The Spanish Princess continues the Philippa Gregory sagas and whitewashes Catherine of Aragon in the process
Starz is back in the bodice ripping historical fiction business again. After the success of The White Queen and The White Princess— the Starz network brings us another romp through British Royal history based on a Philippa Gregory novel. But this time without White in the title they struggle with one big problem—which should have been obvious.
The Spanish Princess picks up after the end of the turmoil between the Yorks and Tudors—with the Tudors winning. Henry VII and his wife Queen Elizabeth have vanquished all challengers to their throne including a family member or two. Arthur, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne has been engaged to Spain’s Catherine of Aragon since they were both toddlers. Both Spain and England need a successful alliance— aka a marriage and male heir.
The series begins with Catherine marrying Arthur. The future conflict between Henry VIII and Catherine was based on whether or not her marriage to Arthur was consummated. Which is where the series makes its first mistake instead of leaving the audience guessing they tell us outright that it was and with witnesses overhearing. Catherine is convinced it is her destiny to be Queen of England and after Arthur’s death is unwilling to give up destiny. And Catherine spends large amounts of the four episodes available for this review trying to convince the disbelievers and naysayers that’s she’s still a virgin while trying to seduce Henry. Many believe that a marriage between Henry and Catherine would be doomed regardless of what did or did not happen between her and Arthur.
As a fan of the Tudor era of British Monarchies, I am aware that Henry, played by Ruairi O’Connor, was the heir without a care. Historians have described him as the rock star of his era. But that wasn’t enough for the Limited Series creators and writers who instead decided he should play the modern-day Prince Harry somehow brought back in time. While not entirely his fault O’Connor does little but play the love longing Prince desiring his brother’s wife. The audience sees little to nothing of the man that would go on to separate England from the Catholic Church or that would kill two wives and annul another two marriages. Instead he’s written as an easily manipulated prince.
Laura Carmichael, best known for her role as the pitiful Lady Edith of Downton Abbey, joins the cast this time as Lady Margaret Pole cousin to the Queen and witness to Catherine and Arthur’s marriage. It’s hard to tell based on the episodes made available why Carmichael would take on another character so weak and pitiful. But if you know anything about Margaret Pole (which I will not spoil) the best may be yet to come for Carmichael.
The Spanish Princess once again is filled sumptuous costumes and sets right and its beautiful too look at. They should be commended for their inclusion of Stephanie Levi-John who plays Lina one of Catherine’s Ladies in Waiting and Aaron Cobham who plays Oviedo one of her bodyguards. While neither character is truly developed and Lina’s treating of Catherine like a deity gets to be a little much at times. The inclusion of two black characters is significant as Catherine of Aragon was the first to bring people of African descent to London, allowing for a somewhat more diverse cast.
Even with everything they get right—it’s the casting of a Caucasian actress as Catherine of Aragon where The Spanish Princess really misses. By all accounts and portraits available Catherine did have red hair and blue eyes— but she was Spanish (obviously). And Charlotte Hope well isn’t. Hope, probably best known for playing Myranda on Game of Thrones, does her best but being saddled the dialogue on top of a poor Spanish accent does not help her. One is left wondering if a Spanish or Hispanic actress would’ve given a better performance. It feels like a missed opportunity by the producers and casting director. This was not a problem in the first two outings but with the expansion of another country it’s an oversight that should not take place in today’s age of wokeness. Let’s hope this is one of the last times a role is taken from a minority.
The first four episodes of The Spanish Princess miss the camp and melodrama, which made the first two White installments so much fun to watch. The dialogue is stale and runs a little on the repetitive side. They really care way too much about Catherine of Aragon’s bathing habits and little on building characters worth investing in. Instead they play history for histrionics bordering on a soap opera. This may have worked before the internet but when viewers can look up what happens will they stay tuned in?