October 17, 2013



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REIGN:  Thursday 9PM on CW – Potential DVR Alert

The CW is often–and rightly–considered a network of very limited ambitions, with just two modes of operation:  rom-com soap and supernatural soap.  But its new REIGN, while well fortified with suds, is as big a swing for the fences as any network is taking this season, a historical romance centering on the 16th-century teen years of Mary, Queen of Scots.  Whether there will prove to be an audience for this among the network’s target demo remains to be seen, but the show is unmistakably distinctive.

The inspiration, albeit in less of an art-house distancing way, seems to be Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette:  Mary’s ladies-in-waiting act more or less like modern teens (if only they could have waited a few centuries for texting to be invented!), and pop tunes sprinkle the soundtrack.  There’s even a replay of Coppola’s memorable sequence focusing on the very public wedding night endured by the royals.  (In the original cut of the pilot, this sight caused one of the ladies-in-waiting to stop waiting fairly graphically, but that’s been toned down for air.)  Nevertheless, the script by Laurie McCarthy and Stephanie Sengupta (both experienced TV writers, although they’ve never created a series as a team before this) is mostly serious about its romance and intrigue.  The story begins in 1557, as 15 year-old Mary (Adelaide Kane, recently seen as the daughter in The Purge) is transported from the convent where she’s been kept for her own protection since she was 6, to the French court.  Mary and Prince Francis (Tony Regbo) have been set for an arranged marriage since childhood, as a way of allying the kingdoms of France and Scotland, and now that they’re at marrying age, it’s time for the preparations to become serious.  Mary re-meets the major figures of the French monarchy, including womanizing King Henry (Alan van Sprang), his calculating Queen Catherine (Megan Follows), his bastard son Sebastian (Torrance Coombs), and Catherine’s sinister adviser Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland).  Mary is also reunited with those ladies in waiting (Anna Popplewell, Caitlin Stacey, Celina Sinden, Jenessa Grant).

Complications of all sorts abound.  By the time the fast-moving pilot is done, there’s been a nasty plot to ruin Mary’s reputation (and thus make her unsuitable to marry the Prince), a hasty execution, the revelation of a secret ally within the castle, and plenty of romantic angst, as headstrong Mary wonders if Francis cares more about politics than love, and Sebastian pays more than a little attention to her as well.  (Think of him as the Damon to Francis’s Stefan.)  The trick here will be balancing the young characters’ callowness with the more mature scheming the material requires, and although that’s going to take some work (the ladies-in-waiting seem at first to be on a different show, but they’re touched by tragedy by the pilot’s end, and that may be a good thing dramatically), the story is compelling enough to pull us in. The central trio of Kane, Regbo and Coombs are all appealing, and the adults add a little weight to the proceedings, even though it’s distracting that all the French people speak with the same English accents as the Scottish characters do.  The production values of the pilot (shot in Ireland), as filmed by feature director Brad Silberling, are exceptionally luxurious, something that may or may not carry through to regular series episodes, which will be produced in Canada.

There’s plenty of story material available for Reign, since Mary wasn’t beheaded (spoiler alert!) until 30 years after the events depicted here–although she did spend the last 18 of them in captivity, probably not the show CW is looking for.  Even in her early years, though, there was plenty of drama in Mary’s life, dark though most of it may have been.  Reign is far from the classy Vanessa Redgrave/Glenda Jackson version of this history, and it will need to work on its tone, but it has the potential to be a worthy addition to a genre that’s mostly existed until now on pay-cable, with shows like The Tudors, The White Queen and Da Vinci’s Demons.  CW has shown its commitment to the show by giving it the line-up’s prize spot, airing after The Vampire Diaries on Thursdays.  Of course, that slot didn’t do anything for The Secret Circle (and not much for Beauty & the Beast).  But if the network’s viewers are willing to embrace a little history with their florid romantic triangles, Reign could be a very nice change of pace for all of us.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."