Reign: Thursdays at 9 Eastern on the CW
There’s something about the period piece in both film and television that innately whispers in your ear the word prestige. Part of this is because such films are often rolled out this time of year in an attempt to collect large numbers of Oscars (Shakespeare in Love and last year’s Les Miserables being two such examples). However, in the recent past, period pieces have also been a staple of the cable networks in their attempt to steal eyeballs and critical regards from the big four (HBO had Rome and now has Boardwalk Empire, AMC built an empire on Mad Men). So needless to say, it was to my surprise when the CW elected to pick up Reign, an attempt on mixing the period piece with the CW standard box of tropes.
Reign follows the teenaged Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) as she goes to France in an attempt to secure a political marriage with the dashing Prince Francis (Toby Regbo). Things, however, are made more complicated when Francis is not ready to sign such a deal due to both his uncertainty of an alliance with Scotland as well as a desire not to be committed to marriage at this point. The rest of the royal family complicates matters further, as Francis’ brother Bash (Torrance Coombs) has a crush on Mary, while Queen Catherine (Megan Follows) fears that the arranged marriage will ultimately kill her son.
In very many ways, Reign is exactly what you would expect from a CW show if it took place in a castle in 1500 ‘s France. It focuses on the emotions that come with a being a teen, there will be random outbursts, and they’ll even tease a supernatural angle because, well, it’s the CW. Furthermore, it’s pretty evident that the show is using its’ Scots as a proxy for modern sensibilities (nothing like a Mumford and Sons knock off when Mary decides to smash custom when she dances with her maids!) up against the staid French court. This modern re-imagining extends out to other characters, as Nostradamus is treated as a more malevolent force, mixing his traditional prophet and apothecary role with what could loosely be described as shades of Rasputin.
Unfortunately, this CW-ification of history also mars so many of the show’s dramatic scenes. A climactic argument involving the complicated political entanglements ends up coming off with the same raw emotional nerve that one gets when a teen argues with their parents (but I don’t WANT to be in an alliance with Scotland!). In a lot of ways, it’s mildly disheartening that a show focused on the French Court and political intrigue fails spectacularly at producing any sort of intrigue whatsoever (I blame this as much on a network forced excising of a racy scene as I do the writing, which tends to awkwardly embrace two part storytelling – there’s point A and point B, but there’s no road between the two).
Everything else, in terms of both the technical and acting, is best described as competent without being particularly mind-blowing. The scenery, particularly inside the castle is lush and opulent, as one would expect of the French court, however, the insistence on both of Henry’s sons running around in leather jackets was fairly off-putting.
The Final Verdict: How one will feel about Reign is dependent on what you’re looking for: If you want a prestigious period piece, Reign will suffer horribly. However, if you view Reign through the lens of the network it’s on, you get a nice fit in terms of what CW programming is all about (with more mature themes and some dubious history thrown in for good measure). I would probably advise one to check it out if they’re into that CW mold, but skip it if you’re looking for some Game of Thrones lite.