is much more Edward Scissorhands than Richard Twisted Limbs. The loyal brother of Edward IV, I feel the Ricardians, so recently delighted with the location of his skeleton in the car park in Leicester, would feel this is a much fairer portrayal. Still there are moments of great complexity and ambiguity of character. For example when he married Anne Neville, daughter of the aforementioned the Earl of Warwick, there was a sense of uneasiness, was really he rescuing her from his increasingly unstable brother George, Duke of Clarence or was he thinking of himself and the riches he would gain? As an audience member you are never quite sure, is it duplicity or affection? I guess we will never know. As always the truth is probably somewhere in between. My view, for what it is worth, is that he was a good man but becoming King made him act in ways he wouldn’t have ordinarily to keep the Crown. It is this beautiful nuanced performance, this uncertainty, constantly keeping the audience on its toes to try to work out his motives makes me think that Aneurin Barnard has a very big future ahead of him. I am definitely putting him on my one to watch list.
And just because I love this Horrible Histories song so much, here it is again, the song that first made me realise that the history books “might have been telling it wrong” and that Richard III “was a nice guy” after all!