The Devil’s Whore

The Devil's Whore [DVD] [2008]

The Devil’s Whore (2008) is a gorgeous four-part series set during the English Civil War which tells the tale of a beautiful teenaged girl, Angelica Fanshawe, who is rich, aristocratic, and lucky enough to be in the same social circles as King Charles I.

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“The Devil’s Whore,” starring Andrea Riseborough.

She marries her best friend, Harry, who wants her to be submissive (rightly so, in this time period) when she is a free spirit. She believes she saw the Devil when she was a little girl, and he seems to appear again to her in times of crisis.

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Harry Lloyd (famous for being Viserys Targaryen in Game of Thrones) is a very dashing Rupert of the Rhine in the first episode:

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 18.44.49The story shows how Angelica touches the lives of all the men in her life (usually for the worse!) and her misadventures as she survives the tumultuous English Civil War era.

Most of the men she interacts with in the film are major historical figures from the time, including the aforementioned King Charles I, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Thomas Rainsborough, Edward Sexby, Oliver Cromwell, and John Lilburne. All these names are very recognisable to anyone who has made even the most rudimentary study of the English Civil War. The producers obviously had to pick a cast consisting of some very aesthetically-pleasing fellows (and Miss Riseborough is very lovely):

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Michael Fassbender as Thomas Rainsborough, John Simm as Edward Sexby, and Dominic West as Oliver Cromwell.

As I watched the show, I thought that the landscape that was shot did not look English at all because the colours were completely wrong. I later looked up filming locations and the whole thing was filmed in South Africa. Apparently, producers incredibly thought that they were unable to find “old English” locations in England, which anyone who has gone through the huge amount of beautiful English countryside will tell you is a load of rubbish. The Wikipedia article on the film states that there was a great deal of negativity surrounding this decision, and I agree – it seems ridiculous to fly out all the actors and crew to Africa when there is so much gorgeous English countryside. Anyway, back to the film…

Angelica goes through some very hard times…

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As a result of a very bad situation, Angelica adopts men’s clothing and becomes known as The Devil’s Whore, for reasons I shouldn’t divulge. She befriends Sexby, who has been in love with her since she married Harry. She doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. I found this storyline very moving – more so than any of the others in the series.

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Andrea Riseborough and John Simm.

She begins a relationship with Rainsborough, played by a drool-worthy Michael Fassbender.

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Michael Fassbender and Andrea Riseborough as Rainsborough and Angelica.

But her old problems catch up with her and threaten to ruin her new life. I quite enjoyed the juxtaposition of real life, supernatural, and historical in the series.

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Besides the problem with the location, I thought the series had a modern feminist bias, especially with regard to her relationship with her first husband, Harry. Women in the seventeenth century were supposed to be submissive and yet they show this fact in a very negative light. We live in different times, to be sure, but by saying what they did back then was wrong is judging history through our 21st century minds, and this is wrong. Whilst there were some women, like the Cavendish sisters, and later, Aphra Behn, who were writers – they were not the norm at the time. And, lest we forget, people in the past did what they thought was right at the time, just as much as people now think they are in the right. I always agree with what Lady Louisa Stuart wrote:

“To judge fairly of those who lived long before us…we should put quite apart both the usages and the notions of our own age…and strive to adopt for the moment such as prevailed in theirs.”

Anyway, the film is visually stunning, with excellent costumes, a moving soundtrack, a well-written script, and all acted very well. West’s Cromwell was believable as the man who overthrew a king to rule in his stead. Peter Capaldi (the newest Doctor Who) as King Charles I was magnetic – he brought Charles to life, with his stuttering, his stubbornness, and his humanity as he approached the scaffold.

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Next, The Devil’s Whore seemed to glorify the ideologies of the Levellers, the Diggers, and other rather extremist groups of the English Civil War era, and made the Royalists/Cavaliers look weak and evil. One scene in particular made Charles I look like a heartless, evil man, which he most certainly was not.

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Angelica with the Diggers.

Seen through the eyes of Angelica Fanshawe, the series touches on numerous major events in mid-17th Century history, from the events leading up to the English Civil War, to the trial and execution of Charles I, through the Interregnum, and even Cromwell’s death:

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Despite the few things that irked me, which I mentioned above, I really enjoyed watching this series. It was beautiful to watch, and I found the ending very moving. To be honest, it made me weep!

A sequel, New Worlds, is now being planned, which you can read about here. I certainly look forward to seeing it!

For more about The Devil’s Whore:

1) The Devil’s Whore on IMDB.
2) Channel4: The Devil’s Whore.

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