Mary Queen of Scots, CW’s “Reign”, historical accuracy and why I’ll watch anyway


Cast of Reign, premiering on the CW Network 17 October 2013

Pity the poor writers and producers of CW’s “Reign.” It has not yet hit TV screens in the US, yet the network is already defending the dramatic license they have taken with the series. (“Reign’ boss defends show’s relaxed approach to historical accuracy“).  The CW team, defending the series, keeps saying that they are “not the History Channel.”No really?   They need to come up with a response that has a bit more credibility. “We’re not the History Channel, so we can make up whatever we like” is not a real defense.  “We’re meeting a market need for a teenage, historical fiction drama and we chose to create a series about Mary Queen of Scots because  a) b) c) …”  might get them less flak and enable them to take their tin hats off.

I’ve already posted a couple of times my surprise that the CW would take huge license with the story of Mary, Queen of Scots.  Her life is replete with all the drama and scandal a series could wish for when told with detailed accuracy.  From the day she  escaped from the approaching English army and hid at Inchmahome Priory on Lake Menteith, Mary’s life was a rollercoaster of dazzling highs (crowned Queen of France) and humiliating lows (abdicating her throne; eventually being beheaded by her cousin Elizabeth I).  Who needs to make s*** up?  I could have given the CW years of great storylines on Mary and her posse (I’m still available for the asking, btw).  Skillfully handled, her story is amazing and heartbreaking.

I love the true life story of Mary Stuart.  I still have a copy of from the early 1970s of Lady Antonia Fraser‘s wonderful non-fiction biography of her, which I read when I was just eleven years old (and very precocious with it!) and captivated me.  I hate that her life is being brought to the small screen with less than great attention to detail and the real drama that was her life.  It is my hope that the creators of Reign have color just a little outside the historical lines, and not disregarded them completely.

But I get it,  I watch the CW from time to time.  OK.  Week to week.  I confess I have a wee addiction to the CW’s ‘Vampire Diaries‘ and have always thought that Ian Somerhalder would make the perfect Pierre de Bocosel de Chastelard (here’s my blog post on that sensational story).   I know, I’m probably the oldest CW viewer (it’s sad really).   There is absolutely nothing real about the Vampire Diaries, nothing at all and yet I love it.  Similarly, I watched Starz’s ‘DaVinci’s Demons‘ which, I’m guessing, bears not much more than a passing nod to reality, but I enjoyed it anyway.  Ditto both  The Tudors and The Borgias TV series.  In the CW’s defense,  its target market is probably the 18-24 year-old crowd who want fast-paced, slightly steamy entertainment (I’m guessing here, but I was in that age bracket once) and that target audience are not too worried about what is true and what is not.  The CW is great at marketing to its target audience, and I have to believe they know what it wants.

So if writers and producers make free with historical fact, but create really entertaining drama, should we complain?  Is the CW getting an undeserved kicking before the show even airs?  Perhaps.  For me, I have to see how far they’ve taken their creative license.  I mean, if teenage Mary Stuart starts having it away with, say Nostradamus (who I understand is cast as a young big of al’right played by Rossif Sutherland) I might complain.  But if they are making more of the relationship between Mary and the Dauphin Francis, her betrothed, then I could be OK with it.

One way or another I’ll be watching the series end-to-end when it premiers in October.   For one thing, I can’t imagine Megan Fellows as Henry II’s wife, Catherine de Medici.  It will take some great acting to make me see her as anyone other than Anne of Green Gables!  (Megan, I’m rooting for you.)

Here’s a link to a preview.  (Someone tell me why Mary, Queen of Scots, has an English accent? — People! The actress is Australian, surely they could’ve coached her?)

13 comments on “Mary Queen of Scots, CW’s “Reign”, historical accuracy and why I’ll watch anyway

  1. Stephanie says:

    I have just finished season 2 and while I was riveted, I must confess I was confused at the same time. If a person my age, college educated, and a parent can become confused by CW’a bastardized version of history think how much worse it will be for young impressionable women who didn’t pay attention on school.

  2. Mary’s French years were not as zany as her later ones, but as you said there are many real Mary stories to tell, so there wasn’t really any need to make nearly everything up. I also wrote a post about the first season’s lack of accuracy:

    Please, check it out!

  3. jazzfeathers says:

    Just found your blog and reading it. I’m enjoying it a lot.

    I hate it when authors, and espeically tv authors (because they seem to be doing this all the time) change history for no good reasons. If they are not going to portray history accurately, why set a story historically at all, I wonder?
    And anyway, being true to history is a challange and one that often makes a story far more interesting and original. At least, this is my esperience.

    This kind of authors are simply lazy, in my opinion, and missing on a great opportunity.

  4. […] en su favor que el rigor histórico sigue siendo impecable, a diferencia de la reciente reign (de la que parece ser que la gente se ha quejado por falta de rigor, y la cadena encargada de su emis…); en Downton Abbey, se sigue cuidando hasta el más mínimo detalle, desde el mobiliario de la […]

  5. My fav new show &'I am 50. Her real life was so tragic I pray the CW gives her the life and love w/Dolphin that they deserved. Go Mary!! says:

    Give Mary & Francis the happy life they should have had. She should have been Queen of England and had children with Francis!!!

    • But if the CW gives her the life with the “Dolphin” it won’t be real, right? It will be historical fan fiction – rewriting actual history. And that is OK if that is what it is — but it isn’t what happened. Historians suggest Francis had some plumbing problems and it is unlikely they could have had any children.

      Should Mary have been Queen of England? Perhaps – after Elizabeth I – but it is not likely even in if she’d reigned in Scotland that she would have lived that long so in the end her son would have been the heir that he was.

      But actually, Reign has gotten better as the series has continued — it has not gotten any more historically accurate but it is a fun watch if you can suspend knowledge of facts. Megan Fellows as Catherine de Medici holds the whole thing together. So I watch, but it bears no resemblance to the life of the real Mary!
      Thanks for stopping! Geri

  6. mariegm1210 says:

    I don’t think it will show in the UK – just as well! When I saw in the trailer that Mary went to France at age 15 and that the Dauphin was a healthy young stud with a hearty appetite for wenches and not a snotty-nosed weakling I must admit my heart sank. He wasn’t the only one playing loose and free with the facts! If it brings a whole new audience to Mary & her story .. perhaps.. well maybe … we’ll watch with interest!!

    • I bet some teenage channel will show it…or it will be available on NetFlix or Hulu or something. There are some well, interesting descriptions of the Dauphin aren’t there? 🙂 Hope the Festival was fun.

  7. Love this post! I’m glad to have found you – off to catch up!

  8. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Perhaps my rabid affinity for “The Tudors”, despite its gross abuse of actual historical events, prepared me for this, but I too will be watching “Reign”. And here’s why.

  9. It’s not that hard to get these things right. It does require making an effort and doing some research. Currently I am doing that for the the forthcoming film MARLOWE, which is related to this because part of it is about the Babington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth I and put Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. Mary was up to her neck in that and Christopher Marlowe was one of Sir Francis Walsingham’s secret agents at the time. Although I wrote the original play in 1983 and directed it in 1988, continued research has provided fresh insights and therefore a revised storyline about Marlowe’s life and career. This will make the final production much more interesting. When television producers take short cuts with the known facts, they not only do History a disservice, but themselves and their audience as well.

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