Today we are traveling to Renaissance Scotland. And England. And France.
I’ve written about the CW’s historical drama, Reign, before on my other blog. The often ridiculous show has been a guilty pleasure of mine since the beginning. And I mean guilty. There were points where I would have never disclosed my considerable pleasure in watching this cauldron of anachronisms for all the tea in China.
But something happened within the past two seasons that I wasn’t expecting; it sort of became a good show. Many of the complaints I had about the quality evened out over the years and the more outrageous dramatics of the made up plots (no joke, Nostradamus was a character, and Catherine d’Medici (Megan Follows) had a vengeful daughter with birth defects running around causing all sorts of trouble in season one) eased into actual historical drama. The dialogue improved, the costumes improved, the guest stars improved. All around, everything mysteriously improved.
I think a lot of the reason for this is the inclusion of the enemy and cousin of Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane), Elizabeth I (played by Canadian actress Rachel Skarsten). It seems, in retrospect, that Elizabeth’s appearance was all but inevitable given how things progressed historically. However, with this sort of show one never quite knows where they’re going with it. I don’t suggest they would have Mary run off into the sunset, but considering that’s basically what happened in Tom Fontana’s Borgia I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised. But Elizabeth’s appearance on Reign gave the show just what it really needed, some levity, after two seasons of Mary and Francis frolicking around France with both HIGH DRAMA and adorable lovey doveys. While it’s extremely unlikely that Mary and the Dauphin, later briefly Francis II for seventeen months before his death at age sixteen, had such a loving relationship as portrayed in the show, it is nice to see affection between them. But with the appearance of Elizabeth those historically in the know can see a conclusion drawing. Elizabeth is portrayed as a formidable queen, but also as a regular woman. Because of the nature of this show a lot of Elizabeth’s plot lines involve her various romances, particularly with Robert Dudley and that real life scandal with his wife, and then later with ambassador Gideon Blackburn (who seems to be based partially off Thomas Randolph), who also romanced the Stuart Queen while in France. She is also shown to be paranoid, ruthless, and vulnerable; traits not often seen in this particular historical figure, but traits which do a lot to humanize her and let modern audiences understand this struggle between Queens.
The recent introduction of Mary’s second two husbands, Lord Darnley and the Earl of Bothwell, also help the legitimacy of the series. For the first two seasons, and most of the third, Mary was in France leaving the focus of the series on her time in that country; an important and long period of her life, but not when she was most active. Mary’s marriage to Francis took up most of the story with mostly made up drama (some not, of course, there was plenty of religious conflict and the Guise rule incidents). With the introduction of Darnley and Bothwell so close together season four has sped up the telling of the more exciting aspects of Mary’s later life. She is determined, for example, to secure England and her marriage to Darnley is meant to strengthen her claim against the daughter of Anne Boleyn. We know, of course, that Mary’s son James becomes monarch after Elizabeth’s reign.
Darnley, famously, was murdered not long after the birth of his son after an explosion in his rooms. Mary, and her third husband, Bothwell, were both blamed for this event, though proof was scant. However, Darnley on Reign, despite being rather easy on the eyes, is such a devious rat bastard that I found myself exclaiming out loud “Damn, girl, no judgment!”
One of the things that drove me absolutely up the wall with this show was the costumes. If I can quote myself from my former post:
“People, okay women and gay men, are drawn to costume dramas for one very large reason; all the pretty historical costumes. Sadly, this is not the show for that. The costumes are horrid. They’re certainly pretty, and every so often there’s a frock that vaguely resembles something time appropriate, but for the most party they are frustratingly anachronistic. I’m not sure who decided it was okay to make Renaissance dresses that omit sleeves. Whoever designed the covers of the Luxe book series by Anna Godbersen, I suppose. But there is far more to a historical dress than a long skirt. Sadly, these dresses look like the costumers raided the Nordstrom teen department circa the time I was getting ready for my Junior Prom. Not to mention the choice to have all the girls wear their hair down, waved and tucked like the cast of The O.C. ”
Now, I am not claiming that the recent costumes are perfect, or even in the same league as other shows from this era, such as The Tudors, but they have improved infinitely. Now the dresses tend to have sleeves, and shoulders. The poofy prom dresses have been more or less replaced with actual costumes. Their appearances have become less frivolous. Not accurate by any means, but enough steps closer that the very sight no longer makes me want to tear out my eyes.
Reign is a deeply flawed show, but it’s a show with quite a lot of heart. It is the sort of show that would be easy to give up on during the first season, given it’s theatrics and ineptitude when it comes to anything vaguely resembling the truth, but if the viewer can make it through the mire they could be rewarded with something much better than the way it started. The struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism in the Renaissance was a continual, deep set problem that colored everything that happened in the age. This conflict between Queens was just one instance. Reign, in its final years, has become just that; the camaraderie and rivalry between three queens, Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I of England, and the dowager Queen Catherine of France, née Medici. The outcome has already been written, but I will be interested to see how Reign portrays the fate of it’s central character, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland. Though, I wont be disappointed if they choose not to show it. I’m fond of her after all these years.
Seasons one through three of Reign are available on Netflix and season four should be available in June.