The White Queen episode (1×05) “War at First Hand” – MVA Revealed
She was only in The White Queen for two episodes, but Veele Baetens really left an impression as the scary French matriarch, Margaret of Anjou!
Too often a TV show rumbles into a location and rumbles out again with almost no regard to the place in which they’re shooting, or the people there. The least they could do is boost employment in the area! Veerle Baetens is local to Flanders, Belgium, where much of the series is shot. She is also absolutely the best actress for the role. Yes, Veerle Baetens is our Most Valued Actress for this episode of The White Queen!
Margaret on top…It was a close-run competition this week, with Michael Maloney and Max Irons turning in great performances, and our other Margaret, Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) coming a close second… but ultimately Veele Baetens came out top. And Margaret of Anjou is the sort of person who always comes out top. “If you want something enough… you can get it always,” she says, almost flippantly. This is the best introduction to Baetens performance as Margaret of Anjou – effortlessly powerful.
She is so powerful that she feels like a cut above all the other characters, which is an achievement given that she is not the leading lady. She acts like she is though! Baetens regularly cocks her head to one side like she doesn’t understand other people, perhaps because they’re just not as ruthless and intelligent as she is. She turns her back when Anne is weeping over the loss of her father as though she has no time for trivial matters of the heart. Even on a shaky ship (and she’s a dab hand at the pretend-it’s-shaking acting), Baetens appears in control.
It’s a testament to Beatens’ importance that this week we saw a key player – Warwick – fall dramatically, and yet our attention is drawn straightaway to Margaret of Anjou. That is how commanding an actress she is.
To war!…It’s refreshing to see Margaret ride onto the battlefield, and Baetens’ strong jaw and stern eyes really sell her single-mindedness to us. She shows herself to be the best strategist, with Baetens spitting out short lines, making it all sound so simple. She is defiant and believable when addressing a whole army. “I’m the woman who dared to rule when her husband could not,” she says, with a shrug. It’s really subtle acting.
It is war that is Margaret’s downfall, and Baetens ensures the moment is both strong and moving, her face tensed as though holding in tears but Margaret of Anjou would of course never, ever cry. She is taken away but she shakes off the soldiers’ grasp, noticeably stumbling away from them. Baetens has the good sense to make her character seem fallible as well. In her final scene, she grabs Anne’s face, part-admiringly, part-disgustedly. It highlights what a conflicted character Baetens has created.
Margaret & Anne…Anne Neville is at her lowest. The girl is peripheral at the moment, forgotten in the wake of her sister’s baby dramas, sea-sick, drenched by flooding and cowering in the dark. Then Margaret appears.
Baetens performs with equal integrity the two ways that Margaret speaks to Anne: one is insulting, “I’ve seen some spikes looking healthier than you.” The other is inspiring: “You’re the Kingmaker’s Daughter!” With a lesser actress, this could have come across as character bipolar, but Baetens’ performance is consistent in its inconsistency. She also looks at Anne with a balanced mixture of interest and disdain. Surely the sign of a great actress is one who encourages other performers to raise their game? Baetens certainly has this effect on Faye Masey (Anne), whose character is fleshed out fully by her relationship to Margaret.
Sadly this relationship won’t continue, as Margaret is gone from the series. But we can be sure that Anne – thanks to her relationship with Margaret – will never be the same again. Baetens leaves behind an incredible legacy after just two episodes. Will Masey go on to grab the coveted MVA position in subsequent weeks? Watch this space!
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.