Laura Carmichael emerges as a late MVP in the second instalment of Philippa Gregory’s The Spanish Princess
“Maybe we could have some lemon cake”
Based on the Philippa Gregory novels The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse, The Spanish Princess was split into two chunks of eight episodes by Starz, a decision which might have made sense for them but didn’t quite come off dramatically. Losing heavy hitters Henry VII and Margaret Beaufort leaves something of a vacuum which is never really replaced as we enter the final straits of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s marriage.
I’m not someone who gets particularly hung up on notions of historical accuracy, particularly with accounts of events of 500 years ago. And when you’re talking about about a Gregory-inspired version which races through 14 years in 8 episodes. that goes double. What is more of an issue here is the fact that Charlotte Hope’s portrayal of Catherine doesn’t really change, physically or emotionally, so that she feels the same as a teenager as she does the 40 year old we end with.
And placed against the rather vacant characterisation of Henry VIII as played by Ruairi O’Connor, they’re just not gripping enough to engage as the lead actors in their own story. You end up hoping for the shifts in focus, whether to Scotland to see Georgie Henley’s Meg Tudor finally getting accustomed to wielding power as Queen of Scotland or best of all, watching the putative relationship between Andrew Buchan’s Thomas More and Laura Carmichael’s Maggie Pole.
Carmichael is excellent as Maggie, a woman whose dynastic loyalties meant she was never truly free from suspicion, and she plays these tensions with real pathos which makes her a much more affecting character to root for in the end. There’s good work from a glowering Phil Cumbus as Thomas Wolsey and Stephanie Levi-John and Aaron Cobham’s enduring love story as Lina and Oviedo also maintains the sympathy and chemistry to keep you going through to the end. Watchable for sure but far from essential.