What I'm Watching: Reign
Newly returned from its mid-season hiatus, this could be the final season of the CW’s historical teen drama, Reign - but I really hope not. Based on the early life of Mary Queen of Scots and now available on Netflix UK, the show has been described as ‘Game of Thrones’ meets ‘Gossip Girl’ (accurate), dismissed as trash (sort of accurate) and criticised for its lack of historical basis in fact (there’s no denying that one) but all the same, its gathered a number of hard-core fans – and I’d count myself as one of them. Is this just a case of comfort watching? Could it be the clothes (which despite their historical inaccuracy, are gorgeous if a bit bizarre sometimes) or is there something else, some special quality that gives Reign its addictive power?
Reign is essentially a soap opera, with plots more ludicrous than I’ve seen in any other show. There’s the girl with the bag on her head who skulks about the palace, pagan plots, Nostradamus’s prophecies, a mad king who pushes women out of windows, convoluted plans to have bastard children legitimised… the list goes on. It’s all so ridiculous that it’s hard to keep up with, but the important thing is it’s never less than entertaining. The setting of sixteenth century France gives the writers endless scope for story-lining juicy court intrigue and scandal, and the characters can do it all while dressed in fabulous period clothing.
I say period, but for Reign’s costume designers, the dress-code of the sixteenth century is little more than a rough guide line. The girls may be in corsets and floor length skirts, but that’s where the rules begin and end. Dressed in anything from Givenchy evening gowns to embellished Free People blouses, Mary and her ladies-in-waiting look more like they’re off to their prom than a day at French court. Still, there’s no denying that the look is effective. Numerous blogs have sprung up celebrating the costumes of Reign and realistic or not (who am I kidding, it’s always ‘not’), there’s always something to marvel at. I’m sure some people must watch for the clothes alone.
However, what fuels my love for the show is the characters in those clothes, and the journeys their story-lines take them on. You can call Reign a lot of things, but predictable isn’t one of them. The character arcs are original and the way the relationships build are endearing. Mary, our protagonist, is flawed, yes, but also a strong Queen and a likeable person. I believed in her relationship with Francis and the twists and turns it took, I’m convinced by the friendship between Mary’s ladies and their loyalty to their friend and Queen. I’ve enjoyed all of their romantic entanglements. The show may be escapist rubbish, but surprisingly, the female characters are real and complex - at least as much so as their male counterparts. Kenna’s allowed to be shameless and mercenary and we’re not encouraged to judge her. Sometimes Francis is in the right and Mary is in the wrong, but we’re not made to believe she doesn’t deserve him. Sometimes the lovers put duty to their countries or their friends before ‘true love’ but this doesn’t mean that their love isn’t ‘real’. Sometimes the ‘girl code’ is broken but the friends actually talk about it rationally and forgive each other. There really is some good stuff buried beneath the flashy exterior of this show.
Out of all the characters in Reign however, one is the gift that keeps on giving. Catherine de Medici, the Queen Mother and all around bad lot, is played by Megan Fellows, an actress who found fame at a young age as the titular character in Anne of Green Gables. So much of Reign’s humour is un-intentional (I can only re-iterate that it’s not what critics would call ‘quality’ programming) but Queen Catherine is a great comic talent and her scenes – particularly with Mary – are an example to anyone who says girls can’t be funny.
To summarise, Reign is ridiculous, often bizarre and firmly in the category of trash telly, but despite all this, it’s a great show. The writing is often witty and always inventive, the characters are likeable and the cast (although not the most accomplished crop of actors out there) all look like they’re having a whale of a time. It’s incredibly addictive, and the costumes are fab. It might not help you brush up on your history, but I still believe time watching Reign is time well spent. Give it a go, boost their ratings and let’s get a fourth series commissioned!