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The Devil’s Whore (2008)

In period drama, political, Recommendation, Review, romantic, series, war on 17/03/2012 at 10:21 pm

A Channel 4 miniseries told from the perspective of the fictional Angelica Fanshawe (Andrea Risenborough) during the turbulent years of Oliver Cromwell’s wars and reign (1642-1660). Even though this period in British history is far too interesting to use as a background situation, that is exactly what happens. Nevertheless, the drama is quite stunning and it’s a beautifully made, highly engaging four-part historical drama.

There’s some amazing acting going on here, the most interesting character being Edward Sexby (John Simm: Life on Mars, Exile), here more lonesome mercenary than the Leveller he was known to be, who silently falls in love with Angelica when she is about to marry for the first time at seventeen. He remains near to her, never interfering or admitting why he does it and he goes more or less unnoticed for years. Meanwhile, protagonist Angelica loses her best friend by marrying him and struggles to be the submissive wife society wants her to be.

This is also the general theme of the drama, and it was slightly criticised for making Angelica too modern. Despite any questions about how a woman in her position may or may not have felt, acted and loved, her character is very credible. The series gets its name from Angelica supposedly rejecting God when she is a child, and the Devil is a recurring figure in her adult life. She is accused of being a prostitute or otherwise immoral throughout – not a spectacular part of the plot – but it does create lots of tension.

The starry cast of this production further includes Michael Fassbender as Thomas Rainsborough – an influential Leveller and in this series Angelica’s second husband – Dominic West (The Hour) as Oliver Cromwell,  the much praised performance of Peter Capaldi as Charles I and Maxine Peak (Silkand Tom Goodman-Hill as Elizabeth and John Lilburne, a famous Leveller and Quaker.

The personal relationships between the historical figures have been fumbled with a little, but the general historical lines remain intact. As a dramatical effort this miniseries succeeds, but as a story based on facts it lacks substance, mainly in the political sense. Oliver Cromwell is shown to be only ruthless, which he was, to be sure – but we also know that his efforts were a continuous internal struggle. He desperately wanted Parliamentary rule, and justified the bloodshed he caused with a belief in the greater good for all. When his Parliament made a right corrupt mess of it all and Cromwell became Lord Protector, he did so with anguish. In The Devil’s Whore, Cromwell is only too keen to rule himself as King, and I think that’s a bit off. Otherwise, The Devil’s Whore is a worthy contribution to the broad array of British historical television dramas.

A link to a clip for lack of an embeddable trailer.

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