My Lady Jane review – you know what Tudor dramas are missing? Magic animals | Television & radio

I would love to have been in the room when My Lady Jane was pitched – either in its original book form or as an adaptation to the commissioners at Prime Video.

“It’s the story of Lady Jane Grey.”


“The Nine Day Queen.”

“Ah, one of Henry the Eighth’s six wives? Or Henry the Sixth’s eight wives? I forget. Also, walk me through the Jane Eyre/Charlotte Brontë thing again.”

“Jane Eyre: title. Brontë: author. Lady Jane Grey: great-granddaughter of Henry VII, great-niece of Henry VIII, cousin to Mary I, Elizabeth I and Edward VI. Succeeded him – for the aforementioned nine days – and preceded Mary and Elizabeth. Executed for her trouble.”

“I don’t really think we’re in the market for … ”

“But it’s a mashup. Events tweaked and rewritten wholesale. Plus shapeshifting magic. It’s for youngsters. Ish. People do swears.”

“But no one knows her story. They won’t know what’s been tweaked or rewritten. They won’t know if there’s any clever commentary on history going on.”

“Some will, some won’t. They’ll still have a wild story and shapeshifting magic. Go on. You’ve got billions of moneys. Take a punt.”

“Bloody hell. All right.”

Is roughly how I imagine it went. And the results are worth having. Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows’ 2016 book (the first of a series of six known, slightly emetically, as the Lady Janies) has been turned into a romp by Gemma Burgess, whose experience as the author of the popular New Adult series Brooklyn Girls has enabled her to streamline the narrative but retain all the original’s verve. The sense that any moment things could turn from bananas to absolutely batshit survives intact. This, for the avoidance of doubt, makes the new offering a very happy place to be.

For a start, it means that the show avoids becoming the worthy feminist retconning of history we are now conditioned to expect – despite a voiceover setting out the stall thus: “She could have been the leader England needed. Instead, history remembers her as the ultimate damsel in distress. Fuck that.” In addition, our Lady Jane (Emily Bader) is a feisty sort, who lights out for the hills with her faithful servant Susannah (Máiréad Tyers) as soon as she hears her mother’s plans to secure the imperilled Grey family fortunes by marrying her off to a man she’s never met, Lord Guildford Dudley (Edward Bluemel). But the mind-bogglingly wild premise shines through at all times.

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Soon Susannah is changing into an owl to escape capture, thereby revealing herself to be an “Ethian” and kicking off the non-historically sanctioned plotline. Unless the Ethians are supposed to be Protestants and the non-Ethians (known as “Verities”) Catholics. I’ll have to get back to you on that. I, alas, only had time to get a few episodes under my belt, and at the moment they feel like a daemonesque element pulled from Pullman – but I’m hoping it all accrues more heft as it goes along. It has a fine cast – including Rob Brydon, Dominic Cooper, Jim Broadbent, Anna Chancellor and, in what I believe is now a statutory requirement, a bit part for Kevin Eldon – who can certainly shoulder it.

Edward VI is on the throne as we open, already struck by the affliction that will shortly carry him off. Mary (the Bloody-to-be, played by the great Kate O’Flynn) and Elizabeth have one eye each on their ailing half-brother and the other on the soon-to-be vacant crown.

Jane, meanwhile, is busy scheming to avoid marrying the awful Dudley scion, because she has forgotten the carefully planted information at the top of the episode that says Dudley senior has two sons. She has only met one and assumed he was her betrothed. Twist INCOMING.

It remains a decidedly odd concept, to take a little known historical event, mess it up and add magic animals. But it works by throwing its whole heart into the endeavour. It pays attention to daft details (Eldon’s quack recommending “boiled kitten tea and old man’s urine” as a cure for Edward; the voiceover noting that Jane is in for “marriage, motherhood and death in quick succession, if statistics are anything to go by”) and never takes itself too seriously. In short, it’s escapist fun, bordering on nonsense – and perfect summer viewing.

My Lady Jane is available on Prime Video.

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