With spring break just around the corner... you are undoubtedly going to need a new show to get you through the week. Do not fret, for I have the perfect binge-watch.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Reign. This CW hit aired from 2013-2017, and follows the life of young Mary, Queen of Scots, as she navigates French court, English threats, and the troubles of the Scottish throne. For four years, this show dominated the tv air-waves as one of the most-watched and most highly praised historical drama pieces of its time.
Starring Adelaide Kane, Toby Regbo, Megan Follows and Alan van Sprang, Reign brought to life arguably one of the most enthralling and tumultuous periods of history.
Queen of Scotland Mary Stuart travels to France with four ladies-in-waiting to secure her politically strategic engagement to the king's son, Prince Francis. Mary and Francis share a mutual attraction, even though he has reservations about the wisdom of an alliance with Scotland. Complicating issues is Bash, Francis' illegitimate half-brother whom Mary finds herself drawn to in spite of herself. The French Court is also full of less romantic challenges for Mary, who finds her engagement -- and life -- threatened until she finds an ally in a mysterious shrouded guide. With all that she faces, Mary rallies, readying herself to rule and trying to find a balance between the demands of her country and those of her heart.
That is just the description of the first season, and it also just barely scratches the surface of what goes on in the French palace. While Mary is facing conflicting feelings toward the royal brothers, Queen Catherine Medici is fighting to keep the Scottish queen from marrying either of them (based of the warnings of a prophet), King Henry is grabbing for more and more power (that just simply is not his to take) and Spain and England are constantly waging wars on religion.
The following three seasons remain just a dramatic and perilous, and the characters confront plagues, approaching armadas, spies, coup d'états and of course, tragic and heartbreaking deaths.
Reign easily earned a top spot on my mental list of tv favorites, right behind Sherlock; it truly is a majesty of television history. It combined historical events and characters with the modern-day desire for drama and intrigue masterfully, consistently hit the sweet-spot between seriousness and humor and I very quickly became extremely attached to the characters. The love story between the Queen of Scotland and Dauphin of France? Absolutely magnificent. While in real life Mary and Francis did get married early on and ruled with grace and benevolence, throughout the first two seasons it was actually extremely hard to tell if they would be okay in the end.
Reign does not just appeal to the romantics and history buffs though. It tells an epic story of royalty and rebellion that adrenaline junkies can deeply appreciate. Queen Mary is honestly one of the most impressive monarchs I have ever learned about, and watching this show made me regret not asking more questions about in during AP Euro class. Watching this woman, who was not much older than me at her peak, face the battles she does and handle them with the ultimate strength and resilience was just flat-out inspiring.
Not to mention, she is surrounded by equally independent woman: Fallows portrayed Catherine de Medici beautifully, showcasing the power of a mother's love for her children with both cunning and humor; her sharp wit completely stole the show at times. I could write a whole other article about why Queen Catherine was one of the best characters on tv during her time.
Additionally, Mary's ladies-in-waiting Kenna, Greer and Lola each face issues that model both the struggles of women during that time and this one, which I think is integral to giving otherwise background characters dimension and depth.
One of my favorite moments of the entire show occurred in the series finale, when Mary faces her rival John Knox, puts her sword down and accepts her fate, although not without possibly the most iconic quote in the series:
John Knox: "Men will never bow down to the weaker sex."
Mary, Queen of Scots: "And they will suffer greatly for it."
Yeah, I think you see my point by now.
I can not forget to mention the male leads either. First and foremost, Regbo and Torrance Coombs (Francis and Bash, respectively) provide performances as the most swoon-worthy princes in history, but also set a perfect example of how men should treat women- as queens, of course. Let me just share this little quote from the future king of France:
"The world can be dark, Mary, and uncertain and cruel. The only thing that matters is that we face it together. No matter what happens, you are my light."
I mean... are you serious?!?! Let us not forget that the phrase "my light" was engraved on a sword that he himself forged for Mary, as well as "my queen" and "my love" (also names he used to describe her throughout the show). I just want someone to look at me the way Francis looks at Mary.
In addition to Mary's two closest male companions, Reign is blessed with the performance of Alan van Sprang as King Henry, who I was legitimately afraid of. van Sprang brought intimidation, manipulation and downright recklessness to the screen with his character, and it was aweing to watch him portray the French monarch's descent into madness. Man, you really did not want to get on this guy's bad side.
Reign also features stunning performances by Craig Parker (Stéphane Narcisse, a close second to Francis in swoon-worthiness), Sean Teale (Prince Condé), Spencer MacPherson (Prince Charles), Ben Geurens (Gideon Blackburn), Will Kemp (Lord Darnley) and Adam Croasdell (Lord Bothwell), all of whom both present and support Mary with the many obstacles she faces. I will say though, as endearing or terrifying as these characters can be, they never really do outshine their female counterparts, which I can appreciate for a show set in a time when all a woman had to strive for in life was utter perfection and an advantageous marriage.
Just like French wine, Reign also gets better with time. While the first two seasons seem to choose a main plot and stick with it, the third and fourth season pick up speed, burning through multiple stories at a rapid pace to mirror how a pivotal and heart wrenching point in Mary's life turned her world upside down and brought her into the fast-paced and impatient world outside of France. While the show does address global tensions during the queen's time at French court, she does not face them full-force until her return to Scotland, and the third and fourth seasons really do bring to fruition her development into a queen to be reckoned with.
Side note: I think a round of applause is due for the costumes and sets of Reign. While not quite historically accurate, the visual aspects of the show's production hit a home run for me.
It is unfortunate that such a masterpiece of a show was overshadowed by The Flash, Arrow, Jane The Virgin and The Vampire Diaries, as good of shows as those are. While Reign did not exactly fit into the mold of the CW's mold of sci-fi, supernatural and super-hero related content, it stood out in its own right. A series focusing on the early years of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 16th century France should not be filled with this much suspense, humor and heart, but it is one of those "I never knew I needed this" kind of shows.
The show's reign (yes, pun intended) over live television may be over, but I have no doubt that it will continue warm the hearts and bolster the spirits of many more viewers to come, especially with prime binge-watching season fast approaching.
In the words of the “absolute-ly perfect” monarch herself:
"I am Mary, Queen of Scots, and I have come for my throne."
We should really just hand over the crown now.
Reign is currently available on Netflix.