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The Morning’s War. Episode 12 of Age of Kings Reviewed.

October 16, 2020
Battle of Towton in the Wars of the Roses

The accelerated aging of Henry VI continues. This is a monarch who seems to have experienced no age between 12 and 60. At this rate, by the time he is murdered in the Tower, he’ll be a cobwebbed skeleton already.

We see him as a doddering old creature at the fringes of the Battle of Towton. In reality, Henry VI was 39 years old at the time.

I found last week’s Battle of Barnet rather gory. 1960 is rather too early for Mary Whitehouse’s intervention, but someone must have insisted that this next episode be free of actual blood. York’s white shirt is unstained following his death at the hands of Margaret and Clifford – and the celebrated snowy field of death that was the hideous Battle of Towton remains unspotted.

The remarkable Mary Morris portrays a wonderfully chilling Margaret of Anjou at the peak of her powers. Of course, it is the scene where the captured and paper-crowned York curses Margaret that stands out – with the line “tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide” deliberately misquoted in Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit to satirise the upstart crow Shakespeare – demonstrating that the scene was memorable enough to lend itself to parody. Nobody knows quite what Margaret is at this point – but whatever she is – she’s magnificent on her own terms, demonstrating a frank love of sovereign power that causes all to tremble.

As Margaret walks arm in arm with the psychopathic and eye-patched Younger Clifford, I found it hard not to be reminded of Servalan and Travis.

Towton itself is depicted by means of a courtyard on the fringes of the battle. Low definition black and white television is remarkably effective at communicating the snowy chaos of the day – though a few drops of red (or implied red) would (as I say) have been effective. Dammit I want blood!

However old he is supposed to be, Terry Scully’s Henry is very affecting in the “Father That Hath Killed His Son and Son That Hath Killed His Father” scene. Henry is never more akin to Richard II in this scene, the monarch whose deposition more than sixty years early is ultimately responsible for all this dynastic bloodshed. This scene can look very stilted in performance, but Michael Hayes’ production succeeds because it plays up the artifice and the heavy handed parallelisms rather than becoming embarrassed by them.

Richard of Gloucester is meant to be the youngest of the three siblings, but he looks ten years older. And guess what, it turns out that Paul Daneman is indeed ten years older than Julian Glover or Patrick Garland. Daneman sports a haircut that anticipates Dick Emery’s 1970s “bovver boy” and which, in turn, reminds you of the threatening cartoons that used to advertise Weetabix.

It is notable that both Henry VI and Edward IV provoke renewed civil war as a result of an inappropriate marriage. The ubiquitous Julian Glover is persuasively lecherous, charming, and ultimately vile as the notoriously libidinous Edward IV, who marries Elizabeth Woodville as the only means of having sex with her. It is interesting that Edward is far more contemptible than Richard. Edward is a selfish and ruthless sexual predator without a hint of self-awareness. Richard has interiority and, as played by Paul Daneman – a peculiarly winning smile. His most famous monologue (still to come) is all about not being a courtier. But of course – he is a courtier – he is eloquent and charming and knows how to succeed at court.

The episode concludes with Richard’s plotting monologue, and the understanding that he is going to prove the cynosure for the remainder of the series. He’s the one who is going to take us home.

I have thoughts about other episodes:

Episode One

Episode Two

Episode Three

Episode Four

Episode Five

Episode Six

Episode Seven

Episode Eight

Episode Nine

Episode Ten:

Episode Eleven:

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