The phrase “historically accurate drama” belongs nowhere near the CW network, home to sexy teens of the supernatural and socially privileged varieties, so it should come as no surprise that the network’s new series “Reign” is not a strictly factual account of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. This Queen (Adelaide Kane), in true CW style, is a pretty teenager surrounded by other pretty teenagers who all live in a castle and get to wear great clothes. There are also murderous plots, secret trysts, dire predictions from none other than Nostradamus and a spy who may be a spirit or who may be a little girl who likes to wear a sack on her head. It’s Mary, Queen of Scots, the soap opera.
The real Mary had a fascinating and sad life that doesn’t need melodramatic embellishments to turn it into good television so it’s kind of disappointing that the first prime time network series devoted to telling it has made the decision to treat it like an episode of “Gossip Girl.” But, the CW knows its audience so maybe it’s more surprising that a network devoted to all things “sexy teen” would take on a historical figure in the first place. It’s a bold move but does it work?
Surprisingly, I think it does because the emotional side of Mary’s story makes the show interesting and the (very) loose historical interpretation, while not for purists, makes the show fun. Raised in a convent, Mary is engaged as a child to Francis (Toby Regbo), the future king of France. Once she is of age, she arrives at French court to marry him, but Francis has cold feet. France and England are allies. The English want Mary dead so they are free to control Scotland. Suddenly, Francis isn’t so sure that a French/Scottish alliance is in his country’s best interest. It’s Mary, Queen of Scots, with boyfriend trouble.
But it’s also Mary, Queen of Scots, enemy of just about everyone, including her future mother-in-law Queen Catherine (Megan Follows). The Queen wants her out because Nostradamus predicted she would be the death of Francis. In an early attempt to get rid of her potential daughter-in-law, Catherine sets Mary up to be raped in order to destroy her virtue and subsequent marriage to her son. The plot fails thanks to a warning from the mysterious sack-clothed girl.
So Mary spends most of the series dealing with the idea that she is constantly in danger. It provides a lot of opportunity for fun, soapy melodrama but it also adds an emotional element namely, what it means to live with the knowledge that people want you dead. Her scenes may be set to a moody pop soundtrack ready made for iTunes but Kane does a good job depicting Mary’s fear and anxiety, even if it sometimes feels like she made a wrong turn on the catwalk and found herself on a period drama.
“Reign” is on Thursdays at 9 p.m. EDT on the CW.