The White Princess Recap: Character Assassination

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It’s almost been a month since I covered one of the White Princess episodes and I’ve had it on my “to-do” list to finish off the rest of the series. Despite not particularly enjoying it, once you start something, etc. etc. But after watching the fifth episode in the series I’m actually going to stop because I think this show crosses a line. I don’t know how many of these issues are  unique to the TV version of this story, or if they are following the lead of the books on which they are based, but there is a fine line between historical fiction and character assassination and this is the latter.

What this series has done to Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond is take a woman of whom there is a finite amount of information on which we can make our assessments and smear her name. One of the few things we can say with some certainty about her is that she was pious. Meanwhile, The White Princess has now shown her to be guilty of three murders. I will grant you that there are theories floating around the ether that Margaret played a hand in the murder of the Princes of the Tower, so that particular plot line didn’t particularly offend me, however doubtful its veracity. During the fifth episode of this series, however, Margaret is seen smothering Jasper Tudor in his bed.

Fiction is just that, fiction, but historical fiction is not only based on real events, but real people. Margaret Beaufort actually existed. She had parents, marriages, a son and a life that touched any number of people during a critical period of English history. That she lived centuries ago does put her in the public domain, yes, but it does not make it any more abhorrent that her life and character are to be smeared by her portrayal as a killer in a murder that could not possibly have happened. This is not poetic license or editorializing to make events or people clearer or simpler for a reader – this is just a lie.

If you want to make up a world with the complete freedom to have your characters do as you will, then don’t use historical figures. Do not attempt to portray this as a dramatic re-telling of history. This show, to me, is on the same plane as Reign, the CW’s soapy teen depiction of Mary, Queen of Scots. And that’s fine, but that show is at least in on the joke. They in no way pretend to be telling an accurate story, but rather using key figures as guard rails.

If The White Princess would like to follow that path, then by all means, do so. But then the least it can offer is entertainment and it can’t even do that. It seems caught somewhere in the middle, unsure whether to take itself seriously or embrace the ridiculous. It’s a campy, histrionic fictionalized version of…something, which wants to take itself quite seriously.

Unfortunately I don’t particularly. I won’t be covering the fifth episode and I’m going to call it a day on this show. We’ll pick back up with the second season of The Crown this fall, an event for which I have high hopes!

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