Ashford Castle, County Mayo Ireland – used for Castle exteriors in the pilot of Reign
CW’s Reign is an easy show to dismiss or overlook, if viewed from a certain perspective. This is not a history channel documdrama, or a PBS presentation of the life and times of Mary, Queen of Scots. The first trailers for Reign were so whimsical and fantastical that I was actually drawn to the show thinking it was fantasy as opposed to based on a specific historical figure.
(C) The CW Network, Adelaide Kane as Mary Queen of Scots
Season 1 follows several of the key benchmark moments from Mary, Queen of Scots, life, with facts adjusted slightly to make them more palatable to a modern audience (forgive me, I would not care to watch a show in which fourteen year-old children were pressed into marriage by political minded monarchs) and the intrigue and politics of court feel less true to one specific court, but more like the writers have drawn from all the courts of Europe, probably over a period of time, and brought the most interesting rumors, truths, sensations, and possibilities all to bear in one show.
(C) CW Network, Toby Regbo as Prince Francis
I did not go into Reign expecting a historically accurate or factual accounting of Mary, Queen of Scots, life, and perhaps that is why I have enjoyed the show more than some other reviewers I’ve run across. In the 16th century life was considerably different from the world we now live in, and I do not merely mean they lacked the technology we now take for granted. One character has younger sisters who are relying on her to make a “good match” and “marry well,” the family’s future, their hopes and aspirations, rest on the shoulders of the daughter they have sent to court.
It was a time when a great many men viewed their wives as property, and women could bring land and wealth to a marriage, but once they spoke their vows (whether that was done by their choice or not) what they brought with them was no longer theirs. It is these aspects of the 16th century, among others, that Reign is presenting in a compelling and dazzling manner. Highlighting the glitz and glamour of the time, as well as the perils, dangers, and some of the realities (as well as some creative twists that hopefully will play out well.)
The Season 1 DVD includes two wonderful behind the scenes features. In Reign: The Making of a Queen there is discussion not only about how the show was made, but also about a hope that the viewers will investigate the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, for themselves, discovering where the line between fact and fiction has been crossed. That is a hope I share.
(C) CW Network, Torrance Coombs as Sebastian
To that end, I think Reign could be used quite compellingly by some creative teachers to intrigue students about the life of Royals and policy makers of the 16th century, and then get these students investigating where the show stuck to the facts, and where they took creative license.
King Henri’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, is an intriguing woman, who had two daughters with a husband who died in 1531, probably after she had been involved with King Henri’s father for several years… yes, in real life she was quite a bit older than Henri, and she was a distant relation of Catherine de Medici, Henri’s wife. A sentence that lies somewhere between fact is stranger than fiction, and that is why the lives of Royals of the 16th century make such excellent fodder for a show like Reign.
Diane did not have a son with Henri, but some believe she might have had a daughter with him. And she made certain the King and Catherine de Medici produced 10 legitimate heirs, including three Kings of France – Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. Henri’s daughter Elisabeth married the King of Spain, and his daughter Margaret married the King of Navarre who later became King Henry IV of France.
As I said, the Royal Courts, and families, were ripe with material for a show such as Reign, I simply feel the writers have not limited themselves to the life and times of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her peers / playmates, but rather the show has done an excellent job of portraying the concept of what such a life was like, and would be equally fascinating and compelling if it were placed in a mythological place where things happened to bear this same strong resemblance to real life events and times.
(C) CW Network, Adelaide Kane as Mary, Queen of Scots
The Authenticity of Reign: Recreating the 16th Century talks about the amazing sets, the castles used in the pilot vs. the sets that were constructed for the first season, and the fantastic wardrobe worn week after week. There have been a few gowns that have left me wondering if that could really have been made in the 16th century, and yet they were so strikingly beautiful, and so decadently upper-class and beyond the realm of possibility to a mere peasant, that in that part of me that still views the show more as fantasy and less as derived from the life of true people, I forgive them for the abundant use of modern fabrics, embellishments, and sewing machines — perhaps also in part because they have maintained the styles, the necklines and hems, and the sense of the 16th century even while adding that modern flair.
The music during the episodes is an interesting contradiction, similar to the clothing. When the characters are dancing in the ballroom it sounds very 16th century, and yet the background music often has a very 21st century sound to it… and somehow this shift between styles works for the show. Someone is carefully balancing the two, not blasting headbanging music, but giving modern zip and swing to action scenes in a manner that is undoubtedly keeping the CW audience in tune.
I remain convinced Reign is predominantly fantasy, and happens to share the names of historical figures I recall from my school days. I hope there are some clever teachers out there using this show to capture their students imagination and teach them about a harsher time in our past, both in terms of the plague, the dark ages that led into the Renaissance, and the politics and intrigues of Royal courts. Reign does a beautiful job of alluding to real historical events, such as the death of King William II, aka William Rufus of England. (I believe the link is along the lines of, It wouldn’t be the first time a King died in a hunting accident.)
On 2 August 1100, King William II organized a hunting trip in the New Forest. William was presented with six arrows, on the eve of the hunt; taking four for himself, he handed the other two to Walter Tirel, saying, “Bon archer, bonnes fleches” (“[To the] good archer, the good arrows.”)
On the subsequent hunt, the party spread out as they chased their prey, and William, in the company of Tirel, became separated from the others. It was the last time that William was seen alive.
In their search for prey, according to chroniclers, Tirel let loose a wild shot at a passing stag. However, instead of striking the stag as intended, the arrow pierced William in the chest, puncturing his lungs. King William Rufus died instantly.
When it comes to Entertainment, Reign fits the bill with high marks! While I would enjoy learning the true story and details of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, with access to the internet a part of most people’s daily lives, Reign is a show that can easily inspire those of us who have forgotten the ins and outs of her turn as a Monarch to spend an afternoon on-line, refreshing our memories, and exploring a century gone-by. As for the show, it’s a once a week guilty pleasure, a chance to set the modern world aside, forget our troubles and electronic leashes, and be reminded just how easy we have it in so many ways.
Reign returns for a second season Oct 2 at 9 PM / 8 Central on the CW.
Season 1 of Reign is available on DVD now, 22 episodes running 916 minutes