Review: The CW’s ‘Reign’ sexes up, dumbs down Mary, Queen of Scots

Adelaide Kane, left, stars as Mary, Queen of Scots, left, and Caitlin Stasey as Kenna in the CW series "Reign."
Adelaide Kane, left, stars as Mary, Queen of Scots, left, and Caitlin Stasey as Kenna in the CW series “Reign.”
(Christos Kalohoridis / The CW)

It has been said that any film opening with a shot of a train is bound to be good. To which one might add, any television show featuring horses had better be good.

Creatures of grace and power, horses lend an instant sense of significance to any story. The syncopated urgency of galloping hooves promises excitement and adventure, and that promise should only be made if there is a chance of it being kept.

There are a lot of horses in the CW’s new period drama “Reign,” and someone should take them all away.

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“Reign,” premiering Thursday, does not deserve its horses. Or its castles. Or its splendid gardens, wide trestle tables and really terrific hair accessories. It doesn’t deserve its sex scenes or lovely royal weddings. It certainly does not deserve its main character, the young Mary, Queen of Scots, played by “Teen Wolf’s” Adelaide Kane as if she were some “Princess Diaries” knockoff rather than one of European history’s most fascinating figures.

Mary Stuart, devout and doomed, highly educated and endlessly manipulated, was queen from the time she was 6 days old. Like her country, she was trapped between the ever-posturing nations of England and France and the endless war between Europe’s Protestants and Catholics.

She’s seen as a girl totally obsessed with her teen-dreamy intended, Prince Francis (Toby Regbo) — or wait, maybe his super-hot illegitimate (and entirely fictitious) stepbrother Bash (Torrance Coombs). She’s also a queen more concerned with her popularity among her ladies-in-waiting than she is with how to regain control of her country or make nice with her potential mother-in-law, Queen Catherine (Megan Follows) and the mystical boy-toy Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland.)

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And, oh, those ladies-in-waiting. Four modern-mouthed BFFs who join Mary at the French court, they are all romp-and-circumstance sexuality, baring their arms, sizing up men and doing their makeup like tweens set loose in Sephora. Lola (“Narnia’s” Anna Popplewell) has a lover, and when he seems to be cozying up to Mary, well, not so fast, Miss Queen Bee. It’s girls before earls, right?

Oy. Or as the Scots would say (not that there is a Scottish accent in earshot) “Ach.”

The desire to engage a young and distracted demographic with the storied past is an admirable thing. And honestly, what better vehicle than Mary Stuart?

Betrothed as a child to the dauphin, she was raised at French court surrounded by four friends and under the fierce eye of Catherine de Medici, who did occasionally consult with (a considerably older) Nostradamus. Over the years, Mary had some fairly bad marital luck and wound up engaging in a famously fatal battle of wills with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth.


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With history like that why ruin it with a KIIS FM soundtrack, Charlotte Russe fashions and YOLO histrionics? Because that’s what the CW and creator Laurie McCarthy think will make it a guilty pleasure, Twitter-friendly hit; “Scandal” with swords and coronets.

It just might work.

The hair accessories alone should find their way to the Must Have lists. Already there has been a social-media kerfuffle about the network’s last-minute decision to tone down a scene in which one of Mary’s ladies pleasures herself in a hallway. (Hats off, I say, to any 16th century Catholic gal with the dexterity to navigate all those underclothes.) But sex has always been a hallmark of period dramas, and masturbation, along with urination, is just television’s latest envelope pusher.


Much more worrisome is the network’s naked contempt for its audience. With an attitude far more 16th century than anything in the actual show, the CW assumes its (mostly female) viewers are either too stupid or too narcissistic to appreciate the actual drama of a young queen in a foreign court.

So instead “Reign” offers yet another sexed-up version of high school. This time with a little brocade and some horses.


Where: KTLA


When: 9 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)