I had resisted “The Spanish Princess” for as long as I could, believing it to be another historical drama with all the charm of a soap and the kind of attention to historical accuracy that has the same effect as a fingernail on a blackboard to a history buff. In short, I was convinced that it would show itself to be like “The Reign,” that marvel of production by the CW about Mary Stuart’s (the future Mary Queen of Scots) early years in France — with what looks to be a casting call for “Bring It On.” Historical dramas must necessarily play with facts and make up dialogue to be entertaining. We’re lucky to find a modicum of historical accuracy in any of them.
“The Spanish Princess,” an historical TV drama limited series, was developed by Emma Frost and Matthew Graham for Starz, and is based on two of Philippa Gregory’s novels, “The Constant Princess” and “The King’s Curse.” The plot sandwiches into sixteen episodes events that actually happened over a period of decades, taking liberties to provide its audience with much more romance than was probable.
English actress Charlotte Hope plays an entitled and headstrong Catherine of Aragon, who came to England to marry a king and she’s by God not going home without one. Ruairi O’Connor, a ginger-haired Irish lad, plays the youthful Prince Harry (future King Henry VIII).
There are several characters in the series based on real persons. One is the much-abused Margaret Pole, a member of the Yorkist family, the Tudor opposition. She is played by Laura Carmichael, who played Lord Grantham’s perennially unhappy middle daughter in “Downtown Abbey.”
Dame Harriet Walker plays Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, the villain in the series, who immediately despises the Spanish princess, finding her self-indulgent and utterly lacking in humility. She schemes to ruin Margaret Pole and ruin any union between the Princess and the future Henry VIII. Margaret Beaufort was in fact not at all like the crone portrayed in this by Walker. Lady Beaufort did enjoy a fair amount of power within her son’s court, but she retired peacefully to a convent (“taking the veil” as it were), wrote several books and tended her accounts, and actually left Catherine money in her will.
The role of Catherine’s loyal lady-in-waiting, Lina, a Moorish descendant, is based on an actual member of Catherine’s retinue, as is a Muslim soldier who guards the Princess. Stephanie Levi-John plays Lina. Aaron Cobham plays Oviedo.
If you remember one fact as you watch this, just to keep things in know that Catherine was 15 when she arrived in England to marry Henry’s older brother, Arthur (who had the temerity to die and set all this subterfuge in motion): Henry was only ten.
Ann Reinking, that fabulous dancer, choreographer, actress (who, along with Bebe Neuwirth, made “Chicago” a hit show,) died this past week at the age of 71. Reinking was a Tony Award-winning fixture on Broadway for decades, known for her work in a myriad of productions, and for her personal and professional association with choreographer Bob Fosse — so brilliantly brought to life in the 1979 film “All That Jazz,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1980.
I loved that movie. But my favorite Reinking film was 1982’s “Annie.”
British actor Geoffrey Palmer died a few weeks ago. Americans may remember him as that tall, jowly-cheeked fellow named Lionel, who played opposite Judi Dench in the BBC sit-com “As Time Goes By.” Palmer was also seen in “A Fish Called Wanda,” “The Madness of King George,” and even in the 1997 Bond film, “Tomorrow Never Dies,” with Dench.