Rebecca Benson (b. 1990) is a Scottish actress who has appeared in various TV series such as The White Princess and Flack (pictured above as Melody in the second series thereof), as well as appearances in Game of Thrones (as Samwell Tarly’s sister Talla) and Doctor Who (as the Pictish warrior Kar in “The Eaters of Light”). I watched an ungodly amount of TV during the pandemic, especially the winter of ’20-’21 (saving all the streaming, Paradox games, etc. for the winter was a keystone of my survival strategy; I think I watched more TV than I had since high school) and Benson was my favorite new actress from “The Streamtime” that I’d never encountered before (I’d seen her in “Eaters of Light” but the name hadn’t stuck).
She’s especially good in The White Princess, sequel to the Philippa Gregory-based War of the Roses drama The White Queen, playing one of the only characters therein who isn’t in some way or other a gigantic asshole, namely Margaret Pole, daughter of the executed Duke of Clarence and Yorkist claimant to the English throne (played by Laura Carmichael in the later The Spanish Princess). Given that The White Princess (as with The White Queen, a co-production of the UK’s Drama TV network and Starz–of storied “wtf is… lol” fame), feels like something of a Tudors knockoff even considering that Gregory’s novels predate the former, Benson’s sympathetic, deceptively gutsy performance shines all the brighter amid an entertaining but retrospectively annoying experience that I’ve long been comfortable in writing off as early pandemic jitters.
“Eaters of Light” is very different, with Benson playing the grieving, vengeful Kar in ancient Pictish face paint, in Scots writer Rona Munro’s triumphant return to Doctor Who (she had the distinction of writing the last classic series story, 1989’s “Survival”) and yet another modern Caledonian take on the legend of the Ninth Legion, allegedly vanishing during an expedition launched from then-Roman Britain. The ending… doesn’t make as much sense as I remembered during a rewatch (even for the Moffatt years, eh gang?), but it’s a solid, unusually atmospheric historical and Benson gets to paraphrase a bit from Calgacus’ famous “they made a desert” speech as recounted in Tacitus (if not Neil Oliver). On top of everything else, I was saddened anew that Bill and Nardole didn’t get a second series as companions.
I openly confess to “catching up” on Game of Thrones since… Tyrion’s flight from King’s Landing? via snippets enterprising fans posted on YouTube and it made for an amusingly fractured way to track the show’s increasing careen off the tracks, especially once it outpaced the novels. Benson’s unsurprisingly endearing in her brief appearance as Sam’s friendly sister Talla, who welcomes her brother, Gilly, and their kid back to the Tarly family seat beneath the unmistakable glower of Sam’s disapproving father (the great James Faulkner). A weird aftereffect of this revisit was mild melancholy at remembering how big GOT was in the teens and how badly it shat the bed in its pop-cultural exit.
Flack, a self-declaredly “salacious” expose of a fictitious London PR firm (focusing on Anna Paquin’s American star agent, Robyn), has… issues. I had a whole spiel written out but this initial review from British GQ pretty much nails it, even though the show gets a little better as it goes along. It’s a little frustrating given the quality of the ingredients, particularly the supporting cast (Sophie Okonedo’s a terrifying hoot as formidable CEO Caroline and Lydia Wilson’s Eve quickly transcends her posh mean-girl stereotype); the writing’s superficially clever and right-on but seems almost literally high on itself (apropos therewhich? show creator Oliver Lansley appears in the show as Robyn’s dealer). I’ve said this before in “Couch Avocados,” but its central conceptual fault might be that it’s really not that shocking that the world of celebrity PR is so cutthroat and ethically vacuous. Benson—as the perky, naive, but irrepressible Melody—does great with a sometimes underwritten and -imagined character (this gets better in the second series), and as with The White Princess, she kept me coming back to a massive guilty pleasure but which filled at least a bit of all the unexpected free time with which I and so many others found ourselves during the last couple of years.
She’s done some other British TV and stage work, including a wild-looking theatrical production of (above) Let the Right One In as Eli that apparently toured Stateside for a bit. Hopefully we see more of her in the future on stage and screen; I’m actually cautiously optimistic for a potential third series of Flack despite every ounce of my better judgment (it does keep getting better), not least because of the Eve-and-Melody relationship.
Y’all have a pleasant and fulfilling day.