Monday, August 12, 2013

Step aside, Lord Martin. The Queen has arrived.

Say what you will about the series, Rebbecca
Fergusen gives a stellar performance as
the bold yet innocent Elizabeth Woodville
I got the luck of the draw this month, with the first Monday post after the season premier of The White Queen in the United States. 

The series, based on six novels by the incomparable Philippa Gregory, ran over the summer in the UK, where it was apparently not well received.  But who cares?  That was then, this is now.  We colonials have gotten so accustomed to CableTV and Hollywood botching up history that we've come to prefer our history botched up.  And why fuss about anachronistic details like period-specific hygiene and zippered dresses, as long as the sex scenes are good?  So bring it on, The White Queen!  We are ready to love you, no matter what your flaws. 

Those of you who have followed my posts in different places may know by now that I am an avid fan of Philippa Gregory.  I have read many of her historical fiction novels, most recently The Lady of the Rivers, the story of Jaquetta Woodville, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.  I have not, unfortunately, read any of the other novels on which the current series is based.  Though The Red Queen, a recent birthday gift, is waiting on my shelf, and seems to be calling me at this very moment. 

My most recent favorite
from Philippa Gregory
Gregory has probably influenced my own journey as a writer more than any other author.  I have the deepest admiration for her commitment to using fiction as a tool for reconstructing women's history.  Her stories are often devoted to figures about whom we might not have heard otherwise:  Jacquetta Woodville in The Lady of the Rivers, Mary Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl, and Jane Rochford in The Boleyn Inheritance, to name a few.  Gregory is vivid in her prose, capable of bringing diverse characters and distant times to life.  She crafts complex, admirable (and sometimes not-so-admirable) women; strong historical figures who lived in times of great uncertainty and made daily decisions upon which their lives and the lives of many others depended. 

So when I sat down to begin my own journey as a novelist, I did not think "I want to write like J.R.R. Tolkien".  As much as I admire the master's work, and as much as I recognize the many seeds of inspiration he has given me, I wanted to do something different. 

Nor did I think, "I want to write like George R.R. Martin," because quite frankly, I didn't even know who he was back then. 

But I did want to write like Philippa Gregory and many other authors of historical fiction who had inspired my imagination by weaving stories with strong women protagonists. 

I wanted to write woman-centered stories like they did, but I wanted to do it in the genre of fantasy. 

The last time I saw Gregory's work translated into a screenplay was the film interpretation of The Other Boleyn Girl. This was sore disappointment that managed to butcher all the most important elements of the original novel, despite the potentially great cast. 

Great actresses, beautiful costumes, awful movie.
I guess two out of three ain't bad.
There is always greater hope when a book is translated to a 10-part series as opposed to a 2-hour movie. There's more flexibility here, more time to indulge in the details. (Although with The White Queen, we are talking six novels squeezed into a single 10-part series, which. . . Well, you do the math.)

With only one episode under our belts, it's too early to tell whether The White Queen will fulfill that hope.  There were some things I didn't like about the first episode.  For example, the overriding emphasis on romantic elements to the detriment of, say, building the political context or filling out some of the more interesting characters such as Warwick.

But to be fair, episode one was all about Elizabeth in love; the sort of starry-eyed, innocent manner in which she embarked upon her secret marriage with the York King. This innocence was well grounded by the more pragmatic approach of her mother, the marvelous Jacquetta. It also sets us up for what could be a very interesting transformation in the life and character of Elizabeth herself. 

Personally, I can't wait to see what happens next.

And that is all you really need to know in order to call it a good story.

P.S. ~ Mark, let me just add that if you're still looking for a novel that centers on a long-term, stable and loving relationship, I highly recommend The Lady of the Rivers. 

posted by Karin Rita Gastreich


Terri-Lynne said...

I did not get to watch the first episode, but I will do so tonight. Starz on demand--I love you!

I have yet to read any of Ms. Gregory's work. I have it on my shelf! I'm going to have to make it a priority. Lady of the Rivers intrigues me most.

You might want to check out Sharon K. Penman's "Here There Be Dragons." It centers around Johanna, King John (the infamous!) illegitimate daughter who was married off to the last King of Wales, Llewellyn. Through her, we get Richard and John, a bit of Eleanor and Henry, and a whole lot of Wales history. I have no idea how historically accurate it is, but it was a fantastic story.

And I read it about fifteen years ago, so if I got any of the details wrong, that's my excuse!

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Thanks, Terri! I'll put Penman on my list. Just started a novel last night about Queen Isabella of Spain that looks like it's going to be a lot of fun, too. :)