On TV: Revisting Reign’s first season and the horrors of “historical fanfiction”, ahem

Dear CW,


Okay, seriously. I know it is highly improbable that someone with the power of canceling Reign would come across this blog or take advice from me, but hey, it’d be just better if it got canceled. Its budget would go to a more deserving series and everyone involved would get the chance to work on something less… Reign… 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.

Mary, Queen of Scots

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:


Mary goes kinder-wholesome

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).

ON TV: He does kinda look like a young John Schneider, doesn’t he?

HISTORY: Francis digged wearing white after Labor Day

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.

ON TV:  


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 rape her, 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? They did such a great job on Heroes!

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 interesting and something that doesn’t happen nearly enough on TV, it should be noted that France is Catholic. Catholics – hypocrisis aside – 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. Yet, these pesky details don’t even get a mention… 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.

In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for the moment they reveal the “bad things lurking in the woods” are actually vampires and Francis won’t actually die, but be turned into a bloodsucker instead, thus exposing Reign as another spin-off of The Vampire Diaries or The Originals… And forcing Mary to form her very own Torchwood-esque organization to study and fight the creatures of the night… It’ll be just like Doctor Who! But with actual vampires! (Note: Doesn’t Kane look wonderful in the picture? Sure, she does)

31 thoughts on “On TV: Revisting Reign’s first season and the horrors of “historical fanfiction”, ahem

  1. You are right about Reign, and yet it has found an audience among the younger. (And actually one of my male colleagues watches it with his wife, religiously.) It will endure. I keep waiting for the (supposedly accurate) new screen version of MQS starting Saoirse Ronan~which must be nearly ready for release?


  2. Crikey, they took some liberties there. The short snippet I was able to view only confirms what you say about Reign’s many inaccuracies. I think there’s a place for historically inspired fiction that isn’t necessarily faithful, but even then it should convey a feel for the period: at least get the costumes halfway plausible!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My God, this was a great piece! I enjoy Reign for all the drama and entertainment it provides, but I would definitely be as frustrated as you are if I knew all the inaccuracies in it! I mean, I remember that Mary died by execution, but here it portrays her so nice and not power-hungry at all. I’m going to keep watching it, though, because the visuals are really really good. Oh, my shame.

    And oh, I did watch the Veronica Mars movie! And maybe I’ll go check Torchwood out, just for Martha! :3 Thank you for commenting and stopping by the blog!


  4. I see where you are coming from, but I love reign nonetheless. Like you said, it is geared towards teens and young adults who couldn’t care less about it’s historical accuracy. We just watch it for entertainment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I totally understand your opinion but Reign, even though it started of as a historical show..I think it has become a loosely based version of a show..I still thouroughly enjoy it and I can say it has even become one of my favorites. I would say..yes even though its not historically accurate the actors are so fabulous and they have so much chemistry with each other soo why not just enjoy it 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  6. So what if its inaccurate! If I wanted to watch a documentary I’d turn the history channel on! The show is great and if it has an early demise I would never watch the CW again. Its my favorite show.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Lawra. Everyone needs to STOP criticizing this show for something it never purported to be! The show is fantastic in my eyes. If you don’t like it, cover yours.

      This article disgusts me to no end.


      • While it doesn’t disgust me because it is a personal opinion about a TV show, however it made me smile. Thank you for you ferocious passion of making us see this is not really what happened in history. However, this show is meant to entertain an audience not only educate. I am sure that a number of viewers has been made aware of these historical figures and has, like yourself, went to Wikipedia and found out that the show has some deviations from real transpired events. The first and foremost goal is to entertain. If you are so appalled by the inaccurate display of history, you should get a book from the library or internet and read that story to entertain you. In my personal opinion, I hope they manage to produce a good season 3 so they can at least get 4 seasons in of this fine television production (or even more..) and come on, have u seeeeen The Siege episode! Entertainment value for our time spent watching!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Reign never set out to be historically accurate, only to take inspiration from historical figures and events . Sure, most of the costumes aren’t anything like what was worn during the 16th century, nor are the actions and words of the characters reminiscent of what was expected in royal court. However, you have to keep in mind how time consuming and expensive it is to produce a period drama that is historically accurate. Toby mentioned during an interview that they tried to include things such as not having your back to the king while leaving a room and other such manners, but it proved too difficult to film with all of the camera work involved and so had to be cut. Remember, this is a tv show, not a documentary. It needs to capture the interest of its viewers in order to be successful. It would be 10x less interesting if Francis was a sickly child, or if the political and sexual intrigue was omitted.


