Much grief has been unloaded on the CW's new drama about Mary, Queen of Scots in advance of its premiere, both for its squishy relationship to historical accuracy and its daring depiction of female self-pleasure. While Reign may not serve as a replacement for anyone's European History textbook, this historical teen soap is trashy, good fun.
After spending years hiding in a French convent, an assassination attempt sends Mary (Adelaide Kane), the young Scottish queen, to French court with the belief that there she will be protected. Additionally, Mary has been betrothed to the future King of France, Francis (Toby Regbo), since the age of six, and now that the two are nearing adulthood, it's time for her to win his heart. Of course Mary and Francis aren't strangers, as she spent time in the palace as a youngster. The two were playmates growing up. Now as teenagers, their friendship and potential romance buckles under the pressures of Francis's future role as leader, as well as the oddity of Mary being a Queen in her own right. This discord opens the door for a flirtation between her and Francis's half-brother Bash (Torrance Coombs), the bastard son of the king.
The intention for Mary to find protection at court is soon thwarted when Francis's mother, Queen Catherine (Megan Follows), hears a prophecy from her counselor Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland) that Mary will lead her son to his death. This prediction sets Catherine on a path to thwart the budding romance by any means necessary. Fortunately, Mary has a guardian living in the palace, a mysterious girl who hides from view and imparts the young queen with vital knowledge about the schemes against her.
Combining the political intrigue of Game of Thrones with teen drama of Beverly Hills, 90210 (for which showrunner Laurie McCarthy wrote in the '90s), Reign may not be enriching, but it sure is enjoyable. The assassination attempts and plots against Mary bring to mind Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth, which similarly depicted the reign of a young queen as a constant battle to stay alive, while the soundtrack of pop ballads and tribes of ladies in waiting are reminiscent of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.
Reign is far more interested with being entertaining than it is with being accurate, cherry-picking the facts that fit its view of 16th century France, and leaving the rest behind. Yes, Catherine de'Medici did consult Nostradamus regarding the future of her children, but as he was in his 50s at the time, the seer was unlikely to resemble the sexy, brooding, 35-year-old Sutherland. If Reign is to be believed, the French court was absolutely teeming with gorgeous, nubile specimens of the human form, all ready to break each other's hearts.
It won't help you pass any history tests, but as a steamy, thrilling soap, Reign is a delectable guilty pleasure.