Starz latest adaptation of Philippa Gregory's Cousins War saga is a true gem.
The White Princess Season 1 Episode 1 picks up just a day after The White Queen ended, and the York women find themselves in a precarious position as they face life in a radically changed England.
I'm going to be upfront with you: I couldn't decide if I should review as if this show is a "stand alone" and ignore The White Queen, or take the prequel series into account. I'm going to try to split the difference; hopefully, I'll be able please devoted fans and first-timers alike!
The White Princess is off to a wonderful start. Showrunner Emma Frost has built a world rich in detail. The production filmed at several historical sites, which really enhances the feel of the show.
Even with the sets, the attention to detail is high. The scene where Lizzie pleas to God that her bleeding has started just wouldn't be the same without her looking down a medieval castle toilet first.
Burn them. And ban the snow from falling. I will have nothing white in England.Henry [holding York heraldry banners]
Looking towards the cast, I am in love with Jodie Comer's Lizzie. This role has the least baggage from The White Queen...although the character is laden with it.
But since Lizzie was a child for much of the previous series, it's not jarring that she's changed so drastically. In fact, because she just went through this major life event, it makes sense.
She, in the parlance of a patriarchal society, became a woman when she lost her virginity to her uncle.
She is now facing marriage and becoming Queen, something that would empower her under normal circumstances. But she's still the girl who lived a good chunk of her life hiding in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey and has just lost her first love.
She's having to decide how she's going to handle things, and her reactions feel authentic. The way she dealt with Henry's assault highlighted both her strength and her fragility.
[After Henry and Lizzie have sex]
Elizabeth: Did he force you?
Lizzie [crying]: No! No, he did not take me. He has not won, this moment, he has not won. He will never beat me.
Lizzie's not the only one struggling. Henry's a complicated character, although we've only started to see that.
As much as Lizzie rails against her fated husband, there's little evidence that he's quite as bad she complains he is. If I were her, I'd be more concerned about his weird relationship with his mother and that little stunt backdating his reign than the fact that he killed my uncle/loved.
Jacob Collins-Levy (and Emma Frost) give us just enough of a sense of Henry to want more. He's such a contrast in decisive force and bewildered naivete. For all that he's a leader on the battlefield, he's alarmingly easy to lead at court.
His personal interactions with Lizzie remind me of a frustrating high school crush – a total posturing asshole most of the time, but then, when you least expect it, surprisingly gentle.
Lizzie: Your mother bid you to rape me?!
Henry: It isn't rape; we are to be married.
Lizzie: Only if I will have you!
Henry: You think you have a choice? You think you have free will in this? I am the king and I do not.
As dynamic as Lizzie and Harry are to watch, I'm still stuck on the frenemy drama between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville.
It's a holdover from The White Queen, and one of the few things that wasn't adequately explained for newcomers. If you're new to the world of Philippa Gregory's Cousins War, there's no indication that Margaret was once a trusted counselor to Elizabeth.
In short, Margaret was present at the birth of Prince Richard, which did not go smoothly. She was credited for willing him to live and made his nurse. She used that position to later play Elizabeth and Richard against each other. She is also the person who actually arranged for the murder of the Princes in the Tower.
I will walk through my sorrow and I will smile through my pain. I will pretend to be a dutiful wife, but only to their faces. He is my enemy, and so is his mother. I will fight him from within my marriage, and they will not even know it. I will plot to bring my brother back, or, if he is gone, another who will kill this monster Henry Tudor. Humble and penitent may be damned. Hidden and patient -- that will be my motto.Lizzie
Now, I love me some Michelle Fairly, and she can wear a medieval shift robe and headdress like nobody's business, but she hasn't quite captured the maniacal religious fervor that Amanda Hale endowed the character with in the previous series.
And without that delusional level of piousness, I'm not sure her actions against the boys in the Tower packs as much punch.
She did completely own that nightmare scene, though. Between her performance and the creepy crawling kid straight from the type of horror movie I don't watch...I may be having nightmares.
