The new Starz series The White Princess takes the real-life union between England’s King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and makes it more, you know, interesting.
Launching Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, The White Princess doesn’t exactly rewrite the history of this ultimate power couple. It’s more like the series enhances it, shaping into high melodrama with an ominous soundtrack that’s both figurative and literal.
Based on Philippa Gregory’s best-selling 2013 novel, this eight-episode series isn’t exactly fresh ground for Starz. The White Princess is, in fact, a sequel to the 2013 series The White Queen, based on earlier Gregory novels.
The White Princess herself, logically enough, is Elizabeth of York (Jodie Comer, top), so named because her family was on the “white” side in the War of the Roses, which ended in 1485 when Henry’s men – the “red” side – killed York’s main man Richard III and put Henry (Jacob Collins-Levy, right) on the throne.
That could have signaled the end for pretty much all the Yorkies. But Henry and his team, thinking long game, figured his best shot at securing enough support to keep that throne was to marry someone from the other side.
Elizabeth, seemingly known to her friends as Lizzie, was the top prize.
As to why Elizabeth would want to marry him, that’s simple: She didn’t. For one thing, she had been in love with Richard III. But women in the royal mix didn’t have much choice back then, and marrying Henry was also the best way to ensure the rest of her immediate family would not meet Richard’s fate.
Historically, this all seems to be mostly true. For purposes of Gregory’s book and this series, however, the marital drama takes on the proportions of Greek mythology, with epic suspicion and lethal plotting rampant on all sides.
Even after Elizabeth becomes pregnant, Henry’s royal court and Elizabeth’s family behave as if they had suddenly been dropped into an episode of Empire.
Combatants prominently include their respective mothers, Henry’s pious and ambitious Margaret Beaufort (Michelle Fairley, near left) and Elizabeth’s Dowager Queen Elizabeth (Essie Davis, far left).
Sisters, brothers, and advisors add to the intrigue, which includes the possibility another York candidate could have escaped death in the Tower of London and be lurking out there to challenge Henry.
Perhaps a bit ironically, the real-life Henry VII and Elizabeth of York by almost all accounts had a long and quite happy marriage.
So while they may have circled each other at first, it’s interesting that this series makes them look like candidates for Worst Couple Ever.
That’s the media, right? Always focusing on the negative.
In truth, Gregory and Starz aren’t doing anything Shakespeare didn’t do. He routinely grabbed the intriguing real-life stories of British royalty and enhanced them for dramatic effect.
Of course, Shakespeare also carefully avoided offending any contemporary royalty, large chunks of which were descended from the characters he wrote about.
That’s presumably less of an issue for Gregory, and in any case, it’s fair to say The White Princess will rarely be compared to Shakespeare.
But if you were a fan of The White Queen, be assured that The White Princess picks up with the same style and look, not to mention the same levels of tension.
Also, even though the BBC is not involved in The White Princess as it was with The White Queen, this series isn’t as graphic or explicit as some Starz productions have been.
It’s not PBS’s Victoria, but it seems to give royalty some of the same respectful trappings and then lets us decide who has earned them.