The British monarchy has long been the focus of many variable adaptations, mostly featuring the proud kings of England, such as the legend of Arthur and his knights. But move over, fellas–Starz‘s upcoming historical-drama adaptation of The White Princess will have you bending the knee to the queens starting Sunday April 16.
Bitter betrayals, family rivalries, political scandals, and the plague run wild in this eight-part miniseries. But why get psyched about another British period piece? This lavish miniseries (based on a novel that is itself based on real life events) takes the phrase, “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman” to heart by presenting six strong female leads and plenty of supporting ladies, each with their own substantial motives.
For the past 30 years, history buff and fiction writer Philippa Gregory has taken the world by storm with her sensational, bestselling novels that give historic events a touch of romance and magic. But Gregory took historical fiction a step further by paying exact attention to the female figures often left forgotten or misunderstood.
You might be more familiar with The Other Boleyn Girl, which got its own film adaptation in 2008, starring a brilliant tag-team of Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman as the iconic Boleyn sisters. The 2013 book The White Princess, part of Gregory’s The Cousins’ War series (now expanded to The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels series), dates back even further, and ranks as one of the author’s most captivating novels thanks to its strong female POV.
GIF: Queen Bess of York/Tumblr
Author George R.R. Martin himself has often discussed his historical influences from past moments in time. Do a bit of digging and you’ll find that the Battle of the Bastards and a lot more are inspired by real life history, primarily the decades long War of the Roses and the following Cousins’ War. Just imagine if all the female characters, heroines and baddies alike. from the Song of Fire and Ice novels and HBO’s Game of Thrones series actually existed and had their own complex stories that very rarely saw the light of day. That’s exactly what happened during the 15th and 16th centuries, which is why The White Princess is not only flashy and fun but also important for strong onscreen female representation in the same vein as other historical dramas like Netflix’s The Crown and Starz’s Outlander.
The White Princess‘ Sansa Stark
Like the Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens, and the rest of the seven kingdoms, the IRL houses in power from The White Princess were the Tudors and Yorks, and all of their relatives and supporters. The year was 1485 and the newly crowned Tudor line flowed through Henry VII and his mother, while the Yorks and their former foes teamed up to back Princess Elizabeth, her mother, aunt, cousins, and sisters. When the wildly unpopular Henry Tudor won the throne through battle, it was literally one against many–and that’s where the story begins.
Enter the world of teenage Elizabeth of York (Jodie Comer)–the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Henry VII (Jacob Collins-Levy), and–oh yeah–mother of King Henry VIII. (Activate high school history throwback: Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived!) In the previous book and Starz adaptation, The White Queen, Princess Elizabeth was introduced and bitterly referred to as “The Bastard Girl Elizabeth” by her rivals. But in reality, the white rose of York was everything everyone needed in a queen–a regal young woman from a beloved house with the power to sway the entire country into peace.
Think of Elizabeth of York as Sansa Stark: she was the strongest claim to their family’s rule (pending the mystery of her two missing York brothers who had first dibs on the crown), grew up in a realm that adores her and her family, and had to go through a bitter political marriage to settle family rivalries. She needed to be more than just another beautiful, fertile queen–she had to stand her own against her husband and his paranoid mother as well as her own deceitful and proud family members. (Fun fact: she’s Queen Elizabeth II’s 13th great-grandmother, but funny how history hasn’t exactly remembered Elizabeth of York beyond her looks and infamous son…)
GIF: Queen Bess of York/Tumblr
The White Princess’ Cersei Lannister
And then there’s her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort (Michelle Fairley of Game of Thrones). Also introduced in the The White Queen, Margaret Beaufort’s solo purpose in life was to look out for her son and his claim to the throne–and not at all in a loving Catelyn Stark kinda way. I’m talking serious dedication to a holy cause. She’d fast when separated from her only son and prayed relentlessly if Henry VII caught even the slightest of colds. Margaret thought the worst of her daughter-in-law Elizabeth especially, plagued by the fear that Henry would grow to love his wife more than his own mother. If you thought Cersei Lannister was overprotective and neurotic, guess where most of that inspiration came from!
The White Princess‘ Queen of Thorns
The opposite to Henry VII’s plain and pious mother in every way possible was Elizabeth York’s gorgeous and proud mother, the Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville (Essie Davis, likewise of Game of Thrones, as well as The Babadook). Magic comes into play through her, since her noble family claimed to be descendants from the European water goddess Melusine–meaning their rivals relentlessly declared the York woman as witches. The Dowager’s tragic but powerful life was detailed in The White Queen, but don’t be fooled–she doesn’t take the backseat in this tale. I’ve got three words for you: Queen of Thorns (a.k.a. Game of Thrones‘ Lady Olenna Tyrell).
Just like Olenna Tyrell, Elizabeth Woodville throws shade at everyone in White Princess, even her own family. She plays peacekeeper and negotiator to everyone’s lives, from her defiant oldest daughter Cecily of York (Suki Waterhouse), to her sweet niece Margaret Plantagenet (Rebecca Benson, another Thrones vet), and even her clever sister Duchess Margaret of Burgundy (Joanne Whalley). Of course, all of these powerful women have minds of their own, so nothing goes according to anyone’s plan. In the end, though, the bonds they forge with or against one another shape the course of history.
The White Princess is steeped in an intriguing mix of history and fantasy, filled with words of girl-power wisdom, like “Choose to be brave. All the women of your family are as brave as lions. We don’t whimper and we don’t regret.” And if this already strong cast of actresses are as powerful as their book and real life characters, then this miniseries promises to be a badass escape to the past, with the chance of many more successful adaptations of Gregory’s empowering novels in the future.
Will you be catching The White Princess on April 16? Which novel by Philippa Gregory is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
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