Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reign: Season 1 and Season 2 (Episodes 1-10)

Adelaide Kane as Mary Queen of Scots in Reign
(WARNING: Spoilers!Late last year, Tea at Trianon began to receive hundreds of hits on "Mary Queen of Scots." Perplexed, I queried on Facebook, and was told that it was because of the CW program Reign. I watched a clip and was impressed by Megan Follows depiction of Queen Catherine; I decided to watch the series from the beginning. The early episodes I found so bad as to be hilarious. The show was entertaining as long as I watched it as a fairy-tale not as anything resembling real history. The French royal family are shown living in a ruined old castle (referred to only as "The Castle"), surrounded by woods where there are "pagans" who offer "blood sacrifices." Mary Stuart and her  four Maries, with the good 16th century names of Aylee, Lola, Greer, and Kenna, wear what look like prom dresses. Diane de Poitiers is always in Paris "shopping." There is a "ghost" named "Clarissa" with a potato sack over her head, hiding in the castle's secret passages (it has more than the Louvre). Really, the program is closer to fantasy such as Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones than it is to historical fiction, although occasionally something that actually did happen will surface.

 I have been pleased, however, that Mary is portrayed as being astute, merciful and gracious. I actually have come to like Adelaide Kane's portrayal of the teenaged Queen of Scots. She has beautiful diction; her voice is well-modulated and dignified. She has black hair and Mary had red, but every once in awhile the sun shines on it and it becomes auburn. Feast days such as Michaelmas are included, although they sometimes change the names. Martinmas is called the "Harvest Festival" and Mardi Gras is referred to as "Queen of the Bean." The costumes are so completely inaccurate that it is not worth analyzing them at all.

Here are brief descriptions of the characters and some of the things that did and did not really happen:
Francis and Mary
Mary Stuart was sent to France by her mother Marie de Guise as a small child to be safe from the English and to marry the Dauphin. As depicted in Reign, Mary and Francis were devoted to each other, although Mary never spent time away at a convent. She grew up at the French court with her future husband and his brothers and sisters. They were married when Francis was fourteen and Mary was fifteen. The wedding scene in the program is beautiful albeit it was much grander in real life. Mary was one of the first brides in history to wear a white wedding gown. It was her favorite color.

Mary's Wedding in Reign
Mary's mother was indeed present for her wedding. However, in the show, the appearance of Marie de Guise is a game-changer, as King Henry was planning to behead Queen Catherine and marry Diane de Poitiers, his long-time mistress. Marie finds a way to hasten the wedding. Of course, in real life, the court did not really watch the couple consummate the marriage. The bed curtains would be drawn and the groom was supposed to display a cloth with the bride's blood to show he had deflowered the bride, who was supposed to be a virgin.  
Mary and her mother, Marie de Guise (Amy Brenneman)

One of the annoying things about the series is the way they depict Francis having had affairs before his marriage. There is no evidence of it at all. However, there is an emphasis from young Francis about not being ruled by the heart but by the head,  wanting to do what is right for the people. In actuality, he was much shorter than Mary, who towered above him at 5'11".

Reign portrays Francis' beloved father Henry II going mad. King Henry manifests his growing insanity by blowing up one of his own ships, filled with men. Francis is finally convinced his father is beyond help and decides to take action, which is good because his father plans to kill him and marry Mary. They have a tournament. Henry is wounded at the tournament by a knight whom everyone thinks is Montgomery, but it is really Francis in Montgomery's armor. Henry dies; Francis and Mary become King and Queen of France.  Henry did really die from an injury sustained in a tournament, but it was not Francis who injured him.
Toby Regbo as Francis II and Adelaide Kane as Mary Stuart

In Reign, Mary urges Francis to recognize his illegitimate son. In reality, Francis II never had a son. For awhile, Mary thought she was pregnant, and in Reign she is portrayed as having a miscarriage. While she is recovering, poor King Francis is being blackmailed by the handsome, wicked Lord Narcisse. Mary, unaware that Francis is being threatened by Narcisse, is determined to be tolerant and just to the Protestants and is horrified when Francis capitulates to using force. The whole issue casts a shadow on their relationship. Francis becomes concerned that Mary is becoming too much like his mother. The climax is the horrific scene when Protestants rush into Mary's chamber and assault her. Queen Catherine helps Mary to get back on her feet, but Mary is so traumatized that she feels she can no longer live with Francis, who is heartbroken.