  8. Reblogged this on A Passion for History and commented:
    Though I don’t 100% agree with the author’s opinions, I definitely think that you can do so much better in learning (and actually enjoying!) history than “Reign”. I know it was never touted as historically accurate, and the author of this article acknowledges that *cough*fellow commenters please read the article more carefully*cough*, like them, I feel that it’s much better to be generally accurate to avoid disrespecting, defaming, and/or grossly oversimplifying historical events and figures and so even in historical fiction, I feel that the people behind them have a sort-of unspoken obligation to at least try to be accurate as far as they can go and allow for their fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like Toby Regbo and Torrance Coombs and they are the only reason I watch the show. I am a history buff and I know that the show is not historically accurate but to have Toby and Torrance on screen, especially together makes my day. My sister likes Torrance and I like Toby and when they kill Toby’s character off, I will stop watching it because then the show will really suck.


  10. Reign isn’t accurate because it is inspired by history. Why would you want to see a TV Show that based purely on historic details and facts when there are histories books, websites and possibly documentaries you can watch about these stuff? Audiences who watch ‘Reign’ or similar to the show are those who probably want to watch something entertaining. Reign is renewed for the 3rd season which mean the writers and producers are doing something right for this show to be renewed.


  11. I have seen movies and read books, some historical fiction, about this time in history. They have all managed to indicate the correct clothing, culture and language for the period. In order for me to become involved in a specific time in history, there must be a certain suspension of disbelief. In the 1500’s, young royal female personages sashaying in halls headdress-free would have been scandalous, and being completely alone without ladies-in-waiting, utterly ridiculous. As no-one behind this show seems to care too much about authenticity, then this is a romantic soap opera where young good-looking people wear pretty costumes. The one time I tried to watch, a young female royal walked into a ball, wearing a lace halter see – through top and instead of jeans, a long puffy satin skirt.


  12. u are an idiot, reign is an awesome show and its historical fiction not history tv… no one wants to see a stunted hero and toby regbo/francis is awesome so is adelaide kane/mary. so shut your stupid faces and if you really have a problem stop watching it and obsessing over it and let the rest of us enjoy it!!


  13. Glad I wasn’t the only one who was open-mouthed cringing at this bastardization. Elizabethan history and it’s associations are one of my passions and watching the 10 minutes I was able to force myself through, physically hurt me inside. After 10 minutes, I gave it a 1 star and prayed that it would be cancelled. Thank you for bringing this up and it’s many points in a so well-worded way. The REAL story of Mary Queen of Scots is just as full of drama and JUST as able to keep you on the edge of your seat! Also, though it’s very true that most teenage girls aren’t very interested in factual history vs. an extremely interesting (and visually appealing) story line, it is still a real shame that those who watch this without knowing what’s missing might go about thinking that what they’re watching IS the true history. Thanks again, reading this was a pleasure!


    • That’s was exactly my thought. As an adult I can view this as historical fiction, a fun and frivolous diversion. I can overlook the ridiculous inaccuracies regarding language, decorum & wardrobe. But, I fear as you do, that the tweens & teens will accept this as fact – further dumbing down their generation.


