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TV Review: Royal romp gets it all wrong

THE White Queen is being talked up as the BBC's stab at Game of Thrones. Mmm . . . not quite. Try Game of Scones.

 

Given that it's a co-production with American cable channel Starz, which set a new television bloodletting record with the Spartacus franchise, you'd expect actual stabbing would be at the very top of The White Queen's agenda.

Sadly, it's not. Oh, I'm sure there'll be a bit of it in there at some point – it is set against the backdrop of the War of the Roses, after all.

It might well be hiding in episode two, nestling impatiently (although not as impatiently as I was) between repetitive scenes of soldiers riding through woodland and handfuls of suspiciously well-scrubbed extras wandering across pastoral landscapes, pretending they're peasants in 15th-century England.

For the moment, though, whatever violence there is is being wrought on the English language and the viewers' ears, as a collection of vaguely familiar British actors snarl painfully anachronistic dialogue at one another (did people back then actually say "obligated"?).

Come to think of it, they're not all British. The White Queen herself is played by a Belgian, by the not very Belgian name of Rebecca Ferguson (a consequence of the series being filmed in Belgium, I imagine), who has something of the self-satisfied smirk of a Gwyneth Paltrow about her.

But she's not the queen just yet. When we meet her, she's plain old Elizabeth Woodville, a pouting widow whose husband died fighting for the House of Lancaster against the House of York. The half-time score is York 1-0 Lancaster.

Elizabeth has been stripped of her lands and will do anything to get them back from the reigning King Edward (Max Irons, apparently having wandered in from shooting a hair gel commercial in the studio next door), who, the moment he sees her, is intent on stripping her of her clothes as well.

"Don't sell yourself too cheaply," warns her brother, gravely.

Her mother (Janet McAteer), a bit of a witch, literally, who performs some lo-fi magic involving tying threads to trees and has the gift of second sight (except when it comes to reading scripts, obviously), is more pragmatic: "You will not fall in love with a York king, unless there is some profit in it for you."

Meanwhile, Edward's advisor, the scheming Lord Warwick, wails: "The King is fogged by lust!" I'm guessing members of 15th-century royal courts were obligated to say things like that.

Within 10 minutes, Elizabeth and Edward are in bed indulging in some tastefully-lit softcore humping. Five minutes after that, they're married in a secret ceremony, sealed with a ring Elizabeth magicked out of the dark at the end of one of those enchanted threads of her mother's.

York 1-1 Lancaster. No one on either side is entirely happy with the result. Nor will anyone else, I suspect, unless someone in The White Queen whips out a sword next week and starts slashing.

Coronation Street, Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, A Family at War, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Lovers, Brass, Laurence Olivier Presents. What do they have in common?

They were all made by Granada Television in Manchester, as were countless other classic dramas, comedies, documentaries and music shows. Some of them were recalled, sometimes all too briefly, in Goodbye to Granadaland, a documentary to mark the closing down of the original Granada studios. Good as the programme was, it wasn't nearly good enough.

A proper history of Granada would easily merit a three- or four-part series; there's enough material in its groundbreaking current affairs series World in Action alone to occupy a whole episode. Instead, the story was squeezed into 90 minutes, large chunks of which were given over to protracted sequences featuring the insufferable Peter Kay – a man who'd score 10 on a Richter scale of unfunniness – larking about in empty studios.

These bits unintentionally illustrated the gulf between how great TV used to be and what it is now.

The White Queen 1/5

Goodbye Granadaland 2/5


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