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'The Spanish Princess,' Catherine of Aragon, on Starz
May 5, 2019  | By David Hinckley
 

Starz has a good batting average with historical dramas -- real, imagined or some combination of the two.

The Spanish Princess, third in a series that previously gave us The White Queen and The White Princess, joins the lineup Sunday, premiering at 8 p.m. ET. While these reality-based sagas may not score quite the buzz of the fictional Outlander, The Spanish Princess turns another pivotal juncture of British history into a solid TV drama.

Solid with more than a dash of soap.

Charlotte Hope (top) stars as Catherine of Aragon, a real-life Spanish princess who in 1501 was the key player in a deal between England and Spain.

Her mother, Spanish Queen Isabella (Alicia Borrachero), followed the European custom of the day by sending Catherine to England to wed Arthur (Angus Imrie), the eldest son of King Henry VII (Elliot Cowan) and therefore the heir to the British throne. The marriage was designed to cement a Spanish-British alliance that both sides hoped would make the two nations a mutually secure bastion of Catholicism.

Catherine was 15 at the time. Hope looks somewhat older, which turns out to work just fine because Catherine has the will – some would say entitlement – of someone twice her age.

Upon her arrival in England, she doesn’t bother hiding her disdain for the lesser royals who greet her, notably including Henry VII’s mother Margaret Beaufort (Harriet Walter). To be fair, there’s a bit of chicken-and-egg here, since most of Henry’s Tudor family has little use for a Spanish teenager, either.

Henry VII’s wife Elizabeth of York (Alexandra Moen) helpfully explains to Catherine that this whole deal is a Machiavellian bargain, but then, so is almost every deal cut by European royalty. So get used to it, sweetie.

To her cousin Margaret “Maggie” Pole (Laura Carmichael), Elizabeth remarks that Catherine will “need a heart of stone to survive this family.”

As if to underscore that point, Elizabeth and Maggie can’t stand each other. Elizabeth thinks Maggie is trying to poison Arthur’s life, and Maggie thinks Elizabeth is one of the nasty royals who has ruined hers.

Finding palace intrigue in a drama about British royalty, of course, is about as surprising as seeing someone using a tablet on a table at Starbucks.

Because this is Starz, not the BBC and PBS, the creators mine as much of that intrigue as possible, drawing heavily on Philippa Gregory’s books The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse.

So we get multiple subplots, most offering treachery or romance. Catherine has brought her own courtiers to England with her, opening up all sorts of mix-and-match possibilities, and prominent members of her retinue include her lady-in-waiting Lina De Cardonnes (Stephanie Levi-John) and the lovely and somewhat naïve Rosa (Nadia Parkes).

Again perhaps because this is not PBS, the battle scenes involve blood, and some of the characters occasionally strip. There does, however, seem to be less nudity and gore than in many previous Starz historical dramas. No judgment here, just a comparison.

And yes, we do get an early albeit brief introduction to Arthur’s brother Harry (Ruairi O’Connor), who will play a significant role as the show’s first seven episodes roll out.

Pope plays Catherine nicely, making her just old enough, so we believe both her annoying teenage traits and her worldliness in matters of state and politics. She’s rarely warm and fuzzy because if she were, Elizabeth is right: She wouldn’t last 10 minutes in this treacherous world.

The Spanish Princess won’t be mistaken for a perfect history lesson. It does remind us, again, that fiction writers can’t always improve on the dramas of real life.

 
 
 
 
 
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