In the second episode we open with a bloody outdoor battle and witness the deaths of some of the major characters from the First episode. It certainly picks us up with speed. Once again Sophie Okenedo is doing a super job as Margaret and has now grown into a powerful and commanding matriarchal Queen.
Adrian Dunbar fills out his role as Richard Duke of York to the bitter end with real dignity. Dunbar portrays a man who is more than just an angry traitor but a dignified man who genuinely believes that he has the right to reign as King. In this episode Geoffrey Streatfield appears as the now grown up soon to be King Edward IV and he goes from a youthful and volatile figure to a man who is thoroughly consumed by his excesses of wealth and power.
This episode is also the first glimpse we get of Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard (soon to be Richard III) Cooke and Cumberbatch really shine a light on Richard's youthfulness and early happiness prior to the horrors witness in war. There is a genius moment when Richard witness's his younger brother Rutland killed by Clifford. Richard stands in the shadows witnessing his brother's death with shock and fear. There is a real suggestion that Richard has been traumatised by these events and that this is a catalyst for Richard's ensuing progression into brutality. During Rutland's murder Richard grabs his mouth in a frantic a nauseous horror, both suppressing his shock and trying to stop himself from yelling aloud at what he is witnessing. It is touching moment of a man caught in a cowardly and helpless place. He watches his own brother die, not through malevolence or lack of care but through shock, fear and lack of inability. Richard also genuinely seems caught up and frozen in that moment, like when one is paralysed in fear.
Later on Richard is shown as pretty useless and bad at hand to hand combat. Richard stumbles in fear when confronting Clifford on the battlefield until, luckily, he gets the better of him. There is a true vulnerability on display in this Richard and Cumberbatch shines a light onto these earlier moments that really open up a different interpretation of Richard's maturing into Machiavellian malevolence. It is almost as if the trauma of watching his young brother die is what turns him on to this path of darkness. Clifford watches Rutland bleed out after he kills him and later when Richard overcomes Clifford he decides not to give him mercy and leaves him to bleed out Clifford did to Richard's brother. This is all powerfully done and it is a great idea as a catalyst for Richard’s spiral downward into criminality and eventual downfall.
Later there is a great scene, shot beautifully, where Richard is hunched over to beautifully lit candlelight and he starts to let us further into his thoughts. He relishes in sharing this information with us and making us almost complicit in his actions but also completely helpless. It's as if he knows that we cannot step in and stop him, exactly like the stage Richard! When he says he will play the actor and will smile and weep Cumberbatch portrays a man in deadly earnest as a tear rolls down his cheek. This Richard truly believes he is the hero of his own story and in this moment it's like he has only just come to realise it. Richard has suddenly become aware of his powers of manipulation.
This leads us into the bloody ending when he kills Prince Edward in front of his Mother (Margaret). He is discovering his, as yet, un-mined thirst for and relish in blood. It's as if Richard finds this villainous and untapped brutality that has been dormant in him for years. The first time Richard address’s the viewer directly is in tandem with this moment of self-understanding and realisation of how far he could go.
The other great part of this episode was that Cooke kept in the scenes where a son has killed his father and father has killed his son (both by accident). We witness all this through Henry's eyes. Henry watches this form behind a tree that he has been cowering behind after vomiting for not being able to give Clifford a quick and passionate ending. Cooke also focuses on this moment and shines a light on Henry’s utter hatred and disgust at war and explains his later growing devotion to scripture.
We end with Richard holding the young baby the Prince of Wales in his arms as he stares down the camera to us. Episode two is less mellow and less about the machinations of mediaeval politics than the first. But it is a more bloody study of the in-fighting of the Wars of the Roses and a deeply interesting portrayal of the early stages of the man who will no doubt dominate the up and coming and final Episode.