Diane and Sebastian (Bash)
Although Diane de Poitiers was the mistress of Henry II for many years, they did not have a son together. In Reign, however, one of the most engaging characters is Sebastian, called "Bash," Diane's fictional son by Henry. Mary is briefly torn between Frances and Bash in the series and even becomes betrothed to Bash in what she thinks is an effort to save Francis from Nostradamus' prophecies. In reality, Diane was never a pagan, but from a devoutly Catholic family. Until she became Henri's mistress, Diane was known for her chastity and faithfulness to her husband and to his memory, and for her dedication to bringing up her daughters in a proper Christian manner. Diane had been brought up in the French court and was thoroughly versed in music, literature, history and the classics. She was known for her integrity, grace, intellect, and charities. While Henry was alive, Diane had more control of the court than did Queen Catherine. She was even in charge of the royal children, and managed the finances. She does not play a large role in Reign.
Bash (Terrance Coombes) and Kenna (Caitlin Stasey)

Bash is forced to marry Kenna, one of Mary's ladies. He is sent by Francis to hunt a creature called "the Darkness" in the wood, which is terrorizing the peasants.He finally kills the creature which turned out to be a psychotic mass murderer in a monster costume. Bash and Kenna declare their love in the midst of the bubonic plague. Bash continues to help Francis and Mary whenever they are in trouble.

Mary and her ladies
Lady Greer's wedding
 The Four Maries
When Mary Stuart first went to France at age five she was accompanied by four little girls her own age, Mary Beaton, Mary Seton, Mary Livingston and Mary Fleming. Called the "Four Maries," they were from Scotland's noblest families and never left Mary until they married. Mary Seton never married and stayed with Mary Stuart until the latter's death. In Reign, however, they are called Aylee, Lola, Greer and Kenna. Lady Aylee is pushed down the stairs by Clarissa the "ghost" and dies in Season 1. Lady Lola marries a Hungarian noble in order to give a name to her illegitimate child by Francis but the noble turns out to be not what he seems. Lady Kenna becomes Henry's mistress and then is forced to marry Bash, whom she comes to love. In actuality, none of the Maries ever slept with Henry II, although Mary's Scottish governess Janet Fleming did, and gave birth to a royal bastard. In the show, Lady Greer falls in love with a scullery boy, bearing the odd name of Leith Bayard, whom she cannot marry because she needs a wealthy man in order to save her family. She marries an older rich man whom she comes to love, Lord Castleroy, only to find out that he has become a Protestant. Leith, who has become one of Francis' soldiers, arranges for the escape of Lord Castleroy out of his devotion for Greer.
Alan van Sprang as Henry II and Megan Follows as Catherine de Medici

King Henry, Queen Catherine and family 
Henry II belonged to a branch of the French monarchy known as the House of Valois-Angoulême. As a young boy he and his older brother spent years in a Spanish prison as hostages for their father. Both boys never really recovered from the experience. The older brother died under mysterious circumstances while playing tennis, leaving Henry as King of France when their father Francis I died. As a young teen, Henry fell in love with the much older Diane de Poitiers, whom he placed ahead of his queen, Catherine de Medici. Catherine, the Pope's niece, was married to Henry for her money. She was not a great beauty but she and Henry had ten children. Catherine's time did not really come until her son Charles IX took the throne.

In Reign, King Henry plans to have his marriage to Catherine de Medici annulled so he can marry Diane. There are a few lines that appear to be borrowed from "The Lion in Winter." However, there is an understanding that the King and Queen really love each other beneath all the dysfunction. Of course, in real life Henry II did not knock an Archduchess out the window, or strangle a mistress. As King Henry descends into madness, the Dauphin Francis and the Duc de Guise capture Calais. Mary finds out about the secret treaty which dooms Scotland to French control, so she enlists a group of Scottish warriors to warn the Scottish people. Catherine finds out and has the fourteen Scots murdered in a whorehouse, henceforth known as the "Whorehouse Massacre." She is contrite afterwards. Mary has Queen Catherine kidnapped in order to find out where she keeps her private stash of gold. Mary needs the gold to rescue her mother Marie de Guise from the Protestant nobles. And Clarissa "the ghost" turns out to be the illegitimate daughter of Catherine!

Megan Follows walks away with the whole show in her brilliant performance as Catherine de Medici, which is a deeply nuanced exploration of a multifaceted, complex personality. At times comic and at others, heartbreaking, Catherine often alludes to her own troubled childhood, as well as the sorrows of her marriage to Henry. She is haunted by her twin daughters who died as infants; in Reign they were murdered by Claude, the troubled daughter.  The character of the dreadful Princess Claude is more like the wild Princess Margot than the historical Claude, who was married to the Duke of Lorraine and was the favorite daughter of Catherine. She was the mother of a large family, not gallivanting around Europe, half-dressed.

