CANCEL REIGN NOW! Okay, seriously. I know it is highly improbable that someone with the power of canceling Reign would come across this article or take advice from me, but hey, it’d be just better if it got canceled and its budget went to a more deserving series. Even though I wouldn’t wrap my head around it too much since it seems like the type that gets canceled early (but we’ll see about that). Anyways, for the uninitiated, Reign is an American television series that focuses on Mary, Queen of Scots’ (Adelaide Kane) early life. And not only it is underwhelming in its very own self-designed guilty pleasure way, it is also plainly historically inaccurate.
This fits with the CW’s problem with adaptations, since it is adapted from HISTORY itself. Historical fiction is by no means always bad, but it’s definitely better if it retains at least a certain amount of factual history. The key for this type of story to succeed would be finding a healthy balance between the depiction of real events and the more fictitious, fantastical elements, so not to betray and disrespect the realities and spirit of the real-life tale that is being told. But in true CW tradition, Reign throws factual history out the window and lets loose with all kinds of implausibilities worthy of the teen-geared CW brand.
For those of you who don’t know, Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland when she was six days old, moved to France at age 5, married Dauphin Francis of France at 15, returned to Scotland after his death, wanted the English throne so bad, was accused of blowing up her second husband (who was also her first cousin…), married a third time under suspicious circumstances, was forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son James, was imprisoned by Elizabeth I and beheaded years later for conspiring against her.
I understand that when making a historical period piece amalgamating some historical events and changing a few things can be necessary for various reasons, but in this case, the ENTIRE SERIES is inaccurate. As I wrote in my previous CW-themed article, this series is so inaccurate it could be set in a fictional land and nobody would ever even guess it has something to do with history. If you made a drinking game out of it, drinking at every inaccuracy, you’d be on the floor by the end of the pilot. Actress Anna Popplewell described the series as “historical fanfiction” and several other people involved with it defended said soapy approach to history, with co-creator Laurie McCarthy stating the liberties were taken “to tell stories persuasively”. It is true that the zaniest things happened to Mary once she left the French court, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t compelling true stories to tell about her time there. And in the end, Reign can be truly defended only for its rich visuals. And rich visuals – that are still rich visuals in the badly-lit CW way – are not enough to sustain a series (though the Irish landscapes in the pilot look pretty darn lovely).
Given the second season of Reign premiered on October 2, let’s look back at the oh-so-many inaccuracies of the first season. And since there are so many of them, I’ll try to narrow them down the more possible:
The actors just look wrong, mostly because the wardrobe is a joke. Designer Meredith Markwork-Pollack said she drew both from history and fashion when doing the costuming for the series. And damn if the final result isn’t a hodgepodge-y mess. The outfits – especially the young women’s – often look like they’re out of some steampunk fest. Corsets were worn as underwear, not outerwear in the 16th century. Sometimes, they even wear see-through tops! And the gowns are far too often sleeveless, which look more like ones girls would purchase for a costume-themed party or something. Also, strapless dresses weren’t really popular until the 1940s. That’s around 380+ years after the series’ setting. Everyone wears tiaras… And was it really such a big effort to require Kane to dye her hair red for the role?
The ladies-in-waiting – who historically were all also named Mary – are Aylee, Kenna, Lola and Greer (Jenessa Grant, Caitlin Stasey, Popplewell and Celina Sinden) on TV. I ranked them from most absurd to least. I get calling them all like the Queen would’ve been confusing, but… Aylee? Please… There’s also… Bash (Torrance Coombs)… That’s short for Sebastian. Sebastian de Poitiers. Too bad Diane de Poitiers (Anna Walton) never gave birth to a child fathered by Henri II (Alan Van Sprang)… And I doubt something like “Bash” would have been uttered at the French Court… Still, creating this original character doesn’t really make any sense since Francis (Toby Regbo) had several male siblings. He was created only to justify a mindless, useless love triangle. I’d come to the conclusion that since Bash didn’t really exist the writers felt they had more creative license over said imaginary love triangle, but that theory crashes and burns once you look at every other crazy imaginary everything that happens throughout the season.
Kenna has an affair with Henri – which is fairly disturbing considering she’s supposed to be around Mary’s age and he’s a middle aged man, though during the time the series is set several men took girls too young as mistresses – and this is also historically incorrect: none of Queen Mary’s ladies-in-waiting had affairs with the French King. However, Mary Fleming’s mother did. But the ladies-in-waiting’s mothers are nowhere to be seen on Reign (No parents! Another teen CW mainstay!). Also, by the end of season one, the only lady-in-waiting to remain at duty is Greer. When imprisoned in England, Mary retained only one lady-in-waiting, but she still had all four of them in France. Henri’s character is also very removed from the real Henri: TV Henri is a lecherous bastard who loses his mind, tries to kill Francis but is killed first by him; Historical Henri was not exactly sex-obsessed and/or insane, and was killed while jousting. He was also a lovesick puppy clinging to Diane, whom he highly favored over his wife Catherine de Medici (Megan Follows).
