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The White Princess - The Pretender - Review: “A Nice Game of Chess”

Chess is a game of strategy. Players are careful not to telegraph their moves but are always thinking ahead and possess the ability to change a strategy when out-maneuvered. The best players can make watching them play a thing of beauty.

This is exactly what we had in Episode 1 x 04 of The White Princess, entitled The Pretender. In this case, our chess masters were Lizzie (Jamie Comer) and Lady Margaret, the Queen Mother (Elizabeth Fairley). What these two gave us this week was a sterling portrait of two women engaged in a battle wherein they would make moves and parry others, using the people around them like pawns on a chess board. They are both seeking the same thing, the favor of the King (Jacob Collins-Levy).

The episode begins in Burgundy, where the Duchess of Burgundy (a wonderful Joanne Whaley) is still morning the loss of her step daughter in a tragic accident caused indirectly by one of Henry’s emissaries, Lord Strange (Nicholas Audsley). When she is jolted back to the world, she tells her now motherless grandchildren that first they will eat, then they will plan how to take happiness from the Tudors as they have taken happiness from them.

In England, the young King and Queen awaken in bed together and appear to be growing closer. Jasper Tudor’s arrival home from Burgundy with the news of the tragic death is when this week’s game between Lizzie and Lady Margaret begins. Lizzie sees that Lady Margaret is shaken when Lord Strange tries to deflect blame to Jasper’s attention of the Duchess. Lady Margaret announces that they must begin marrying off the York princesses to Tudor nobles so they cannot run off and create more pretenders York heirs. When cousin Maggie tells Lizzie that she worries about being separated from her brother, Teddy, being held in the Tower, Lizzie reassures her that she will do her and that it was time to make a stand against the King’s mother regarding the matches. And the game begins.

Lizzie makes the first move by confronting Margaret about the matches by telling her she will choose Maggie’s (Rebecca Benson) match and it was time for her to move out of the Queen’s rooms since she is the Queen. Lady Margaret counters with the news that the family of Maggie’s betrothed had already been informed and she was quite comfortable in her rooms.In this skirmish, Lizzie draws blood by telling Margaret then she thinks the perfect match for her mother’s rich widowed sister would be Jasper Tudor.

As Lizzie and Lady Margaret match wits, Henry discovers that the Duchess of Burgundy is preparing for war and using a boy she convinced people is Edward (Teddy) the Earl of Warwick to raise an army. Lizzie helps him and ultimately her cousin, Teddy, who is in actuality still locked in the tower by convincing Henry that by releasing Teddy. She tells him by having Teddy walk behind the King and Queen at her sister Cecily’s (Suki Waterhouse) upcoming wedding procession Henry can show the people that the boy the Duchess is using is a true pretender.

Angered at being out-maneuvered, Lady Margaret conspires with Bishop Morton (Kenneth Cranham) to plant someone in the crowd to create a disturbance that sends Teddy back to the Tower. The incident also gives her the chance to again lobby Henry that the Dowager Queen Elizabeth (Essie Davis) is behind the unrest and he must have her killed. Oh, and she makes this move in the game in front of Lizzie.

Desperate to prove her mother’s innocence, Lizzie manages to sneak out to see her mother. It is a fateful trip for her, as her mother, seeing her daughter is growing more faithful to her son and husband, blatantly lies that she has not been in touch with anyone in plotting against Henry. A distraught Lizzie is confronted by her husband on her return to the castle, where he accuses her of plotting against him. She tearfully tells him that he and their son are all the family she has left as her mother no longer trusts her, she declares she is a Tudor now.

Henry prepares to do battle with the Duchess of Burgundy’s forces and in a touching scene the night before the battle, Lizzie brings their infant son to him to say good-bye. She asks him not to fight, he can lead his men to battle but begs him to let them fight and he please come home.

Then in some masterful editing, the fierce battle and Maggie’s wedding to Richard de la Pole are juxtaposed back and forth highlighting that two of the pawns in this dangerous chess match for the throne of England are Maggie and the young boy the Duchess has set up to pose as Edward (Teddy), Earl of Warwick.

Henry returns victorious, with the young pretender in tow, and in her last move of the chess game chess game that is this episode Lady Margaret publicly calls for the execution of both the boy and the traitor she believes set the Duchess’ plan in motion, the Dowager Queen Elizabeth. Holding court to decide the fate of the two traitors, Henry, with Lizzie sitting beside him on the throne asks the loyal men who fought with them if they believed the traitors should be executed. They all say aye! Then, perhaps as a result of Lizzie’s influence on him, he asks if there is anyone there who does not wish the traitors to be killed.

To the chagrin of Lady Margaret, Maggie’s new husband steps forward and reminds the king that the boy was just a pawn and should be spared. The king grants his request and he says since he is sitting there victorious, that Lizzie should remind her mother of that, the next time she visits her, in essence, he just spared Lizzie’s mother’s life. Then later, he takes Lizzie to her new quarters, the Queen’s rooms as he has had his mother moved out, he tells her they can be happy, but she cautions him her mother will never give up.

I’d say the chess game this episode goes to Lizzie as she thanks Henry as his mother fumes. However, the chess match for the throne of England continues, as the Duchess of Burgundy arrives back in France to find she has a new houseguest – young Richard of York, the Dowager Queen Elizabeth’s missing son, and to the Yorks the true heir to the throne!

What will be the Duchess’ next move? Will Henry and Lizzie continue to grow closer together? How will his mother react? Discuss your thoughts in the comments below.

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