Rose Williams as Claude of France
Queen Catherine's "Flying Squad," which she uses to glean information, is true to life, although she started it after Henry's death.  In Reign as in history, Catherine is always thinking ahead, playing chess when everyone else play checkers. When Francis is trapped in the village during the outbreak of bubonic plague, Catherine starts planning what she will do if his younger brother Charles becomes king. Charles (Charles IX) and Little Henry (Henry III) are both included in the series, but no sign yet of Hercule or Margot. Queen Mary and Queen Catherine begin the series as enemies but gradually become allies, especially after being captured by English spies and almost assassinated.

Mary in the English royal regalia
 The English Throne
What is disconcerting about Reign is that every once in a while something historically accurate happens, such as the salamander of Francis I carved into a fireplace, as well as the death of Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart's claim of the English throne. Henry II displays the English banner at the wedding of Mary and Francis; in reality he had the English arms placed on their shields. Her claim of the English throne would do nothing for Mary but hasten her death.

Michel de Nostredame, a controversial figure even in his own lifetime is shown in Reign as being a young man at the court of Henry II, caring for the sick in the infirmary. Historically, he was an older man and not a fixture at court until the reign of Charles IX, although Queen Catherine had been in touch with him for years; he had cast the horoscopes of all of her children. In Reign, Nostradamus has a vision that Mary Stuart will bring about the death of Francis. Thus Catherine spends most of Episode 1 trying to rid the court of Mary. Nostradamus knows the true identity of Clarissa the "ghost" who tries to kill him. He eventually tries to run away with  an aristocratic lady named Olivia but he realizes that there is no hiding from Queen Catherine. When Mary has an evil noble thrown into a room with plague victims, Nostradamus is blamed for helping her. He is condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered French-style, which is worse than the English-style, as it involves being pulled apart by four horses. Mary intervenes and saves his life.

Episode 1 borders on being ridiculous at times due to the subplot of the "pagans" or "heretics" in the woods outside the Castle. In Reign, the peasants are being killed by a creature in the woods, who ends up being a psychopath, encouraging them to indulge in human sacrifice. First of all, "heretics" are not the same thing as "pagans."  Heretics are Christians who embrace false beliefs. Pagans worship idols. There were no pagans in France in the sixteenth century. I wonder if those "pagans" are supposed to be the Cathars, who embraced pagan gnostic beliefs in the Middle Ages. However, the Cathars had disappeared by the sixteenth century and they never practiced human sacrifice.

  Season 2
They must have had new writers for Season 2 because the pagans disappear. Nostradamus seems to have been written out of the plot as well. Season 2 is much more interesting and deals with many of the historically genuine problems which led to the Wars of Religion in France. I must say the creators of the show try to give a balanced view of the strife between Catholics and Protestants. As in the program, Mary was genuinely tolerant, which caused other Catholics to criticize her. More true personalities are included such as the Prince Louis de Condé and Antoine de Bourbon. And, as in the earlier episodes, some of the most outlandish aspects of the drama are based upon the truth. It would be an entertaining series for youngsters were it not for the violence and adult subject matter. I hope it helps people to become interested in learning about the extraordinary life of Mary Stuart.



julygirl said...

I enjoy it just on the soap opera level. I am no where near as knowledgeable as you are about the historical accuracy, but many scenes are troublesome even based on my minimal knowledge. In spite of that I find myself riveted to the action and wanting to see what happens in the next episode. LOL

elena maria vidal said...

I must confess, it IS highly entertaining. I find myself laughing and crying.

Kaitlyn said...

Although I worry about the royal couple now. It is common for married women to shrink from their husbands after being raped, so I can understand her distance. Poor Mary. What a horrific thing to endure. I hope their relationship can survive this and that Mary realizes how much Francis loves her and wanted to protect her. Some think she might begin an affair with Conde. I do not. A woman who has just been assaulted and won't accept intimacy from a husband she loves is not going to jump into bed with a lover. Besides it never happened. Then again, neither did many other sexual exploits depicted here. Can't wait for Thursday!

elena maria vidal said...

I can't see Mary having an affair with Prince Louis. She loves Francis very much but is hurt by what she sees as his failure to keep the peace. And she is hurt by the assault.