• 20.10.2013
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Review of The CW’s Reign: A costume drama for people who get a kick out of historically inaccurate costumes

So, the CW has decided to experiment with the costume drama genre. Its first foray into historical fiction comes in the form of Reign, the story of the teenage Mary Queen of Scots’ life in the French Court when she was engaged to Prince Francis.  Of course, I was already predisposed not to love this series, because I am much more of an Elizabeth I kind of girl (You have to pick sides in that rivalry. Kind of like how you can’t cheer for both Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie at the same time). Having said that, this latest CW offering has done little to sway my loyalties.


In this particular envisioning of her, Mary looks like a young Cher. Her hair is loose and wild, in a historically inaccurate but sexy style. Also, she and her friends cavort about the castle in historically inaccurate strapless dresses with sparkles on them mooning about romantic love.


The action starts when Mary, after a 9-year absence is brought back to French court, reunited with her friends and the fiancé to whom she has been engaged since she was a little girl. Teenage Mary is keen to reconnect with her fiancé, and at first, things between them go well. They have a nice chat about the prince’s interest in swords. It seems like these two have potential to have something one day if given a bit of time. Then, a couple of scenes later, Mary surprises Francis in his bedchamber, where he is getting busy with his lover (someone with whom he was already involved before Mary showed up abruptly). Mary is incredibly hurt, as though she had expected him to stay faithful to the girl to whom he was engaged when he was a child and had not seen in nearly a decade. Not only do I, a modern woman think expecting fidelity from the guy you were forcibly betrothed to at 6 is crazy, but I am pretty sure a 16th century girl who was born and bred to marry the king of France would have been taught that a little bit of clandestine cheating is par for the course where late Renaissance Royal marriages are concerned. I was left thinking, is Mary stupid and silly? How on earth can I cheer for someone so pathetically naïve?


The best part of Reign is that Canada’s Period Piece Poster Girl Megan Fallows (Also known as Anne of Green Gables) plays Frances’ scheming mother, Catherine De Medici, the Queen of France. Oh, she’s pretty evil, and yet despite her being the scariest person on the show, she’s also the most understandable character. A girl who grew up with money but not royal blood, the King married her to secure her fortune for France but openly favours Bash, the son of his mistress. His mistress herself is also treated more like an official royal consort than a concubine, and so Queen Catherine understandably feels used by her husband, who won’t even pretend to like her at official royal events.


The scorned Catherine begins to focus her energies on protecting and promoting her children, marrying her daughter off to the Spanish royal family and consulting the most famous psychic of all time, Nostradamus, about the fate of her son.  Here the show’s central conflict is born because Nosty’s vision tells him that Mary will be Francis’ undoing. Because of this, a desperate Catherine starts hatching immoral plots to save her son. Of course, you know she’s a BAD guy and willing to hurt numerous others to save her kids, but at the same time, Catherine has clearly been so mistreated her entire life that it’s not surprising she has no moral compass.  Also, it’s kind of awesome to see goody-goody Anne Shirley play a villain, which Follows does impeccably well.


Ultimately, in trying to make the story of Mary Queen of Scots relatable to The Instagram Generation, the CW has gone one or two anachronisms too far. There is modern music, modern hairdos, modern dresses, modern attitudes towards love and romance, etc. Anyone who has passed grade ten history probably knows enough to know that this show is distractingly inaccurate. Reign could be a highbrow teen soap about power, politics, history and sex, but instead it’s mostly titillating tripe, and that makes me sad.





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Sarah Sahagian

Sarah Sahagian was born and raised in The Beach, in the East End of Toronto.  She completed her undergraduate degree at Queen’s in 2008, and then spent that cliché year “finding herself” in a major European city while doing a master’s  degree in Gender Studies at the London School of Economics. Sarah now resides in that nebulous part of Toronto the street signs claim is called “Old Town.” She is currently completing her PhD in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at Toronto’s York University. She divides her time between taking notes on Michel Foucault and Judith Butler for dissertation purposes, reading novels about angsty young women  with hybrid ethnic identities who decide to visit their ancestors’ homelands, andwatching premium cable.  She is the co-editor of the book Mother of Invention: How Our Mothers Influenced Us As Feminist Academics and Activists.

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