It’s easier to forgive pretty people, right? That’s what The CW is betting.
Recently, the network premiered “Reign,” a criminally inaccurate period drama loosely based on the angst-filled teenage years of Mary, Queen of Scots. All of its main players are fainting beauties and dashing studs, and their alluring appearances help to soften the glare of some obvious anachronisms. The problem, however, is the series has so many glaring inaccuracies that all the pretty in the world couldn’t make it all believable.
“Reign” opens at a French nunnery in 1557, where we’re told the young Queen (played by Adelaide Kane, “Teen Wolf”) has been kept in hiding since she was young. However, it quickly moves to the French Court, where her intended (Francis II, the future King of France, played by Toby Regbo, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”) resides with his overly attached mother, the Queen (Megan Follows, “Hollywood Heights”) and his cheating father, the king (Alan Van Sprang, “The L.A. Complex”). We quickly meet the king’s bastard child and Queen Mary’s ladies-in-waiting, as well as the French Queen’s mystic seer, who quickly warns his ruler that our protagonist will someday prove the cause of her precious son’s demise. Drama ensues.
Parts of this synopsis are true to life. The real Queen of Scots was engaged to Prince Francis from an early age, and she was brought up and educated outside of her native Scotland. Likewise, King Henry II of France was a philanderer who kept a mistress, and his French queen was not fond of the Scottish queen to whom her son had been promised. The rest, however, is conjecture. The king’s other son, for example, is a completely fictitious figure. He assumes the role of “mysterious bad boy” opposite Francis, the “good king,” and presents Queen Mary with choices: Lust or love? Duty to oneself or to one’s nation? This is nothing new. From King Arthur to “Dawson’s Creek,” this play-out of the marriage plot has been done before, and it’s been done better.
However, the greatest liberty that “Reign” takes is mischaracterizing its protagonist. The real Queen of Scots was sent to the executioner’s block and subsequently beheaded. However, it seems her character on “Reign” was sent to the executive’s office and subsequently doctored into a brainless girl who, given about 400 years and a weekend bender, would probably jump at the opportunity to sport a YOLO tattoo. It’s a shame to see a woman famous for having a sharp, political mind get whittled down to just another pretty face, more concerned about pleasing friends and marrying the prince than exercising her autonomy.
Still, what’s most difficult to understand is why, when the original story had no shortage of drama (Revenge! Betrayal! Sexual intrigue!), “Reign” decided to stray from it at all. Perhaps it has something to do with the audience for which it’s been designed.
The problem with “Reign” is that the show is so separated from history that it’s less of a period drama than an illegitimate enterprise based at the back-alley corner of “Gossip Girl” and “The Tudors,” where accuracy and plausibility are sacrificed for higher ratings and sexy plot lines.
Maybe, in most cases, it is easier to forgive pretty people. I, for one, have never met a network love triangle that I didn’t want to make into a square, and I’m apt to give small details a pass if it’s in the name of a good shape with attractive points. The problem with “Reign” is that the details to be overlooked are big ones. (Why, in the 16th century, are you wearing a strapless dress? If you’re living around the same time as Shakespeare, why are you using words like “cheeky”?) What’s more, they’re being sacrificed for run-of-the-mill plot lines based on stock characters. It seems more than likely that before “Reign” can reign supreme, it needs to rein it in.
“Reign” airs Thursdays on The CW at 8 p.m.