  14. Another criticism is that these characters don’t quite seen to develop in to three dimensional personalities-Francis could arguably have been written to revolve around Mary as much as *ahem* Bash. Even if it weren’t based on history, none of the plotlines would make sense because the show-runners don’t stop and think. For example, Meyer meant to write vampires in Twilight as paragons, as something to aspire to. In reality, they’re sociopaths at best, and genocidal maniacs at worst. Same goes for the show; Mary was meant to be seen as a compassionate queen, yet we see a spoiled brat who almost finds the concept of a world not revolving around her alien to her,


  15. Also, historically accuracy is a must. There is a difference between liberty and absurdity, and Reign crossed it five minutes into episode 1. You have to make a story believable, you have to make the setting believable, and you have to make the characters believable. CW thinks sociopathy is all the rage these days. Newsflash; it’s not, and its writers need to be fired and socially ostracized for even trying to peddle these ideals as ‘good’.


  16. Even if it was historically inaccurate at least why wouldn’t it make any sense to me and some of the viewers I mean who leaves the audience with the kiss between bash and Mary sparking the show and misleading everyone into expecting a fairytale love story between them then boom disappointing the whole viewers that she goes for the girly looking boy not the sexy strong man tho along the series bash’s mother worked into him becoming legitimate son so he could be king someday but man if they got things all incorrect then why did they do that horrible mistake in my opinion not making bash and Mary happen was the deal breaker for me like I really lost all interest in the whole series so if the show got cancelled I would say because of reallllly bad choices and scenarios!!


  17. Some people enjoy a spin on period pieces. The costumes and score are a consistent and uniquely modern expression of artistry in this show (Reign). If the look or sound changed throughout the show there would be more room to talk, but this article, to me, is a perfect example of a piece of art going right over someone’s head. Not every historical fiction piece needs to be 80% accurate and it isn’t like we don’t have access to more factual information. These days it’s right at our fingertips. My guess, is that more and more people who are engaged in this show, and others like it, are deliberately seeking out historical facts about the characters being portrayed. Some may not have been interested before the exposure to a piece like this. Many people need an artsy take on things to get involved in historical research. It is important to appreciate our differences, in this specific case, the different ways in which we learn and really soak up information. Life would be pretty dull if we were all cut from the same cloth. As far as the show is concerned, simply enjoy it for what it’s worth or choose not to watch … but please don’t bash art.


  18. Some people enjoy a spin on period pieces. The costumes and score are a consistent and uniquely modern expression of artistry in this show (Reign). If the look or sound changed throughout the show there would be more room to talk, but this article, to me, is a perfect example of a piece of art going right over someone’s head. Not every historical fiction piece needs to be 80% accurate and it isn’t like we don’t have access to more factual information. These days it’s right at our fingertips. My guess, is that more and more people who are engaged in this show, and others like it, are deliberately seeking out historical facts about the characters being portrayed. Some may not have been interested before the exposure to a piece like this. Many people need an artsy take on things to get involved in historical research. It is important to appreciate our differences, in this specific case, the different ways in which we learn and really soak up information. Life would be pretty dull if we were all cut from the same cloth. As far as the show is concerned, simply enjoy it for what it’s worth or choose not to watch … but please don’t bash art.


  19. SINCE WHEN has history ever been accurate. History become inaccurate from the first recording of it . It’s onlyonly what someone Ie an author wants you to believe…… After all all history is just entertainment. 😉


    • History is always accurate. It’s just what people did, not what’s recorded about them (that’s why we talk about “recorded history”). Therefore, it’s entirely possible to get the history of a certain period completely wrong.

      Also, your semi-literate rant about “history” versus entertainment is irrelevant. The original point if the article was that the factual history of Mary Queen of Scots was far more interesting and entertaining than the soapy drivel Reign gave us. And since the show spent its last few seasons in the ratings dumpster, I’d say most viewers agreed.


  20. Here’s a funny thing regarding Sebastian. While Diane didn’t have any illegitimate children with Henri II, Mary Fleming’s mother did. She had a son, His name was also Henri and he was born in 1551. He was a result of the mentioned affair Mary Fleming’s mother had with Henri II. This show could have been good if it stuck to the historical side of Mary of Scots’s story.


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