A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away named CW, there was a 16th century historical drama series with little resemblance to our reality. The show is supposed to center around the life and times of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Also called “Mary, Teen of Scots” by some, the show demonstrates everything that’s wrong with the ever-growing tendency to treat history as a rough draft. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if the show began with disclaimers that names, dates, and places are fictional and any resemblance to actual events is purely coincidental.
The cynical among us would say that CW is a corporation tasked with a money making mission. Its purpose is to make money even if that means exploiting a target market populated by people whose brains are six years away from being fully developed. And who really cares if only one out of a hundred high school students could find France on a globe?
Regardless of intent, we are creatures who adapt and learn.
Here are a few things I learned from “Reign”. In 1557 they…
- They danced the minuet to music played with electrical instruments that sounds very much like contemporary tweeny pop.
- When girls cried, mascara ran down their faces.
- They had no need of woodsmen because they used clean and convenient gas fireplaces.
- Queens did their own packing for traveling.
- They could ride in an open-windowed carriage in the middle of a snowy French winter, but noses don’t turn red, eyes didn’t water and magical thin capes, loosely tied over bare skin, were sufficient for warmth.
Perhaps I pay too much attention to such details. Like dress for instance. In one of my former careers, I was an evening wear designer. As a child I was always especially interested in the awards for movie costume design and marveled at the amount of research and care that went into accurately reproducing costumes so that they were authentic, right down to using only fabrics that were available at the time. No Zippers. No buttons. Some even went so far as to make sure everything was hand sewn as they would have been at the time.
That tradition of faithfully recreating period dress may not be sacred, but CW has gone completely off the reservation. Take the ladies in waiting. Mary did have four, as was the custom for royalty.
If you think I’m done ragging on the costumer, you are so wrong.
Leather pants? Come on.
The push-up thing she’s wearing? Not a corset. Not a bustier. No. It’s a basque. It made its first appearance in fashion three hundred years after this period – minus the push-up feature.
The leather pants? Don’t get me started. Let me simply show what Henry’s clothes would have looked like.
Yes. This one is what the real King Henry would have been wearing. It may not be biker chic in 2014, but it’s accurate.
Hate to “Bash” the show, but…
Sorry. Couldn’t resist. There was no Sebastian de Poitiers, bastard son of the king. He was invented for this photo and because the writers must have thought a love triangle would be cool.
If there had been a half-brother named Sebastien, I assure you he would not have been given a motorcycle club nickname like “Bash”. Had a fanciful name been bestowed, it would have sounded more like Sebastian Curt Hose or Sebastian the Sorrowful.
The fictional Bash does have striking blue eyes. I’ll give him that.
Regarding other casting choices, Mary – the real Mary – had bright auburn hair and hazel eyes. She was 5’11” which would probably compare today to a woman 6’5”. By contrast, Francis was abnormally short and so sickly that he was practically an invalid. He was married at fourteen and died at sixteen.
Francis and Mary on the show, but why quibble?
Next to the outrageous disregard for historical accuracy in costuming, the thing that bothers me the most about this show is the deserted castle hallways and the deserted castle grounds. Love the shots of a lone couple, Mary and Francis, strolling the grounds of a castle built to house hundreds. Not one other person is present. Not the king’s guard or the queen’s guard (ancestors to the Secret Service which perhaps was somewhat secret seventy years ago when all men wore dark suits and white shirts). There’s not even a dog, cow, chicken or goat to be seen.
Look at it this way. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you know how many staff is required to support a titled family of six living on an estate approximately five percent as large as that pictured in “Reign”.
During the time when the historical Mary was at French court, the hallways would have been perpetually busy with servants, guards, and guests of the king. The castle grounds would have been teeming with both people and industry that supported and served the needs of said noblemen.
“But, really, who needs facts if a show works? Certainly not “Reign,” – SFGATE
Don’t forget, we can’t have a hit teen show without a horror movie monster who lives in the woods and drinks human blood.
Still not enough to insure all buttons have been pushed? Let’s throw in some BDSM and menage a trois that results in the death of a young woman. Finally, a recipe for a hit teen TV show.
This dress would have scandalized a bordello of the time.
As a writer, I wonder what would happen if Mary had been cast as the rather plain looking individual that she was. Beautiful women get recognition for being beautiful and it comes with a certain measure of power, although short lived like bankable athleticism.
How much more interesting it would have been to portray Mary as being the center of a whirlwind of intrigue, love, sex, conspiracy, bad doings, and assassination plots – which was all true – and cast her just as she was, not beautiful.
I was excited about this show when I first saw the trailer. I thought it might interest a new generation in the study of history. I fell in love with English history because of the movie The Lion in Winter and went on to do graduate level studies because of it. I recall one conversation in particular among several graduate level students of history in which every one of us said movies had either been responsible for lighting the spark or stoked the spark already present. I hope such inspiration will always be available, but don’t look for it in “Reign”.
And the TV14 RATING? Here’s how COMMON SENSE MEDIA rates the show. (OUCH!)
Scale of 1-5
0 POSITIVE MESSAGES
1 POSITIVE ROLE MODELS
1 DRINKING /DRUGS
Note that the show manages to get 4 out of 5 for SEX without taking off any clothes. That means young teens are going to be exposed to 50 Shades of concepts they’re not old enough to process.
This article was written at the request of Victoria Barbour for her historical romance blog.
WOW, I had not heard of the movie till this but not sure I want to take my daughter to see it for sure. I loved how honest and frank you were in that review.
Did you enjoy the movie otherwise despite the massive costume issue? Yes I agree with you on the attire. I played Mary, Queen of Scots for my 3rd grade Famous People Parade that we did and my mother made the dress out of the same material and almost just like dresses back then because she wanted to make it as authentic as possible. Some things should not be farfetched even for a movie. Very nicely done. 😉
“Reign” is actually a TV show on the CW network now going into its THIRD SEASON! Unfortunately I know history too well to enjoy seeing people dance the minuet to electric pop and I draw the line at inserting characters into an historical drama that never existed. So. No.
Shame on me I guess that goes to show how much I didn’t know about the show at all then. And it’s on its THIRD season? They have taken better flicks off in less time than this appears to be staying. Well I thoroughly enjoyed you review and now I know why. I did go back and watch one of the episodes in the middle of season 2 I guess it was and I was not totally impressed so glad I wasn’t missing much to begin with by never hearing about it till now. lol
You are too funny! I’ve seen the show and I would agree. Who would watch it if the characters didn’t look so hot? I don’t think so. Loved your article.
Since I only watch a few TV shows I had never heard of this one. Just from what you have written and the pictures provided I would not watch it. One thing I REALLY hate is taking a real person from history and recreating it for mass drama. Shows like this make me angry because it is lazy. It is like they no longer have creativity in Hollywood so they have to mess with history – the Bible. I could really rant on the movie Noah.
I agree with your critique of the show 10000%!! Its a mash up of different ongoing series and some past to appeal to a demography not into real history. I would rate it a 1 . The costumes went too far in my opinion. The Tudors beats it hands down. Yet to watch Downton Abbey though..