How Charlotte Hope approached embodying Catherine of Aragon: 'We didn’t want to tell a story about weak women'
'The Spanish Princess' is now streaming on StarzPlay
The brutality of war and the heartbreak of unrequited love – this is the heady material actors live for. For Charlotte Hope, her character had to to experience both of those things on the second season of The Spanish Princess, now streaming on StarzPlay.
The British actress, 29, had to summon myriad emotions in her role as Catherine of Aragon, viewed by historians as the power behind King Henry VIII of 16th-century England, before he divorced her for Anne Boleyn.
Through the fast-moving eight-episode season, we see Catherine embody the responsibilities of the title she's bestowed, displaying killer instinct as a politician, diplomat and solider on the battlefield.
“I love how passionate she is and how, on the surface, she had to keep her emotions away. There are often so many tropes when you are playing a strong female character but with Catherine, she is a really tough woman and, at the same time, has this huge amount of fragility,” Hope tells The National. “Working with all that is any actor’s dream.”
'We didn’t want to tell a story about weak women'
For Hope, who made her mark playing Myranda in Game of Thrones (2012-2014) and the sister of late theorist Stephen Hawking in 2014 biopic The Theory of Everything, channelling the right amount of intensity in The Spanish Princess was literally a gut call.
“All of it comes from a rawness in your belly,” she says. “Whether she is wailing on the floor or killing someone on the battlefield, I felt it all in my stomach. She is a character that is so visceral it can only be done if you feel it deep in your body.”
The new season of The Spanish Princess marks the final instalment of a 16-part series spanning Catherine of Aragon’s rise from teenage royal to Queen of England.
While it is a well-worn tale, the show manages to put its own mark on history by contextualising how out of step Catherine is as both wife and leader. As a partner to Henry VIII, she is devoted and keenly aware of his frailties. As head of state, she has an eye for the future. More than just trying to reshape the global map, Catherine also wants her pioneering persona recorded in history, in hopes of shattering expectations for future generations of women.
According to Hope, such a defiant streak was not only a sign of the times, but speaks of a truth that still resonates today.
“There is this impression that women from that era are passive, subservient and constantly placating the men, which is totally not the case,” she says. “With the show we combine these two perceptions, about how in society some women were at a lower level, and how to survive in that environment they really needed to have an incredible fire in their belly. We didn’t want to tell a story about weak women, but show how oppressed people are often strong.”
The series also reaffirms certain timeless principles of politics.
“In relationships of that time, love matches are also political matches,” Hope says. “And that was a tough balance for Catherine. There is a bit in the show where she returns from battle as a warrior, but has to go back to Henry, who has his own struggles, and say what she went through was 'nothing compared to your war'. With so many things she was juggling, it is no surprise some balls had to fall.”
A modern take on royalty
How they fell remains contested by historians centuries on. With The Spanish Princess based on a series of historical fiction novels by British author Philippa Gregory, the series has faced criticism for taking some liberties for dramatic purposes.
Hope welcomes that discussion, stating no one holds the real truth when it comes to Catherine of Aragon.
“We know what the history books say, but they are normally written by men. And they tell us as much about the men that wrote it as Catherine,” she says.
“The books tell us what she went through but not what she was really like. As an actor, this gave me a great amount of freedom to root Catherine in both what is said in history books and other experiences we feel today. I find that very satisfying.”
For more information on The Spanish Princess, visit arabia.starzplay.com
Updated: October 15, 2020 10:36 AM