As with many 'period' dramas, The Devil's Whore is guilty of bending the truth somewhat. The best way to approach this sort of drama is to take it for what it is, a very entertaining series that, admittedly, would have probably been given 5 stars had it been longer, but the condensing of what was originally intended to be a ten episode drama into 4 episodes was the consequence of the BBC's decision to bump the drama to Channel 4.
Andrea Riseborough is a huge success as the intoxicatingly unconventional Van Dyck-esque Angelica Fanshawe, the central (fictional) character who unites the important people and events of the Civil War and Interregnum. But this political upheaval provides more or less the background to her life.
Starting out as a doll-like debutant courtier, she is troubled by having seen the Devil during certain instances in her life (a little bit of an unnecessary inclusion to an otherwise excellent story-line in my view).
Angelica is married with the encouragement of her guardian, King Charles, to her cousin and childhood friend, Harry Fanshawe. At this time,she comes into contact with hardened mercenery Edward Sexby, and is initially both repelled and intrigued by his thirst for battle and his drifting way of life. As the grimness of the Civil War unfolds, Angelica's boyish husband finds himself in deep water in command of Roylist troops. Demonstrating his military inexperience, he suffers an ebarassing defeat by Cromwell's troops, and King Charles is less than forgiving to the unfortunate pair.
Widowed and helpless, Angelica attracts unwanted advances from a chauvenistic merchant and accidentally gets embroiled in a murder scandal that won't seem to leave her alone. She crosses paths with Edward Sexby, and the pair, world-weary from their shoddy treatment at the hands of the royalists, change alliegence. Angelica is still in constant danger though, and Sexby, who harbours a secret love for her, is her only protector.
By this time, Angelica meets the charismatic political idealist Thomas Rainsborough, and they almost instantly fall in love, but in a time of such treacherous political instabilty, their happiness cannot last.
The action is gritty and suspenseful, even if large chunks of history are left out and Oliver Cromwell is shown in a somewhat lenient light. Michael Fassbender deserves credit for his strong performance as the principled but passionate Raisnborough. But it is John Simm that, for me, steals the show. Standing with quiet but passionate devotion on the sidelines of Angelica's life for so long, his masculinity and mystery is genuinely compelling, and he is the true swashbuckling hero of the drama as he wades in to defend Angelica and save the day and win her love, in uncertain times, danger, betrayal and retributution constantly lie around the corner and Angelica finds she has to take the law into her own hands and rely on her wits for her survival and happiness.
All in all, a thrilling, quality drama that just deserved to be longer.