You need do nothing. Except consent, and look delighted. England needs a joyful bride. All else...will be arranged by me.Margaret [planning the wedding after Lizzie announces she is pregnant]
The transition from The White Queen's Elizabeth to The White Princess' Elizabeth is jarring only for a moment, and only if you've been marathoning a rewatch (guilty). The shock of sudden aging quickly passes, and I keep forgetting that Essie Davis and Rebecca Ferguson are different people.
Elizabeth has rather suddenly matured into a less vengeful character...or so it seemed until the last act. For fans of the prequel, Elizabeth suddenly having to take on the role her mother played for her keeps the character fresh. For newcomers, it highlights even more what she is willing to do for her children.
Although the series is focused on Lizzie and Henry and their burgeoning dynasty, the fate of Prince Richard is a major plot point, and really serves to complicate our relationship with Elizabeth.
For all that she disdains the York cousins for bowing to Henry, she is playing both sides of the game and putting her daughter in an untenable position.
Now girls, please listen. Smile sweetly to their faces, but know them for the Tudor spies they are and do not lose your tongues when they are near.Elizabeth [to her daughters about the Tudor ladies in waiting]
I absolutely adored the scene where Elizabeth counseled Lizzie about her pregnancy and the moment she doubted her own magic. It's a bit of a meta moment – the audience must ask themselves the same question that Elizabeth asks herself.
The way that Frost approaches Gregory's use of magic in the books is one of my favorite things about the show. The Rivers women certainly believe in their own magic, but should the audience?
The parallels between the magic of Elizabeth Woodville and the Catholic faith of Margaret Beaufort are sometimes subtle but important for a true comparison of the women. In a world where women do not easily hold power when their value lies in dowries and sons, these are ways to convince oneself to exercise influence.
Lizzie [about Henry and Margaret]: Can't you kill them both? Put a sickness on them so they die in awful pain?
Elizabeth: I cannot do that. I know my curses, but perhaps they're just wishful thinking. Perhaps I just take good luck and call it magic. My powers cannot be very strong if we find ourselves as we are now, with my son lost again and this [nods at the mandrake root Lizzie was planning to take] before us.
As a new generation takes reign, I look forward to both the emergence of new power players and in how the mothers handle their increasing insignificance. Margaret and Elizabeth have both spent decades fighting to put their men on the throne, and that drive doesn't just disappear.
Lizzie's relationship with sister Cecily and cousin Maggie also holds great promise. I confess an inclination to sweet, quiet Maggie for now. The poor girl wants nothing more than to protect her little brother, which seems like a job and a half.
It isn't fair that we are not invited to the coronation [whispers] I'm sick to death of being cooped up here.Cecily
Cecily's jealousy and lack of loyalty to Lizzie have made her persona non grata in my book, but I'm going to try and stay open to her growth. It's just a little disconcerting to see how gentle and kind she and Lizzie both are with the little girls, and then to have her trying to seduce Henry to undermine her sister.
I am curious to see how Frost and her team resolve Cecily's marriage to Margaret's half-brother, John Welles. Welles was killed on The White Queen when he betrayed the Lancastrian forces he had joined at his sister's behest to warn Cecily's father, Edward IV.
I'm just dying to know what they have planned for her instead.
Lizzie: Your service as my mother's lady-in-waiting shall never be forgotten, Lady Margaret.
Margaret: The meek shall inherit the earth. So the bible tells us.
[Lizzie rolls her eyes]
Things are only going to become more complex as Lizzie gives birth to Arthur, and a young man claiming to be her brother returns to England. You'll want to stay on top of things and watch The White Princess online.
And we want to hear YOUR thoughts on the premiere. Who are you rooting for? Should Lizzie give up her childish dream and make the most of her fate? Is Prince Richard dead, or did he escape Margaret Beaufort's plot? Will Elizabeth ever be able to let go of her hatred of Margaret?
Speak up in the comments section to let us know your answers. And remember, LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!
Elizabeth Harlow was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She left the organization in October 2018.