The Spanish Princess” is definitely a “chick flick” and for those who enjoy a costume drama, a very good one. Al James reviews. December 2020.
The Women of the Tudor Court
The twist in this biographical limited series is that the view is firmly that of the women, paired with some compelling perspectives on the lives of women of colour in 16th-century London.
Refreshing in it’s approach, it is curious how they stick to the brief of telling the story without encroachment by the male characters, which are all in supporting roles, including the King himself.
I was often unsure if the lead, playing Catherine, was wholly appropriate,but in fact, her bravery and boldness intertwined with a form of naivety and inflexibility fit well with the historical record of the hapless queen.
In the early episodes, our Catherine was full of hope, her demeanour seeming to be spot-on. In later episodes, her unwillingness, and those of other lead roles, to abandon their principles, just cast a pall of tragedy and sadness on the series. But it is precisely those principles, morals and beliefs which shone brightly the light of the forthright souls overcoming their daily miseries.
It is a lavish production, as all period pieces should be, and features some of my favourite faces in lead roles, including Georgie Henley as the indominable Maggie Tudor, sister of King Henry VIII, and some magical work by Laura Carmichael playing another Lady, this time Lady Maggie Pole. Carmichael had appeared as Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey.
The plot, having been written long ago, is hardly the surprise in this series. Catherine of Aragon, the strong-willed Princess of Spain, is promised in marriage to the English Prince Arthur. When he dies suddenly, the throne seems lost until she sets her sights on the new heir, the charismatic and headstrong Prince Henry. Whether Catherine had lain with Arthur as husband and wife is hotly debated to this day.
But this stricture of historical record is a blessing for The Spanish Princess viewer. Due to the 16-episode constraint across the two seasons, all does need to happen by the end. So, no side-stories and long extra dialogue can clog the events portrayed.
The two seasons manage to pull off a convincing if sometimes light version of history. Compared with similar series, it portrays much of what The Tudors offered, with lavish sets and costuming, and a pleasant frequency of outdoor shots. The story arc and episodic pacing however a lot more like The Vikings.
The script is reasonably well-paced, and the “how life was” aspect is like that of one of my all-time favourite productions, Versailles. Both nicely flowing and interesting.
Historically, many will howl at the misplaced affects, the very unlikely language, and the disregard for customs of the time, especially at court. But we come to see a drama, and one digestible by 21st century audiences, so the middle ground the scriptwriters found in The Spanish Princess is acceptable, at least to me.
I will watch it again next year no doubt, good enough for a second look later.