"The Wars of the Roses" is an era in British history taking place during the late 1400s, in which different families fought to make one of theirs the King of England, each with supposedly legitimate claims to the throne. This period of history - which, interestingly enough, also builds the foundation for the fantasy stories in the "Game of Thrones" universe - has been put into a TV series by Starz and is now available on Blu-Ray Disc from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Needless to say that we've been very eager to check it out.
After defeating the "Mad" King Henry, the Lancaster family proclaims heir eldest son, king Edward IV of England. The young regent has successfully fought many battles and is loved by his followers. However, he is also known as a ladies' man and no one is really surprised when he makes advances on Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner he meets one day as she ask for his support. Despite everyone's assumptions, however, Edward is very serious about Elizabeth and the two secretly marry and as England slowly recuperates from the war, she is subsequently crowned Queen of England.
But there are many contenders to the throne. The Mad King himself has not given up yet and assembles an army, while Margaret of Anjou, the "red" queen of King Henry, also feels that she needs to recapture the throne for her husband from her own retreat in France. But closer to home, the lady Margaret Beaufort feels that with King Henry in exile, her own son should be sitting on the throne, continuing the line of the Tudors. As everyone flocks to court with their own agenda, the young king and his charismatic queen are constantly surrounded by plots and schemes. Every person at court, it seems, is trying to maneuver themselves in the best position for power and succession and it becomes increasingly hard for the couple to tell friend from foe. Only the trust and love they have for each other serves as the root of their reign and more than once, Elizabeth has to cool Edward's temper in the face of challengers and political intrigue. Level-headed and even-handed, the two try to serve England and its people, try to make it a better more stable and more wealthy country for everyone. Sadly, however, many of their opponents and closest entourage are eaten alive by their own ambition and greed, ultimately driving King Edward into war over and over again as he has to defend his throne against impostors and challengers.
In ten episodes, "The White Queen" tells this fascinating story of betrayal, ambition and power and there is not a moment where the pace ever lets up. The scheming and plotting never ends and every time you feel you know a character, they may just switch allegiance and turn the table all over again. It is magnificent to watch, particularly when you consider that this series is based on real historic events taking place.
The world of later 1400 England i brought to life magnificently in this show, transporting you entirely to the Middle Ages. Shot largely in Belgium where the cities of Bruges and Ghent stand in for medieval England, not for a minute will you doubt the show's authenticity.
The film has also been marvelously cast and Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth, the titular White queen, stands out in particular as she wonderfully portrays the growth her character goes through. Whether it is love, joy, anger, sadness or complete loss, her emotions are always honest, making her queen tangible and imperious, yet never infallible or untouchable. It is a rare combination that she brings to life with seemingly remarkable ease.
But the entire cast has been superbly picked without a single weak performance. Consisting mostly of fresh faces, some of the characters are so conniving and backstabbing that you way to strangle them right there on the screen, and every moment of the show you are magnetically pulled into the events with your emotions laid bare down to the wire.
While there is some nudity in the film, "The White Queen" does not follow the trend set by other pay-TV shows and does not enter the soft-porn territory that "Game of Thrones" is treading these days. While featuring many battle scenes and acts of violence, the show is also not gratuitously graphic. A good dose of violence is good for such a blood-soaked era, of course, but once it becomes excessive it uses all of its impact, and it was very refreshing to see that "The White Queen" managed to strike the right balance. Instead of cheap sensationalism, it relies on a solid story and intriguing characters to keep the viewer engaged throughout.
Since "The White Queen" and "Game of Thrones" have so many similarities - "Game of Thrones" is essentially a retelling of the same story in a fantasy setting, accompanied by some creative liberties - it is fair, I think, to compare the two shows, and after having seen both, I have to say that "The White Queen" is easily the better show. While "Game of Thrones" trundles like a soap opera these past two seasons, "The White Queen" explodes onto the screen with no holds barred. While there is plenty of drama, the filmmakers always make sure that there is a proper pace that propels the story forward, without getting frazzled in countless subplots. Even without artificially creating new plot lines and characters, the story is very elaborate as it is, and "The White Queen" always follows a red thread to keep things on track.
"The White Queen" arrives as a three-disc Blu-Ray set. The image quality is every bit as good as you would expect, with an incredibly high level of detail and colors that are vibrant and rich throughout, without ever bleeding. The transfer offers up solid black levels that firmly root the image and give it good visual depth, particularly during some of the dark interior scene. No compression artifacts were evident in the presentation at any time.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD audio track accompanies the show, featuring an aggressive, lossless presentation that makes good use of the surrounds throughout. The battle scenes in particular are engulfing the viewer with surround effects, but even the more somber interior shots are filled with a subtle ambiance that adds to the overall experience.
The release also contains a number of bonus materials, such as a number of featurettes, covering various aspects of the series. A Making-Of featurette takes a look behind the scenes, another featurette examines that transformation of Phillipa Gregory's novel to the screen, another yet gives you a wonderful set tour, with additional featurettes covering many of the aspects of the movie.
Without a doubt, "The White Queen" is by far the best TV show I have seen in many years, and considering how for TV series have come in the past five years, I think this says a lot. There is no doubt that this is a must-have release that every fan of epic period TV shows should have in their collection! "The White Queen" is easily among the best out there!