‘My Lady Jane’: History that doesn’t take itself seriously

Jordan Peters as King Edward, Kate O'Flynn as Princess Mary, Dominic Cooper as Lord Seymour and Abbie Hern as Bess.
Jordan Peters as King Edward, Kate O'Flynn as Princess Mary, Dominic Cooper as Lord Seymour and Abbie Hern as Bess. (Photo: Jonathan Prime/Prime Video)

The irreverent new series, “My Lady Jane,” now available on Prime Video, is a revisionist take on the Tudors in general and Lady Jane Grey (Emily Bader) in particular. Five of the eight episodes in the first season are directed by out filmmaker Jamie Babbit (of “But I’m a Cheerleader” fame) who also executive produced. Stefan Schwartz directed the other three.

Eschewing stuffy historical stuff, the show is sassily narrated by Oliver Chris who fills in details about Tudor history or the characters on screen. Lady Jane here is an educated feminist who is first seen curing a vagina with herbs. (Jane is very attuned to the medicinal power of plants; she hopes to publish a compendium and live independently on the money she makes from that.) Cue an anachronistic needle drop of a female cover of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.”

But Jane soon must face a daunting reality. Her scheming mother, Lady Frances Grey (Anna Chancellor), is arranging for Jane to marry Lord Guildford Dudley (Edward Bluemel), son of Lord Dudley (Rob Brydon), to keep the family financially stable. Jane, of course, is not keen on Guildford because he is a notorious rake. She insists that he “Is the last man I would ever marry.” And while she initially confuses Guildford’s ne’er do well brother Lord Stan Dudley (Henry Ashton), as her betrothed, when she does meet Guildford, unknowingly in a bar one night, she finds him “intriguing and infuriating.” Nevertheless, Jane is vexed by the “doomed arrangement,” in part because she wants to choose the man she marries.

After Jane and Guildford marry, however, Guildford soon reveals himself to be an Ithian — someone who can metamorphosize into animal form. (Guildford transforms into a horse by day and is a man by night). Intermarriages between Ithians and humans are not only illegal, but punishable by death, so this secret must be kept if a cure cannot be found.

Guildford promises he will grant Jane a divorce if she can end his affliction. Likewise, King Edward (Jordan Peters), Jane’s cousin, will grant her a divorce if she can find another cure — because he is slowly being poisoned. As the series reveals, Mary (Kate O’Flynn), King Edward’s half-sister, is plotting with her secret lover, Lord Seymour (Dominic Cooper) — who is also a member of Edward’s court — to kill the King so she can inherit the throne she feels she rightly deserves.

However, when King Edward disappears and is presumed dead, his will names Lady Jane as Queen, and a bitter power struggle arises. Queen Jane enlists the aid of some Ithians as she hopes to create an alliance with them, rather than cast them out, as Mary desires. In response, Mary aims to put Jane on trial for treason and usurp her power.

Jordan Peters as King Edward in 'My Lady Jane.'
Jordan Peters as King Edward in ‘My Lady Jane.’ (Photo: Jonathan Prime/Prime Video)

If “My Lady Jane” is topical in its thinly veiled depiction of racism with the Ithians storyline, the show also does some queerbaiting as when one Ithian character declares, “People who matter to me know who I am.”

The (over)use of magical realism in the series is good for creating allegories about race, class, immigrants and hidden sexuality. Even King Edward catches feelings for Fitz (Joe Klocek), an Ithian, in one of the show’s subplots. Such readings keep what is a very silly (hi)story interesting, and like recent period fictions, such as “Bridgerton,” “My Lady Jane” also employs colorblind casting. Edward is Black, as is his “good” sister, Bess (Abbie Hern, underused).

The feminism in the show is both cheeky and appealing. It is not just Lady Jane being a woman of intelligence and agency, but also that her youngest sister, Margaret (Robyn Betteridge), also refuses to “do what she is told.”

“My Lady Jane” is more tastefully naughty than ribald. The enemies-to-lovers romance between Lady Jane and Guildford has a nice frisson, especially when she discovers his secret identity while ogling him as he takes a shower. Mary and Lord Seymour indulge in some comic S&M in between plotting the death of King Edward and the dethroning of Lady Jane. And Lady Frances, who spends much of her time manipulating things in her favor, has a tryst with Lord Stan Dudley, which satisfies her, but keeps him wanting more in one strained running gag. 

“My Lady Jane” drags a bit in its second half as all the plot points come to a head, but it remains bingeable. Emily Bader makes Lady Jane a plucky heroine, and Edward Bluemel will likely achieve a level of heartthrob status as Guildford. In support, Anna Chancellor, wonderfully caustic as Lady Frances, is a standout. Alas, both Kate O’Flynn who appears to relish her role as Mary, and Dominic Cooper as her co conspirator, Lord Seymour, seem miscast. Both actors play their parts too broadly, even in a series as unsubtle as this.

“My Lady Jane” is not going to win over historical purists, but it is not prurient. The series provides amusement and eye candy galore — the costumes and settings are fabulous and the actors are all good looking. This is history that doesn’t take itself seriously, and neither should viewers.

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