The White Queen

Major new adaptation of Philippa Gregory's bestselling historical novels for BBC One

Interview with James Frain

Category: BBC One; Drama

Which character do you play?

I play Lord Warwick, The Kingmaker: a warrior in an age of warfare - and the classic Alpha male. Born into great wealth, he is the most powerful man in the kingdom. He is a kind of father figure to Edward IV and is instrumental in putting him on the throne. In return for that gift of power he expects the gratitude and obedience of a son. When Edward acts without his consent he becomes blind with fury, and never recovers from the loss. It’s easy to judge him by the standards of our time, but it was a very, very different world from our own. By the standards of his time his actions are logical, even necessary, and he enjoyed a wide base of support until the very end.

Do you enjoy period dramas and this period?

I love them. I enjoy the research - finding out how our world came to be. It always gives a fresh perspective to our own time; which to us feels modern, but will seem antiquated and bizarre to generations to come.

What was the most memorable scene?

Warwick’s final battle scene because it meant getting down and dirty with swords, mud and blood.

Did you do any research?

I read enough history to make sense of what the parameters of the world were - and to make sense of the convoluted family trees! I did just enough to reassure me that I understood the period, and left the rest to imagination. It was fascinating to see how different the history was from the Shakespearean versions (written under a Tudor monarchy with a vested interest in having the history presented from their point of view).

There was no unifying national identity, no standing army, no police force. It was a collection of feudal warlords with competing interests for the absolute power of the throne. The king had to request his knights lend him their forces and raise their armies if he wanted to, say, invade France. To hold on to power it was crucial to maintain good relations with as many powerful knights as possible, and to isolate your enemies.

In the 1460s, this was complicated by the absence of a direct male heir to the throne. This caused a division of interests, which resulted in decades of brutal civil war between relatives.

Popularity is a vital element of power. Today’s monarchs must still court the favour of the people.

Did you need to learn a new skill for filming The White Queen?

I had just been trained in Western style horse riding for Disney’s The Lone Ranger, and it was strange to have to re-learn from scratch the commands for English-style horse riding. I’d never fought with a broad sword in full armour before. There’s nothing I can say about that except that it’s every bit as fun as you imagine it would be!

What was it like filming in Belgium?

Bruges is a beautiful medieval city almost untouched by time. If you like jazz you will be well catered for. If you like chocolate and beer you will be in heaven. I had a great time.

Do you have a story about filming The White Queen?

They started me off on a very impressive-looking Black Stallion but on the first day of horse work with him we had problems with him being too 'hot' for the mares. He was completely distracted and sadly had to be swapped for a less frisky stunt horse.