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'The White Queen' Writer Emma Frost on Sex, Historical Accuracy and Making 'The Real 'Game of Thrones''

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire August 9, 2013 at 6:04PM

"The White Queen," a 10-part period drama premiering on Starz tomorrow, August 10 at 8pm, looks at a well-chronicled moment in history through the perspective of the characters whose stories are not often told -- the women.
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Rebecca Ferguson and Janet McTeer in 'The White Queen'
Starz Rebecca Ferguson and Janet McTeer in 'The White Queen'

Tell me about portraying this war through the tools that are available for these female characters, which are very different from the literal weapons that are available to the men.

Clearly the women have a different arsenal of weapons, and the men go out on a field and whack at each other with a sword, very testosterone-fueled and immediate. I think the women, as now, have to find a more subtle way of pulling the strings and getting what they want. There's some quite interesting stuff that happens in later episodes where Jacquetta [played by Janet McTeer] and Elizabeth find out that George [the brother of the king, played by David Oakes] has betrayed Edward, and Elizabeth tries to tell him but he say, "Oh, he's my brother" -- he's got his blinkers on.

They go and talk to the boy's mother, and very cleverly say, "Well, if someone were to tell him that Edward would forgive him if he came home then I'm sure Edward would forgive him. And if he doesn't, he's probably going to get killed with a red rose on his collar, and you're York and you'd never want that to happen." They do it all in the background, and it goes full-circle and George comes home and Edward says, "See, I told you George'd come back." So it's quite fun -- it's through wit and a better psychological understanding the women have, that they think several steps ahead. There's a network of language and gossip and rumor that they manipulate, and when appropriate, they manipulate the men sexually.

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The first episode showcases this great romance, but the stakes are so high for Elizabeth and her family, and it's so tied up with her future and the possibility that it's a ruse on the part of Edward.

I mean, she fancies him. She's not sure she trusts him, but thinks, let's try and play this situation to get what I want. Of course, he thinks she's just going to have sex with him -- and all she knows in that moment is that she really wants to, as a red-blooded woman. But it would be a disaster, she knows, if she gives into her own desires there, so it's not about letting him have what he wants, it's about letting her have what she wants. But I think their love was real, and historically they had 12 children that lived and 15 pregnancies, so they weren't slack in the bedroom department. 

It's an interesting combination of the tropes of romance and some genuine urgency.

And it escalates really quickly, doesn't it? By the end of the first episode you've crossed the threshold into the world of the court. We start in this accessible place for an audience where boy meets girl, "Romeo & Juliet," different clans and wrong sides of the tracks, one's in power and one has got nothing. But from that, you step into her shoes and look out through her eyes, and you enter this complex world with Elizabeth, so that we really root for her and we really care about her. If we just went in episode one, "Politics, this and that and this person and that person," you would go, "Oh, I don't really know what's going on."

Related to the romance, I saw that tabloid report that the U.S. version is racier than the U.K. cut. Is that true?

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A tiny bit. BBC is a public service broadcaster, and "The White Queen" goes out on BBC One, which is the mainstream primetime channel. If we were on BBC Two, they'd probably be the same cut. But it's BBC One, and its primetime, and so there is a taste threshold that stops a fraction before the Starz taste threshold. It fascinates and amuses me. There's a shot of Max's bum in episode one, in the Starz version. Quite frankly, I think it should be in the English version, because it's a very nice bum and a very nice shot. And hilariously, the audience in England was tweeting "Where is Max Irons' bum? Give us Max Irons' bum! How dare the BBC not give us Max Irons' bum!" So it's actually quite funny.

They're fractionally different -- I think it's something like 15 seconds or 20 seconds per episode. If someone gets stabbed, in the BBC version they'll cut something else and in the Starz version you might see a squirt of blood. You'll see Max's bum. And this is a love story about a couple that had 12 children, and presumably they got them by having sex with each other, and I don't know really know why we would shy away from that. And the power thing, it's hugely important that the bedroom talk changes the outcome of some of the events. I'm for the grownup version, to be honest.

Anything that even touches this territory and look now gets compared to "Game of Thrones," despite the fact that it's a fantasy series and in this case, "The White Queen" is historical. Are there good and bad aspects to that?

I don't know that it's good or bad. I have watched very little of "Game of Thrones," because I knew that the books are based on the Wars of the Roses. I didn't want to watch something that might influence me without me knowing it. So you just kind of go  "Alright, blinkers. I'll just respond to Philippa's books and to what we're doing with our own show." Someone did say to me that our show truthfully is "the real 'Game of Thrones,'" because it is the real history, and it's told though the women, and it hasn't got the dragons and those supernatural elements. I see no reason why they can't coexist -- it's been great in England, there have been a lot of people tweeting, "Thank God for 'The White Queen' because that 'Game of Thrones' shaped-hole in my life now has something to fill it!" I'm looking forward to "Game of Thrones" when we're at the end of this, and I can safely watch it.

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Starz, The White Queen, Emma Frost







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