For once, the American version of a U.K. television show may actually be better than the British version.
The White Queen, the BBC historical drama based on the British civil war known as the War of the Roses, has been almost universally panned in the U.K., where it is now over halfway through its 10-part run. Viewers have found common ground with critics; the audience has declined from 5.3 million at the launch to 3.6 million most recently.
Next weekend the 15th-century epic starts its run on Starz, which co-produced the costume drama with the BBC.
But despite its critical mauling in the U.K., there may be a reason for American viewers to watch it, albeit not one you might find too many people admitting to openly. The U.S. version has significantly more sex scenes than the one shown on the more restrained BBC: more British boobs, more British bums, and more British bonking.
This iniquitous state of affairs came to light when the actor who plays the smoldering, tousled King Edward, Max Irons, told Metro, “You get a lot more arse in the Starz version—the cameras kept rolling after the BBC stopped the scene.”
To be fair, we got quite a bit of nudity, even here on the still-prudish BBC. The first episode, indeed, courts controversy with an unusual bit of seduction: King Edward firstly attempts to rape Elizabeth (the gorgeous Rebecca Ferguson), and then, when she reacts by drawing a knife on him and threatens to kill herself rather than be defiled, he, er, asks her to marry him a few weeks later, and she agrees.
The producers defended the scene in a piece they wrote in The Guardian, saying: “To a modern audience, it is completely unpalatable and incomprehensible for a woman to fall in love with and marry a man who tried to rape her. But, if one looks at the available information, it does appear that that is indeed what happened between Elizabeth Woodville and King Edward IV.”
There is a great deal of sex in the first episode, as Rebecca and Max (Sorry! King Edward and Elizabeth. It’s just so hard to believe in them when they clearly don’t believe in themselves.) spend a large portion of their time humping and rolling around in each others’ arms among luxurious furs in a riverside hunting lodge after Elizabeth’s mother helps arrange a secret wedding between the two.
Fortunately the actors are not plagued by the usual health and dental issues that affected people of all rank in the Middle Ages. As tastefully shot but historically dubious soft-core porn, The White Queen certainly ticks all the available boxes.
The real problems, of course, arise when our principals put their clothes on and attempt to act their way through a script that charges through its plot with expository dialogue that we expect from a Lifetime movie, not a distinguished 10-part epic. It could have been a classic had it not taken so many wrong turns. The endless barrage of errors (Drainpipes in the Middle Ages? Zippers? You cut your own neck hard enough to draw blood, and it doesn’t even leave a mark?) gives an impression of laziness.
You know that things are not really going to end well for this show when, sometime around the midway point, you find yourself urgently rooting for the brooding Earl of Warwick to get his ass back to England to overthrow Edward and his blasted White Queen.
The disappointment with which the show has been received in the U.K. has been particularly pointed, because the book on which the film is based, by author Philippa Gregory, is a much-loved piece of writing.
Truly, this is no Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, or Brideshead. Fortunately for Starz, the viewers might just keep hanging on for the next time the lead actors get their tunics and corsets off and put a little fizz into this otherwise sparkle-free show.