I would make a new weekly thing; guilty pleasure Sunday (I have enough of them), but I know I wont write one every week. This particular guilty pleasure I have been taking notes on, intending to write about since it premiered in the fall. But, well, you know how it goes.
Today I am here to talk about the CW television show Reign.
I don’t particularly know why I was looking forward to this show. It was on the CW after all. It was bound to be stupid at best and completely historically inaccurate. Perhaps I just desperately wanted something to do with Mary, Queen of Scots (a long favorite monarch of mine, and yes I have favorite monarchs [I also have favorite founding fathers]) or perhaps I was just looking forward to a historical fiction show that had no pretenses about what it was. This is fluffy, history lite, and for once doesn’t try to be anything else.
One would think that, being a history buff, it would drive me crazy to watch something historically inaccurate. But, I have never been that way. I am able to read the difference between what really happened, what I read in history books, and the fictional accounts I am presented with one television, movies, or often in historical fiction books (I’ve read far too many about Anne Boleyn). I enjoyed The Tudors (immensely for the first two seasons and then diligently through the final two) despite knowing things were often not the way depicted. And I was slightly (read: completely) addicted to The Borgias, even though things really did not go down that way. At all. Spartacus was a favorite (after I got myself used to the ridiculous 300 stylization) even though, again, it deviated from history. These changes are made for a reason. History is fabulous, interesting, and often entertaining, but it doesn’t always follow a coherent storyline that will keep audiences watching. And how often has a great show gone down because it couldn’t keep butts in the seats? Historical fiction is just that, fiction inspired by history. Some people get very uppity about it, I am not one of those people. Still, I can certainly see how someone would be turned off of Reign because of it’s complete and utter lack of historical accuracy. It basically said; hey here is this queen who is pretty rad, she married this guy, let’s throw them together with a bunch of other, fictional, characters and see what stews. Perhaps it would have been better to just make this fiction completely, with a fictional queen and her fictional consort, but there is something to be said for name recognition.
But, to be honest, I am not sure I would have watched this show in the first place (oh who am I kidding, it’s still a costume drama) if it weren’t for the involvement of Megan Follows as Queen Catherine, the primary antagonist of the show. Yes, that Megan Follows who’s picture has graced my blog several times while gushing madly about Anne of Green Gables. Because those Kevin Sullivan movies that came out in 1985 and 1987 and then again (less fantastically) in 2000. That was her. And everyone who knows me knows that I tend to be fiercely loyal to those I once liked. Even if they disappeared from my view for fourteen years. Yes, Anne Shirley is back and she makes a fantastic slightly bitchy regent.
The pilot of Reign was not terribly strong. It gave me enough to check back the next week but it was clear that if the show continued on the way it was going it was going to get old very fast. Thankfully at episode three the show seemed to find its footing. The palace intrigued has stepped up to be unrealistically entertaining. There are no bored royals lying around eating bonbons here. Instead there is murder, treachery, backstabbing, random hook-ups, and Nostradamus (I don’t even care to check if this is historically accurate or not. I once read a book about Anne Boleyn during her years in France and she was a close personal friend of Leonardo Da Vinci and was able to roll with it.) Mary’s gaggle of giggling ladies in waiting have mostly been flushed out to actual people at this point (though one is called Kenna and I can’t imagine that name was terribly popular in the Renaissance). Meanwhile, Mary shows the beginnings of becoming the monarch we know; using what she has for the benefit of her country. Mary is a queen first and a teenager second. She’s become, for me, pretty likable. But what impresses me, really, is the sheer audacity of this show. It doesn’t seem afraid to just “go there” wherever there may be that day. Characters are killed at the drop of a hat, others dispatched when we know they must not be ultimately. Often I find myself wondering how the hell the writers are going to get thing round to the way they eventually must go. Mary’s engagement, for example, has been broken several times, to a character we know she marries in the end. It may be history lite, but it’s damned entertaining. And there are a few surprisingly strong performances, most notably by the aforementioned Follows and Adelaide Kane as Mary.
People, of course, love to complain. Apart from the historical inaccuracies I have already mentioned there are two other things that deserve a mention. The first is the music. It’s mostly modern. I don’t have a problem with this. Assigning modern music to period pieces is nothing new. People were all up in arms when Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby was released with a soundtrack including Jay-Z and Lana del Rey last year but the tactic was also used in A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger, which I loved in another guilty pleasure sort of way, and in the same year for Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge, which I love in a legit way (no apologies), and then perhaps most notably in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette in 2006. The CW’s relationship with music is not slight, so it only seems natural to me that they would go with music they can attempt to sell. The idea, I believe, is to make a story that took place many years ago relatable to modern audiences. And this is on a channel geared towards teenagers. I don’t really get why this is a problem.
The other problem, and it’s real, is the costumes. People, okay women and gay men, are drawn to costume dramas for one very large reason; all the pretty historical costumes. Sadly, this is not the show for that. The costumes are horrid. They’re certainly pretty, and every so often there’s a frock that vaguely resembles something time appropriate, but for the most party they are frustratingly anachronistic. I’m not sure who decided it was okay to make Renaissance dresses that omit sleeves. Whoever designed the covers of the Luxe book series by Anna Godbersen, I suppose. But there is far more to a historical dress than a long skirt. Sadly, these dresses look like the costumers raided the Nordstrom teen department circa the time I was getting ready for my Junior Prom. Not to mention the choice to have all the girls wear their hair down, waved and tucked like the cast of The O.C. Observe:
Sarah Bolger as Mary I (who was on the English throne at the time Reign takes place) in The Tudors
But, this is not HBO, Showtime, or even occasionally Starz. The production value is clearly not as high. It was never going to be and I knew that, as everyone should have, going in. I think people often watch shows and forget what channel they’re airing on. A Lifetime movie is never going to be as good as an HBO Original, even if you really, really want it to be. This is the CW. The channel that rides along the coattails of a show that’s gotten as terrible as The Vampire Diaries. It might be admirable that they’re branching out, but it’s still a channel that caters to primarily teenagers. So sure, this is CW history, but it turns out CW history is pretty fun!
The best way to look at this show is not by judging it against what you wanted it to be or what it could have been. Too many have been fowled by their own expectations. Look on this as what it is; slightly trashy amusement and you might just have a good time watching it.