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The White Queen (2013)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/4/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/30/2014
As with many critics, I often decry the lack of original stories which come out of the entertainment industry. I think we all know that somewhere out there one could find original screenplays which have unique ideas, not to mention the plethora of novels which would make great movies. And yet, the same stories seemed to be recycled over and over. The one place where I can be forgiving is when filmmakers look to history for inspiration, especially stories which seem larger than life. While many historical epics can come off as mundane, we occasionally come across a story which is offers more intrigue and twists than the best screenplay. This is the case with The White Queen, a mini-series which has now come to Blu-ray Disc.
The White Queen opens in the 15th Century, at the height of The War of the Roses; a battle for power between two houses -- York and Lancater. King Edward (Max Irons) has just taken over the throne. While riding through the countryside one day, he meets Elizabeth Rivers (Rebecca Ferguson) and there is an instant attraction. They are soon married and this "commoner" finds herself on the throne as queen. But, little does she realize the treachery which surround said throne. Lord Warwick (James Frain) does not like Elizabeth and plots against her. Similarly, Edward's brothers, George (David Oakes) and Richard (Aneurin Barnard), who at first support him, soon become envious of his power. While Elizabeth attempts to deliver a male heir to Edward, turmoil swirls in the kingdom. Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) feels that her son, Henry Tudor, is the rightful heir to the throne and begins to make power plays to see that this happens. All the while, Elizabeth fights to keep her family together.
The White Queen explores well over 50 years of British history and over its 580 minutes, takes a very detailed look at this turbulent time period. This means two things -- we get a lot of story and a lot of characters. To answer the implied question, yes, you will be better off if you already know something about King Edward's reign. As I did not, I found some of The White Queen confusing, and not just because everyone is named Edward, Richard, Henry, or Elizabeth. The mini-series makes no apologies for the fact that it is working in three books by author Philippa Gregory -- The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker's Daughter -- and it rarely slows down to over-explain things. I will admit, I looked up several of the figures in the story to get a better handle on how they were connected.
Having said that, The White Queen does offer engrossing drama. As implied above, truth is often stranger than fiction and that's certainly what we get here, as the story opens with a woman who is literally plucked from the side of the road and made queen. Not unlike a modern soap opera, everyone here is out for themselves and there is much back-stabbing and bargaining. The movie doesn't have to go out of its way to make the overly-greedy characters unappealing, and you'll quickly find yourselves taking sides here. I especially disliked Warwick, who reminded of that co-worker who never seems to do anything right, but still gets accolades.
The story also does a great job of highlighting Gregory's over-riding message here -- While men may have sat in the seats of power, there were influential women who were plotting the course of history. Nearly every male character here has a female companion who either manipulates them or advises them in key decisions which steer the story. While these women are placed in arranged marriages or left to feel inferior if they don't have sons, they are no shrinking violets, especially Elizabeth, who knows how to leap into action when her family is being threatened.
The mini-series was made by the BBC (and then aired on Starz in the U.S.) and it's a quality production. The sets and costumes look great and the on-locations shots in the country, show a beautiful and untamed land. The cast is also good, with Ferguson leading the way as Elizabeth. While she's not in every scene, she plays a prominent role across all 10 episodes and carries herself quite well. Also deserving praise is Amanda Hale. I hated Lady Margaret, so Hale clearly did a good job in her role. My one knock against the cast is Max Irons. While he certainly has acting chops (no doubt inherited from his father), he doesn't look like he belongs in the 15th century. That may sound like an odd thing to say, but King Edward always looks like he's playing dress-up, as opposed to feeling authentic. That aside, The White Queen is a powerful piece and worth a look if you want to know more about England prior to the rule of Henry VIII.
The White Queen shows that fishing is one step away from witchcraft on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The three-disc set contains all 10 episodes from the mini-series. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. However, I did not stuttering of the image on a regular basis. Does this have to do with the PAL to NTSC conversion, as this was originally a British production? I've noticed the same effect on the Downton Abbey Blu-ray Discs. That aside, the colors look good and the image is never overly bright or dark. The level of detail is good as well. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While this track sounds fine, it's notably free of impressive audio effects. The stereo effects are OK, and we occasionally get some surround effects, but for the most part, the dialogue-heavy audio comes from the center channel.
The White Queen Blu-ray Disc contains several extras, all of which are quite brief. "The Making of The White Queen" (3 minutes) has those involved discussing how shooting on location helps to influence the overall feel of the project. "Series Overview" (4 minutes) provides a general synopsis of the mini-series. Author Phillipa Gregory discusses the story and the challenge of adaptation in "Book to Series" (4 minute). "The History Behind The White Queen" (4 minutes) has Gregory talking about the historical figures portrayed in the film and how time has twisted some of the real-life story. Production Designer Martyn John shows us around the sets in "Set Tour" (4 minutes). "Queen Elizabeth" (3 minutes) examines the characters and has Ferguson describing how she sees Elizabeth. We get a similar examination and comments from Max Irons in "King Edward IV" (3 minutes). "The Heir Apparent" (2 minutes) looks at the importance of having a male heir in that time period. Similarly, "Women in a Man's World" (2 minutes) profiles how females were treated, but how influential they were. "Conjuring Up The White Queen" (2 minutes) delves into the supernatural aspects of the story. "Dressing the Queen" (3 minutes) shows us the work which went into the costuming.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long