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You won’t be hearing “off with her head” all that much in period drama The White Queen (2013, available to stream or download on Showmax) and that’s because the action is all taking place behind the scenes.
“You keep us locked up here like rats when all you do is plot and scheme all day,” screams Elizabeth Woodville (played by Rebecca Ferguson). She’s known as The White Queen, who is married to young King Edward IV (Max Irons), one of the pretenders to the throne of England in the year of our Lord 1464. But that’s just the beginning of the drama…
“Although it’s 600 years ago, the issue of women in power is still a very pertinent one,” explains executive producer Philippa Gregory, whose historical novels the show is based on.
Royalty is a messy business – one look at every royal house in Europe and there are so many skeletons in the closet that it’s more like a cemetery than a palace. Add to that rumours of marrying cousins and murdering one another for the crown and you’ve got a downright mess on your hands.
And the War of the Roses was no different. You see, The White Queen may be fictional, but it’s based on an actual blood feud for rule in England. One family, two branches, both fighting for control – the House Of York with a white rose emblem and the House Of Lancaster with a red rose.
“Although it’s 600 years ago, the issue of women in power is still a very pertinent one,” explains executive producer Philippa Gregory, whose historical novels the show is based on. “A lot of these women, who were medieval queens, their reputations were reduced because they were regarded as ambitious, sexually active, brave, powerful women.”
Women at war
Philippa’s novel series is split into three books, one for each of the women who’re controlling the War of the Roses. So what do you need to know about this trio?
The White Queen, consort to Edward IV
Why: She’s blamed for royal miscarriages by means of sorcery and witchcraft. Lizzy-dear was born into a politically influential family, albeit of mid aristocracy. Being married to the king gave her power to manipulate him and influence him into filling her pockets with royal gold, which struck a nerve with many in the court. Not that she cared – Queen Liz was too busy dealing with uprisings against her hubby.
2. Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale)
The Red Queen, mother of the future King Henry VII Of England
Why: Don’t be fooled by her seemingly innocuous rise to the top – if there’s one thing Lady Margaret knew all about, it was overcoming the odds. From birth, she was labelled a disappointment by her mother for the mere fact that she was a girl and not a boy who could continue the family name. Thanks to her careful manipulations, she took King Henry from nobody to well, King of England. Toying with Margaret isn’t as dangerous as playing with fire; it’s like coating yourself in petrol and jumping headfirst into a bonfire.
3. Anne Neville (Faye Marsay)
The Kingmaker’s Daughter, queen consort to Richard III
Why: Her father Richard Neville is powerful and ready to order war for the right price; that’s how he got his nickname The Kingmaker, because he helped choose who would and wouldn’t sit on the throne. And his daughter, being Daddy’s Little Angel, is just as dangerous. Thanks to her family name and infamy, Anne is revered across the land and respected; something that she’d never have got on her own. She wants to be queen and what she wants, her father is more than willing to help give her. Be warned: while she may look innocent and naïve, Anne is anything but.
Best of the royal rest
The White Queen isn’t the only show where lords, ladies, knights and other mythical characters are fighting for kingdom control and a seat on that oooh-shiny throne. Check out these other royal rumbles, including…
1. Shaka Zulua: The Citadel (parts 1 & 2 are on Showmax)
Who’s the boss? Zulu warrior king Shaka Zulu, played by the late Henry Cele, who first portrayed the legendary military leader in the 1986 miniseries Shaka Zulu.
The challenger: The world-conquering British Empire
Other famous faces: Grace Jones as Shaka’s queen and Omar Sharif as The Sultan. Watch now »
2. Game of Thrones (2011-current; Seasons 1-7 are on Showmax)
Who’s the boss? Currently sitting on the throne is brother-loving vicious and cruel Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), only because everyone else in her family is dead – including her vile poisoned son King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), suicide-case son King Tomen (Dean-Charles Chapman) and her warlord dad Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance).
The challengers: Dragon-commanding Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who has legitimate stake to the Iron Throne as her family were the original rulers, and bastard Jon Snow (Kit Harington), who’s true lineage is revealed in Season 5 and throws the game in a tailspin. Oh, and don’t forget that ice-hearted King of the North, White Walker zombie-like guy – his army is still marching South. Watch now »
3. Vikings (2013-current; Seasons 1-5 are on Showmax)
Who’s the boss? Honestly, we’ve lost count how many times the seat of power changes – and that’s because everyone thinks that they own the kingdom and even they aren’t sure how far the boundaries extend. Nothing is too official in the world of the Norsemen and shield maidens.
The challengers: Queen Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) is ruling Viking stronghold Kattegat and any one of late King Ragnar’s (Travis Fimmel) sons, from firstborn warlord Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) through to certifiably crazy Ivan The Boneless (Alex Hogh), could contest the throne. Plus one or two other unsavoury, jealous Vikings from Denmark… Watch now »
4. The Royals (2015-current; Seasons 1-3 are on Showmax)
Who’s the boss? King Simon Henstridge (Vincent Regan) as Season 1 starts. He is the King of the United Kingdom in this fun dramedy-style look at the British monarchy.
The challengers: Heir-to-the-throne Prince Robert (Max Brown), Queen Helena (Liz Hurley) and the younger royal siblings, although they’re too busy being leeches to take any notice over the fight for the throne. There are also sinister forces lurking in the shadows who’d like to see the Henstridge family’s reign ended. Watch now »
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