The CW went out on a ledge when they greenlit Reign, a historical drama about Mary Queen of Scots starring Teen Wolf‘s Adelaide Kane. In some ways the show is unlike anything else on the network, and it’s certainly the first time the soapy CW has dipped its toes into period piece waters. But in other ways, Reign fits right into the network most famous for pretty people and scandalous love triangles.
Set in the sixteenth century, Reign is basically what would happen if you took The Tudors, Gossip Girl, and a prom dress catalog and threw them into a blender. This might sound like a knock against the show, but it seriously isn’t meant to be. Reign is one of the weirdest and most charming things I’ve seen on TV (and certainly The CW) this season.
However, like every show based on real events, Reign is already coming under fire for its lack of historical accuracy. Asked about the major liberties the show takes with history at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, star Adelaide Kane remarked, “It’s not the History Channel. How many teenage girls do you know who are obsessed with history? I wasn’t at that age.”
Of course Kane is wrong here; there are plenty of teenage girls obsessed with history, just like there are plenty of teenage girls obsessed with all kinds of stuff. But she’s right about the hand-wringing over historical accuracy (already!) in a show that never once pretends to be even remotely historically accurate.
The difference between Reign and, say any book by Philippa Gregory, is that Reign is absolutely transparent about how little it resembles actual history. As a big fan of Mary Queen of Scots and Gossip Girl, this show had already fallen squarely into the Venn diagram of things I love. I was predisposed to like the show and was impressed with the pilot. I’m not, however, sure how anyone could watch the show and assume anything about it is historically accurate.
The girls are flouncing around in what look like prom dresses from their local mall and the soundtrack is full of ye olde classics like The Lumineers. It’s much more in line with Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette than Masterpiece Theater.
To some people this will just be too much to handle. They’ll freak out over the completely invented (and hunky!) royal bastard or note that Francis was a sickly little teenager and not a stone cold fox. Also I’m pretty sure Nostradamus never had that much smolder, although what do I know?
There are also plenty of other moments likely to make history nerds scratch their heads in wonder. Mary spent her childhood in France, she didn’t just return to it when she got older. She did have four best friends, but they were all named Mary, a Heathers-esque missed opportunity for the show.
Francis worries the alliance with Scotland might end up overturned when it reality it was an extremely intelligent political move for France to annex Scotland, allowing them a toe-hold into their old foe England. Besides, with her royal bloodline Mary even had a reasonable claim to the English throne, giving her the possibility of bringing not one, but two countries with her into marriage. France wouldn’t have turned that down easily.
If you want to nitpick Reign we could be here all day. But Reign never pretends at historical accuracy, it’s merely using Mary’s story as a jumping off point to tell it’s own tales. Considering our culture is so steeped in spinoffs, reboots, and reimaginings, why is it so hard for us to accept someone taking history and using it as an inspiration for fiction?
Kane might have been right about how interested the average teen is in historical accuracy. But watching Mary Queen of Scots and her blinged-out headbands on Reign is sure to result in teenagers more interested in the real-life figure behind the fictional show. Sure, many of them might turn to the history books to see who she ultimately chooses in the show’s love triangle (spoiler alert: there are no happily ever afters for Mary) but they’ll come out knowing more about the real historical figure.
Why do we require strict adherence to historical fact anyway? Just like any other medium, history can be a jumping off point to tell interesting stories which resonate with modern audiences.
As long as the story doesn’t purport to tell the whole truth, there’s no reason not to use history as inspiration. I’m interested to see which pieces of Mary’s story the show incorporates and how it uses the historical setting to find new ways to tell fun, soapy stories.
And for a soapy Gossip Girl-ish historical drama, the show couldn’t have picked a better figure than Mary Queen of Scots. Her life was more dramatic than the average telenovela, but she was also intelligent, charming, and prone to fits of daring and badassery.
Even if Reign won’t end up telling her complete and linear story, it has the potential to get a whole new audience interested in a truly extraordinary woman.
What do you think? Will the historical inaccuracies in Reign drive you nuts or are you comfortable with it being mostly fiction? Sound off in the comments!
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(Image courtesy of The CW)