It doesn't matter how beautiful Reign is shot or how flawlessly performed, despite actors adopting new accents let alone cultural status to embody their respective characters, or even how much innate relatability there may be to the themes of love and power and family; it is historical fiction on The CW and that takes a while to get over. Reign is out to tell the story of Mary, Queen of Scots-- well, it is out to tell a story of a Mary, Queen of Scots, but if we find that a few months from now middle school children are using this show as a source for their term papers we are going to be immensely sad.
Reign centers on Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) as she comes out of a sheltered childhood and enters into an arranged relationship in order to secure her her country's political alliance. This Mary may have grown up with blinders on to how the real world works, but early on in the pilot episode she has an experience that shows her just how dangerous it can be for a person of her importance. This toughens her up and ensures she is not a passive or meek girl who will merely accept a predetermined fate. Rather than see her as someone flawed, someone real, someone who will make mistakes like anyone else, she is immediately put on a pedestal as a potential role model without yet really earning the title. It's a questionable choice because rather than be taken into her confidence to learn and grow and experience alongside her, the audience of Reign is treated like any one of her subjects, only watching as an outsider.
The history appears to be the hook here to justify why this show can exist side by side with a show like Beauty & The Beast, another love-lorn drama with somewhat mystical elements (on Reign, Nostradamus is a man who has visions of the future). Of course with any historical fiction, liberties are taken, but here the history is absolutely wonky at times without reason. It is one thing to want to appeal to a wider or younger (or both) audience; it is another to make people and events seem sexier on screen than actually occurred to stir up interest at all. But The CW has censors and limitations on such things that make many of Reign's choices just feel watered down.
There is really no reason for this story to be centered on Mary, Queen of Scots at all. It would have served the writers and producers better to just create a fictional young woman in such a powerful position. You pretty much just have to resign yourself to the fact that everything here has been altered, tweaked, and toned down to fit a very young audience. Gone are themes of age discrepancies with the core, arranged coupling, as well as the idea that the Prince (Toby Regbo) is feeble. Instead, Prince Francis is merely a dull blond. Gone is a wise and well-worn Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland), and instead he has the perfectly coiffed scruff and just out of Kane's age range enough to be a mysterious and intriguing and crushable kind of older. Gone is the raciness that can come with high class people engaging in saucy behavior, as well as the sense of freedom at burying innuendos within old-timey speak. Instead is one random standalone scene of sexual energy that comes off as ill-fitting and out of place and almost as a shameful example of what Mary should never be.
Despite all of it's beauty-- the people, the landscape, the sets, and the shots; Reign really does have a lot worth looking at-- the show is more overwhelming than intriguing in its pilot. There are a lot of characters, but they get confused mostly because some of them (namely Mary's hand-maidens, aka the "BFFs" of the 16th century) are so interchangeable. You may not walk out of an initial viewing knowing anyone's name other than Mary and Francis-- perhaps not even Bash (Torrance Coombs), the boy who actually catches Mary's attention-- or unfortunately the scheming Catherine de Medici (Megan Follows). There are a lot of characters to serve, but Mary is the key, so she is thrust front and center while everyone else seems almost like an afterthought. Time is spent showing the grandness of the world but not enough of the intimate details about people to inspire the audience to truly care.
Reign premieres on The CW on October 17 2013 at 9 p.m.
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