Judge Kristin Munson wouldn't give her kingdom for a horse, but she would trade her feifdom for a pony.
Lost Prince of England or royal pretender?
In 1483, Edward V, Crown Prince of England, and Richard, Duke of York, ages 12 and 10, were sent to the Tower of London by their dear Uncle Richard. They were never seen again. Richard became Richard III, the War of the Roses ensued, many Shakespearean adaptations were made. Big hump, sneer, "My Kingdom for a Horse," you know the rest.
What you may not know is that in the 1490s, a young upstart named Perkin Warbeck entered England and led a revolt against King Henry VII, claiming that he was the real King of England. He also claimed that he was none other than Richard, Duke of York, and this time, it was personal.
Actually, that's a lie. But he should have, because, unlike any other self-respecting action hero on a path of vengeance, he was thrashed in every battle and quickly thrown in the Tower. This is terribly ironic because A) it's where he allegedly escaped death in the first place, and B) the Tower was the King's official residence at the time. Who was this man, prince or pretender? And what really happened to the two princes who were in that tower?
For the first five minutes, Princes in the Tower plays like a docudrama, right down to the detached narration, terrible wigs, and still frames posing as period photographs. Luckily, once all the necessary background is out of way, it's free to become a whodunit, positioning itself as the missing interrogation of Perkin Warbeck, the man who would be king…prince. Whomever.
As a historical mystery, there couldn't be better topic. It's a hotly contested unsolved crime with a long list of suspects from Yorks to Tudors, with Richard III as the frontrunner, and that's presuming there even was a murder. Warbeck isn't more than a footnote in most popular treatments of the case, so the movie's plot twists are genuinely twisty. For every theory the script suggests, it throws in some decent evidence, so sudden revelations don't come across as cheap dramatic tricks. On the other hand, there are so many potential solutions, and the script works so carefully to make them all possible, that it starts to feel like you're in a mismanaged game of Clue.
If the only two princes you're familiar with are from that Spin Doctors' song, then chances are you're not going to notice or care if the scripts plays fast and loose with the facts. As it was, I enlisted the help of a local Richardologist to test Princes in the Tower's accuracy. And by 'local' I mean 'my mom'. She's gone up against some of the foremost writers and historians on this issue, mainly by arguing with books and the television and accusing said experts of getting their degrees from Jack & Harry's. (Apparently, if you grew up in '50s Massachusetts, this is deeply insulting.) Nevertheless, she knows her stuff, and, except for some huffing over hair color and a few narrative claims, I didn't have to put her and the disc in separate corners.
Now is the winter of my discontent, for there are a few details that distract from an otherwise interesting movie. The somewhat choppy pacing makes it feel like an extended reenactment for a documentary, and the sporadic narration doesn't help. It's not until halfway through that the narrator (Richard Griffiths, Uncle Dursley from the Harry Potter series) reveals himself to be one of the characters looking back, and the idea is dropped again until the finale. Then there's the "Spanish" Ambassador who has an accent when speaking Spanish but is as English as spotted dick the rest of time.
The picture for Princes in the Tower is soft and slightly speckled, like something off broadcast cable, and the sound is merely average. This isn't really noticeable until you access the bonus feature and suddenly your screen lights up and the back speakers start pumping out noise. This bonus is a snippet from The Tower, a Channel 4 longform documentary on the Tower of London. It's interesting but incomplete. Experts talk of DNA testing of bones believed to be those of the princes and even probe a tomb trying to locate a blood relative to test against, but since Queen Elizabeth II has consistently turned down requests to disturb the bones, that's where the story ends.
For a simple TV movie, Princes in the Tower is surprisingly well acted, scripted, and costumed, with the exceptions of those wigs. It's a little unforgiving if you have no prior knowledge of the subject, but if you know enough to have an opinion on Richard III's guilt, it's a decent evening's entertainment. Brush up your Shakespeare and give it a try.
Hey nonny nonny not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
• Excerpt from The Tower Documentary
Review content copyright © 2008 Kristin Munson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.