For a while, the Starz cable channel seemed entrenched in its niche.
"Spartacus" was fiercely macho, "Boss" was darkly psychological, "DaVinci's Demons" and "Magic City" (which has a terrific season-finale at 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9) were both.
But now "White Queen" debuts Saturday (plus an advance showing Friday) -- at first warm, romantic and embracing.
Do all of these have anything in common? Yes, actually. Each (except "Boss") is a period piece. Each does short seasons -- only 10 weeks for "White Queen" -- showing heightened passions and rich quality. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
LOS ANGELES – British history keeps
leaping back to its biggest, brashest era, with Henry VIII.
But other stories, epic ones, came
first. Now “The White Queen” – a 10-week mini-series, drenched
with emotion – starts two decades before Henry.
“The speed of change, the rapidity of
the betrayals, was amazing,” said author Philippa Gregory.
And much of it centered on women. They
found “a lot more (power) than the men might have perceived at the
time,”said actress Janet McTeer. They learned “how to be
These were the women Gregory found
almost by accident.
Her doctorate is in 18th-century
literature, but her early novels were set in the 16th-cenury
era of Henry VIII and his slain wife, Anne Boleyn. In her research
Gregory came across Mary Boleyn. “I wondered who this was and and
why no one had written about her.”
Her “The Other Boleyn Girl” –
fiction, built around the reality of Anne's sister – became a
best-seller and then a movie. Soon, she was finding earlier women,
including Elizabeth Woodville.
History does offer some specifics, she
said. “We know it was under an oak tree that she met the king.”
She was not, by 16th-century standards,
young or naïve. “She was 27,” said Rebecca Ferguson, who
portrays her. “She was widowed and had two children.”
Woodville's husband had been killed in
battle by the king's soldiers. Now she was at that tree, hoping to
intercept King Edward IV and ask for her land back. Instead, he soon
married her … spoiling the plans of his cousin Warwick, known as
“Warwick had a very clear plan that
he'd made with Edward,” said James Frain, who plays him. “He
switched camps …. He put all his considerable wealth and power
behind him and put him on the throne – only to find that this guy
had married someone in secret.”
Soon, Warwick would scheme against her.
Outraged by Elizabeth, people claimeed:
– They hadn't legally married. (They
had, Gregory insists, with two church weddings, but the charge stuck
and their 10 children were later ruled illegitimate.)
– She used magic for seduction. “The
Medieval world was intensely superstitious and also intensely
spiritual … All people (had was) herbalism and spells and hopes,”
Margaret, later called the Red Queen,
believed she received direct messages from God. Elizabeth, the White
Queen, and her mother believed in magic spells.
The mini-series had cast Max Irons –
classically trained, like his dad Jeremy – as the king and Frain as
Warwick. McTeer – a two-time Oscar nominee – was set as
Still, Elizabeth remained uncast. The
person to play this classic Englishwoman was found in Sweden.
Ferguson, 29, recalls growing up with
parents from two countries. “She would talk to him in English, he
would talk to her in Swedish,” she said.
The four kids spoke both. Ferguson
attended English-language school for three years, then Swedish. She
did a Swedish soap opera (“a great learning experience”) and had
some other small roles. Then the “White Queen” people asked for
her to quickly send a three-minute tape.
“I talked about weird things, random
things,” Ferguson said. “And I pressed 'stop' and I got it two
minutes and 59 seconds. I was very proud.”
Formal auditions followed. Soon, she
was in Bruges, in Belgium, encased in tight clothes – “this was
before corsets” – long hair and the story of a young woman who
learned to wield power.
– “The White Queen,” 9 p.m.
Saturdays, Starz, for 10 weeks
– The debut, however, has an advance
showing at 9:57 p.m. Friday (Aug. 9). On Saturday, it runs at 8, 9,
10:05 and 11:10 p.m.
– More reruns, including 8 and 10:50
p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Tuesday, 9 p.m. Wednesday
– Also, Encore has the opener three
times Sunday – 3:20, 8 and 11 p.m.