Saturday, October 19, 2013

CW's Reign

Ad for 'Reign' showing the fictional
'Bash' character and inaccurately
portrayed Dauphin Francis.
I intended this to be a book review blog but after just watching the CW's pilot on Mary, Queen of Scots, I had a few things to say about it. It does contain a few spoilers, I've written it on the assumption of those reading this have already watched the first episode.

The show opens with a teenage Mary living in a convent in France and, after an assassination attempt, is sent to live at the French court, where she briefly had spent some time before when she'd first arrived in France as a child. This of course is inaccurate, the real Mary never lived in a convent, she grew up at the French court after arriving there at five years old. I could excuse this though, it made some sense to introduce the audience to the story at the same time that Mary was being reintroduced to the French court. It means that we learn things about the court as Mary learns them, which helps us empathize with her. Although she knows many of the people at court, she is learning about them as an adult and therefore, in a way, she is new to the court and still settling in. It's a good starting point, even if not true.

When Mary arrives at the French court, we discover that she is betrothed to the Dauphin of France, the heir to the throne, Francis. Understandably for a teen show, it centers on romantic intrigue when Francis is already involved with a random pretty girl at court, complicating his feelings for Mary, while Mary herself finds some emotional refuge with Francis' half brother, the king's bastard 'Bash' (short for Sebastian). Meanwhile, the romantic interest of one of Mary's ladies fills a sub-plot while another of her ladies gets involved with the king himself when he encounters her masturbating after covertly watching a princess of France lose her virginity on her wedding night. While it's true that the consummation of royal marriages often required witnesses, the idea that the maiden Queen of Scotland and her ladies could sneak a peek from behind a screen is pretty far-fetched. Even more far-fetched is the idea that one of them would masturbate in the middle of a stairwell. The scene was heavily edited down and is really only suggestive, you're left not entirely confident that's what she was doing because apparently, the show's producers felt that showing a young woman discovering and exploring her sexuality on her own is more controversial than a teenage girl having an affair with an grown, married man.

The real Francis and Mary
The other two major inaccuracies I spotted were the introduction of a fictional character, Bash, and the portrayal of Francis. I don't mind storytelling involving fictional characters, even some of the best historical fiction authors make use of them, such as Sharon Kay Penman and Bernard Cornwell. It allows the storyteller greater creative freedom and often creates additional sub-plots, giving the story a more complex and multi-dimensional feel. The danger zone of fictional characters in a historical story is when they get too involved with the main historical characters. If taken too far, it becomes unbelievable that a historical figure had quite so much involvement with someone who never existed, unless there is a good reason they never appeared in the history books despite being a pivotal player. We'll see if 'Reign' goes down that path or not but for now, I can understand why they've created a fictional bastard of the king and his mistress, Diane de Poitiers (historically, Diane had no children by the king, only two daughters who could not have been the king's since they were born around the same time he was). Not only does it involve Diane more in the family politics but Bash also serves as an alternate love interest for Mary, which I guess is practically a necessity when your target audience is teenage girls. In reality, though there's no speculation that Mary was ever involved with a king's bastard, for the sake of a good story, Mary would have been in a prime position to find love elsewhere than with her fiance, not because he was already sleeping with other women, or because he felt it politically unwise to marry her, as the show would have you believe. No, in reality the reason would have been much simpler, though admittedly also much less sexy, because the historical Francis was an underdeveloped, sickly little boy. Already a year younger than the developing and tall Mary, Francis' growth was stunted by his health problems and made the age difference between them seem even greater. Though by all accounts, Mary got along with and cared for Francis, it was probably more as a little brother than as a passionate lover. So it's not unreasonable that a fictional story would speculate on Mary finding love elsewhere, I just don't fully understand the need to make Francis a healthy, handsome, strapping young man when he was anything but. Apparently, everyone in this TV show must be attractive and I find it difficult to believe that today's young women are quite so vain that they couldn't appreciate a well portrayed, if unattractive, character. A beautiful young queen and a handsome forbidden bastard evidently isn't enough, pretty much the entire court must be good looking. Even Diane, who as a mistress of the king you might except to be beautiful, is played by an actress in her 30s when in reality she was 20 years the king's senior and approaching 60 by this point.

Scene showing some of the more inaccurate dresses
Appealing to modern young women brings me to my next complaint, the costumes. Apparently, the CW believe that today's teenagers won't be interested in anything even remotely resembling historically accurate costumes. Strapless dresses? Really? Need I say more?

Another romanticized element of this is how much time Mary conveniently gets to spend alone, which of course allows her to have private conversations with Francis and Bash. For the very reason that, in the show, Mary's reputation was nearly ruined when a young man is found in her bed, she equally would not be able to spend so much time wandering around on her own, running into handsome and dashing young men who, of course, fall hopelessly in love with her. In this way, it is more like a fairy tale than history.

While the show might appeal to many for purely entertainment purposes, it's unsurprisingly an epic fail on historical integrity. Still, I can still the appeal as a guilty-pleasure and I support any mainstream entertainment that encourages people, especially young people, to develop an interest in history. If this show gets young women wanting to learn more or picking up books, even novels, about Mary Stuart or French royalty, I hope it runs for a very long time. Perhaps, in that way, it will do for young people what The Tudors did for so many adults, a show that I admittedly loved and that partially sparked my own interest in royal history, despite it's own numerous inaccuracies. Sometimes, a story doesn't have to be historically accurate to be enjoyable and let's hope 'Reign' proves this to be true. I, for one, will continue to watch it if only to see Torrance Coombs' alarmingly beautiful blue eyes again. I never said I was above a bit of eye candy...

1 comment:

  1. Oh, good LORD. Being in Australia, I know nothing about this series, but have been seeing some mentions of the ridiculous costumes. Those are honestly the worst 'historical 'costumes I have ever seen. That shot looks like it was taken from a prom scene in a 21st century movie.
    This show makes those 1940s Shakespeare and Jane Austen adaptations look perfectly accurate!


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