As the intricately woven yarn begins, dashing young Edward IV (Max Irons) of the House of York has been crowned king, thanks in large part to the ruthless manipulations of his cousin, Lord Warwick (James Frain), a.k.a. the Kingmaker.
But Warwick’s plan to guarantee a long reign for the Yorks and a comfortable future for himself is sidetracked when, during a ride through the countryside with his troops, Edward encounters the beautiful young Lancastrian commoner Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), with whom he’s immediately smitten and to whom he will soon be secretly wed.
Despite her relative youth, Elizabeth is a widow (her husband was killed in battle against the Yorks) and the mother of two young sons. Edward is unconcerned by this, and when she rebuffs his attempts to take her as a mistress, the lovestruck king feels his only remaining option is to propose.
Elizabeth’s brother is enraged, telling her that she has been duped by a serial womanizer and that the proposal and secret wedding are a hoax. But after leading his forces to victory in battle, Edward makes a public declaration about his marriage to Elizabeth (much to the chagrin of Warwick, who has spent years trying to negotiate an arranged marriage for his cousin to a French princess) and summons her to court.
And so begins a frenzied period of intrigue, royal double-dealing, fraternal betrayals and, most importantly, feminine scheming and the stabbing of assorted regal backs.
Sticklers for historical accuracy will surely find The White Queen to be wanting on several fronts — most notably, its depiction of 15th-century England as populated almost exclusively by winsome, attractive and consistently clean-bathed people with lovely hair and straight, white, perfect teeth.
But this is television drama, after all, and viewers have always favoured style and sizzle over squalour and stench. On the “sizzle” front, The White Queen certainly presents its characters — particularly Edward and Elizabeth — as a rather randy royal bunch, serving up several scenes in each episode of unclothed characters in a variety of carnal castle-bed clinches.
But if you can look beyond these minor distractions and focus on the story at hand, you might discover that The White Queen is a satisfyingly compelling, well-appointed tale, filled with intriguing characters brought to life by actors at the top of their game.
It isn’t likely to topple Game of Thrones from the lofty perch it occupies in pop-culture consciousness, but The White Queen certainly earns its place of honour in TV’s historicaldrama lineage.