The White Queen episode (1×04) “The Bad Queen” – MVA Revealed
Janet McTeer, as the mother of The White Queen herself, is finally allowed to step forward, and proves herself to be the show’s biggest asset
Her potential has been there from the moment she appeared on our screens in episode 1. Jacquetta Woodville, widowed mother of Elizabeth, is strong, worldly-wise and maternal. She and Elizabeth were quite safe in their bubble of a home in the woods when we first met them, but now she is unleashed upon the court and the writers are finally letting her shine. Janet McTeer is our Most Valued Actress in this episode of The White Queen.
Jacquetta the Dragon
Jacquetta is part moral-crusader and part-sorceress, and she passes on this tendency to her daughter. She makes her first appearance this week when Elizabeth is in turmoil: did she cause the storm that killed Isobel Neville’s unborn baby? Janet McTeer is a cooling presence, and imposing, with her big hair, dark dress and unblinking eyes. She purses her lips and widens her eyes in an almost-hypnotic manner when convincing her daughter that she has done no wrong, and exhales heavily, like a dragon: “These things happen.” Her performance is effortlessly natural, which nicely contrasts with the supernatural events that they are debating. It is the nuances of McTeer’s performance that allows her to sneak under our radar here, but later on she really steps forward.
The war of the women
Jacquetta is the eyes and ears of the audience, which is a wise move when our main character Elizabeth is quite hysterical at times this week. She is the one who brings news that Anne Neville is to marry Edward of Lancaster. She is informing us of all the big developments and pushing the story along single-handedly! She is the only calm person in the room when that news is broken – even the King is very agitated. This all also puts her in a position of authority, which must be down to McTeer’s performance as technically the character has no place in the court – even Queen Elizabeth’s place is contested because of her ‘unofficial’ marriage! She marches straight into the Duchess’ chamber and demands an audience, pouting bitchily at the Duchess’ reply. Any fans of Downton Abbey who are missing the Maggie Smith/Shirley MacLaine bitching should look no further than here! This is Violet v Martha Levinson, Medieval-style!
But crucially, Janet McTeer’s fantastic performance catches our attention because she is such an interesting woman. She abides by gender stereotypes by being witchy, and yet is very consistent and defiant, which negates convention. “In war, men fight with sword, cannon. We women? We find our own weapons.” It’s a stirring depiction of women of the time, and indeed of any time. Jacquetta doesn’t know it but she is striking a blow for gender equality – if they go to war, why can’t we? she says – and without McTeer’s clear delivery of the lines, the impact would be entirely lost.
She’s a witch!
The real reason why Janet McTeer deserves this honour for this particular episode is that she is given the chance to shine: Jacquetta Woodville is captured and taken to court on the charge of witchcraft. We have seen for ourselves that she does partake in those activities, but Edward’s villainous brothers are trying to imprison her for the sorcery that brought Elizabeth and Edward together and as far as we know, that was just love, not Jacquetta. McTeer cleverly keeps her performance ambiguous and expresses nerves not obviously but through a slight shake of the hand. The best moment comes as, steadily growing in volume and confidence, Janet McTeer takes Jacquetta Woodville from in trouble to on top – from defendant to lead prosecutor – in thirty seconds! It feels like an achievement, and McTeer’s performance is definitely that.
Audience members just can’t take their eyes off hers, even when she’s not speaking, and that feels like witchcraft! McTeer is underused by the writers; she is only given one line to express her grief about her husband and son’s tragic deaths in episode 2, but she relishes it. The Bad Queen itself feels like a bit of a stop-gap between greater and more plot-driven installments, but it is McTeer’s MVA-winning performance that stops it being a pointless venture. I for one can’t wait for her to return to our screens next week… but will her performance be MVA-winning again, or will the award go to someone else…?
The White Queen Airs Saturday at 9|8c on Starz
What is The Most Valuable Actor (MVA)
For most of the shows we cover, we find each episode has an actor that stands out more than the others – one who absolutely owned the episode. This vote isn’t about the other actors not delivering or being any less valuable, but as we mentioned, it’s about who stands out in the episode. It could be a combination of great writing, delivered lines, emotional execution; basically, if it gives us goosebumps or moves us in any way it’s getting a vote. We’ve found that, depending on the show, it’s a lot tougher to see who got our vote. This means that for every episode we, at TVAfterDark, will decide who gets our MVA vote. An actor can be voted several times within a season, but only ONE can be chosen in each episode. You can see our MVA’s here.