The creators and writers for “Reign,” a popular CW series, must have been fans of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, because they chose to ignore history and follow the more fantastic (and yes, enjoyable) path.
Rather than chronicling the actual rise of Mary, Queen of Scots, starting with her arrival in France as a 15 year old, this 2013 series veers unapologetically from true events to create a suspenseful intrigue on the order of the old Masterpiece series “I, Claudius.” Mothers scheme to elevate their sons to power, kings take concubines, and poison looms as large as the sword.
Yet, this slickly costumed series also has a contemporary vibe, with all the teen/twentysomething glam of a “Gossip Girls” or “Charmed.” The women, for example, have a deliberately modern look to match the contemporary soundtrack. Instead of fair-skinned lasses, you get several spray-tanned beautiful people who look like California models.
But the funny thing is, you accept the terms that this show offers, because the characters are interesting and the plot keeps you hanging. It all plays out like the popular ABC series “Once upon a Time,” but with a little more blood and violence. People get beheaded, and in a variant scene from the Godfather trilogy a stag’s head is placed in a prominent character’s bedchamber. Pagans hang sacrificial victims by their heels and slit their throats. And while “Reign” doesn’t celebrate the violence like many TV series do, it’s still an essential part of the plot. Sex, too, though there’s more sexual tension and sexual seethe than there is actual sex, and when it’s depicted it’s tastefully done.
Set in the court of the King of France, “Reign” offers a cast of characters who aren’t short on charisma with or without clothes. The lead actress, Adelaide Kane, does a fine job as Mary, Queen of Scots, with just the right blend of privilege and teenager wanting to break free. The two actors who play the heir to the throne (Toby Regbo) and his “bastard” half brother (Torrance Coombs) also have great screen presence. And Alan van Sprang as King Henry II and Megan Follows as Catherine de’ Medici are compelling in every scene they’re in. I won’t say they steal the scenes, but there’s at least a little minor shoplifting involved.
The real Mary, Queen of Scots became queen six days after she was born, with Scotland ruled by regents until she reached adulthood. The real Mary was betrothed to the Dauphin Francis and sent to live in France when she was only five years old. There she would remain for the next 13 years. In “Reign,” the premise is that the promised ones romped and played as children and now Mary returns to the French court as a young adult at a time when the English throne is up for grabs, and Henry wants to push her into claiming her right to that throne so that she and his son can together rule France, Scotland, and England. Typical mindset of the wealthy or aristocratic, isn’t it? Not satisfied to rule just ONE country?
The real Mary was accompanied by four other Marys, all daughters of Scottish noblemen. Here the names have been changed for obvious reasons, but it gives the series a core of five glamorous young women for audiences to identify with, and two handsome men. No wonder “Reign” is one of the most popular shows in the young adult age group.
Twenty-two episodes are included on five single-sided discs:
Snakes in the Garden
Hearts and Minds
A Chill in the Air
For King and Country
Long Live the King
Slaughter of Innocence
“Reign” is not rated. Total runtime is 913 minutes, and you frankly wish there were more episodes by the end of the first season’s arc.
“Reign” is presented in a “matted” widescreen format for DVD, enhanced for 16×9 monitors. For standard definition the picture quality is quite good, with lush and luxurious colors that capture the splendor of the age, and real castle backdrops against which the drama plays itself out.
The audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Like the video, it’s a solid presentation that’s at the top end of DVD audio.
Two featurettes are included: “Reign: The Making of a Queen,” and “The Authenticity of Reign: Recreating the 16th Century.” Deleted scenes are included for 18 of the episodes.
“Reign” is a sexy, soapy, stylish drama that massages history for an audience that, if they knew the alternative, would probably say, “That feels good.”