Reign isn’t historically accurate but goddamn is it engrossing.
So far there have been three episodes of CW’s new hit response to Game of Thrones and I’m actually impressed. Reign stars Adaleide Kane as the young, impetuous but endearing Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. I first read about this show last May during the upfronts and I couldn’t help but raise a skeptical eyebrow. My body split into two halves, one part Seth Myers and one part Amy Poehler. Really, CW? Really?! A show about a tragic royal? Really?! No vampires? No brooding heroes? No Upper East Side melodrama? How does this even qualify as a CW program?! I mean, really, CW?
For months I completely forgot about it. I set out half-heartedly to watch Reign’s pilot and by the end my mouth was hanging open and I had stopped blinking in fear of missing a single juicy moment. There was a small part of my brain that kept frowning at all the historical mistakes but with each lovers’ quarrel or inappropriately placed Lumineers song I became more and more obsessed.
For those of you who don’t remember our impulsive heroine from 16th century history class here’s the low-down on Mare-Bear. Mary became Queen only six days after being born due to her father’s sudden death. She wasn’t even a year old before her first marriage arrangement, that’s either pretty impressive or tragically political. Either way England’s notorious sleazebag “widower” King Henry VIII wanted to keep Scotland in check so he insisted on a marriage between Mary and his son Prince Edward. Let’s just say that plan didn’t work out so well and a few years later King Henry II of France jumped at the chance to start an alliance with the Baby Queen. Not only was she the proud ruler of Scotland but she also received a brand new Fisher Price Engagement set to the Dauphin Francis.
In Reign to highlight the animosity between England and Scotland after Mary’s engagement she was hidden away at a covenant for her protection until an assassination attempt urges her return to French court. While she says her goodbyes to the women who raised her for the last ten years it’s noted that though she is very willing to marry Dauphin Francis for her country she is hoping falling in love isn’t out of the question.
As she arrives at French court she’s flooded with memories of her visit when she was much younger. After a couple giggle bursts with her friends at the handsome king and his cheekily good-looking illegitimate son the Queen arrives soon followed by Dauphin Francis. Talk about instant gratification. The chemistry is like blind bull charging into the crowd. After a couple cutesy moments between the two of them she is rudely awakened to his less-than eager attitude about marrying her. Because of his loyalty to his nation he is reluctant to join forces with Scotland. In true teenager-fashion she unintentionally retaliates by having a flirt-fest with his half-brother Sebastian which makes Francis purple with jealousy. Cue my squeals of delight. Who doesn’t melt for a well-constructed love triangle?
For the rest of the episode we are treated to contemporary music that surprisingly enhances the angst and intrigue. Now before I start fangirl-shrieking about all the things I love in this show I have to address the haters. Before the pilot aired there was a flurry of journalists who couldn’t wait to spit some fiery, hot hate on Reign. USA Today, LA Times, and New York Times released harsh, critical reviews that seem personally offended by the lack of historical facts. Now I don’t entirely disagree but I’m humorously appalled by how in tune with teenage girls these critics think they are. Who better to tell me how a 14 year old girl should feel about a CW show than a middle-aged man, am I right? Using phrases like “generational dumbing-down” and “More like Mary, TEEN of Scots” I can’t help but roll my eyes. These critics that seem disgusted by the simple storylines and modern language are probably the exact same people who mocked Dawson’s Creek for its unrealistic dialogue that portrayed teenagers as “too witty” and “uncharacteristically smart” .
I hear the angry griping about bad adaptations on a daily basis. That’s just part of my job so when I read people complaining about how blatantly inaccurate this show is I shake my head and close the tab. Of course it’s not true to history! No one wants to watch a smart, willful, talented young woman like Mary marry a sickly 14-year old boy! Before all the tragedies that befall her once she is of age she lead a great life. She was well-liked among French royals, she excelled in almost everything she tried, and she was even referred to as “strikingly beautiful.” There is absolutely no way a network like the CW would air a religious-driven political drama. Can you imagine that pitch? “So here’s this awesome woman who had some seriously shitty things happen to her. Like, one day she’s really happy and then she gets married and everything goes to hell because Catholics and Protestants are super conniving.”
I’m really excited that there’s finally a period serial that doesn’t flaunt incest or dastardly anti-heroes. Do you understand how happy I am about the fact that Reign is about a young woman who is torn between acting her age and acting as the Queen? She’s not in business-mode all the time, constantly studying war strategies and treaties because in real life she wasn’t like that. Her life was fun and educational; she learned musical instruments and five other languages. But she wasn’t completely frivolous either; she pushed her own limits as well as stereotypical standards by mastering horsemanship and falconry.
Why is it so hard to believe that young woman aren’t one dimensional? She’s allowed to be head-over-heels for her betrothed while still concerned over the safety of her nation’s borders. Are you telling me a woman who is willing to sacrifice her own expectations of true love in favor of a more prosperous alliance would never dance with her girlfriends at a wedding?
I’m not saying that the storytelling is some of the most innovative and thought-provoking of the century. But if there is even one or two tweens watching who want to learn more about Mary Stuart isn’t that a success? What’s the worst that could happen? They read up on Mary’s life and find it boring then never look back? How many of you remember every historic detail of incredible 16th century icons? Let’s say that just one of these girls does a school report on Mary Stuart instead of another tired and repetitive oral on Florence Nightingale or Helen Keller. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
I think the show is wonderful. It’s angsty and beautiful and if anything Adalaide Kane is captivating as hell. Yes, the historical authenticity is toned down to appeal to a young, female audience but why is that surprising? It’s the CW! Do non-country fans get this riled up when CMT premieres a new show about Midwestern farm hands that join the army? No! Because that’s the goddamn demographic. Stop picking on Reign, you bullies! At least it’s not as cringe-worthy as Dads or as heartbreakingly disappointing like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. You win this round, CW. I’m totally hooked.
If you would like to join in my newest infatuation REIGN airs on Thursdays at 9pm on the CW.