Francis is also far a cry from his historical counterpart. On TV, he’s a healthy, sexed-up, confident, womanizing young man, when he was actually a very sick, short, weak-willed boy who had a bad stutter. He and Mary grew up together in France and were very close friends, but it is unknown whether they ever consummated their marriage. It is also believed he was unable to conceive children due to his poor health, as well as his undescended testicles. Not exactly the stud the CW portrays. Sure, Henry VIII wasn’t exactly as pretty as portrayed by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers on BBC’s The Tudors (and that series wasn’t always 100% accurate, either), but at least the personality matched. I can understand picking a pretty actor, but couldn’t they at least hint at some sort of illness? In the pilot’s original script, he was supposed to be somewhat shy, why not keep that? And if they really wanted him to be a hit with women, why not make it his way to compensate for his lack of health? Then there’s a plotline where a former lover of Francis wants him to get her pregnant and nobody really brings up that the baby would be a heir to the throne if conceived… Or something similarly convoluted… Whatever… And anyways, breaking up royal engagements wasn’t as easy as they make it look like on the series. Kids as young as Mary and Francis actually had little to no say regarding who they were going to marry.
And of course there’s Nostradamus (35-year-old Rossif Sutherland), or, as the Internet loves to call him: “Sexy Nostradamus”. That’s one hell of a joke. Viewers tune in to a series allegedly about Mary, Queen of Scots’ early life and what they get is a lesser Sutherland (i.e. any Sutherland not named Donald. Sorry, Kiefer) playing a pretty-boy seer whose predictions are pretty straightforward. In 1557, Nostradamus was a 54-year-old apothecary whose prophecies were highly cryptic. He also wasn’t offering his services to Catherine yet, and he most certainly never predicted the Dauphin would die if he married the Queen of Scots. If they wanted to cast a hunky actor, couldn’t they cast an older hunky actor? It’s not like 50somethings can’t be attractive. I mean, look at Brad Pitt (though I seriously hope Pitt will never reach such a career low he’ll have to play the hunky middle-aged man on the CW).
While it’s true that Catherine never liked Mary, she never tried to have her killed or raped. Another thing that bothers me about Reign is that since it’s set in a century where the protagonist can’t be given a hard time by omniscient online bloggers, the writers decided she’s going to be in constant danger of being raped. As if it were a trivial thing, like: “Oh, someone broke into her chambers and tried to violate her. Must be Thursday!”. It’s very lazy and disrespectful. And again, while Mary is presumed to have been raped by her third husband, her early life is a different story. Similarly, TV Catherine admits she was raped when she was younger. And again, it’s very lazy and disrespectful. Historically, it is known there had been horrific plans to brutalize her sexually, thus ruining her chances to be seen as a “suitable” future wife for future Kings, but there’s no proof they ever materialized.
While Mary and Francis became Queen Consort and King, they didn’t really reign because they were very young and he was very sick. They were informed about what was going on, but their regents did the real work. Historically, after Henri II died, Catherine took control of the reign of France and became known as the most powerful woman in Europe (note: how about making a series about Catherine’s power years? That’d be one hell of a drama). Plus, the series is set in France and features a varied cast of characters that are French, Scottish, Italian, Portuguese, etc. Yet everyone speaks with an English accent… Je ne sais pas pourquoi… I swear there’s even an episode where a character portrayed by a New Zealand actor lets his natural accent loose without even trying to make it sound different. People also often speak using rather modern language… Modern music plays all the time (wow, wow, lovely product placement, wow, anyone?)… Would it really be that hard to get people like Wendy and Lisa to compose the score?
In the pilot episode, there’s a scene where the girls exhibit great expertise in the usage of something a little too similar to modern make-up. The Queen (Bee) and her ladies-in-waiting prepare for prom! It just felt out of place in a series set in 1557, and the dance scenes are pretty ridiculous, too. There’s also an episode where Lola considers getting an abortion. While tackling 16th century abortion – and abortion altogether – is potentially interesting, it should be noted that France was Catholic. Catholics don’t really like abortion now, imagine back then. Also, Lola was impregnated by the soon-to-be King and was his wife’s lady-in-waiting. Quite a tricky position. And it’s not like the hygienic situation was great at the time (and it’s not like the French were known for being incredibly clean, either), so getting an abortion could’ve been highly, highly dangerous for the woman’s health. In the end, Lola decides not to go through the operation because, well, babies make long plotlines, while abortions end them. Did I already mention Francis couldn’t conceive children? And that he was so sick he couldn’t possibly go to war?
Reign also portrays the English people as wanting to invade Scotland at every price without trying to form an alliance, which is false since Mary was originally supposed to be betrothed to Prince Edward VI of England. As I wrote before, Mary grew up in France and was regarded as being more French (she also really liked to refer to herself with the French version of her name, “Marie”) than Scottish. It’s because of the extended time she spent in France that when she returned to Scotland she was so out of touch with the needs and problems of her people that her reign ended up being ineffective. Since the series portrays her as growing up in a Scottish nunnery (?!) and arriving in France only months before marrying Francis, I wonder how they’ll adjust to her return to her homeland. If they ever make it to that point in her life.