The CW’s new drama “Reign” tells the story of Mary Queen of Scots, whose real life adventures included becoming queen of France while a teenager, being widowed a year later, a strategic marriage to her first cousin, who was later murdered, and a decades-long rivalry with Queen Elizabeth the First, who ultimately had her beheaded. However, in The CW version of her life, she’s embroiled in a love triangle with her future husband Francis (Toby Regbo) and his fictional illegitimate brother Sebastian (Torrance Coombs). Both men are as preternaturally handsome as the rest of the performers on The CW, though the actual Francis was ill and weak for most of his brief life. Mary’s main obstacle, at least in the pilot, is Francis’s scheming mother, Catherine (Megan Follows). The series takes other liberties. The soundtrack is peppered with current pop songs, the gowns are sleeveless and strapless, and court psychic Nostradamus is decades younger than he actually was during Mary’s time in France. At the show’s presentation to TV critics at the TCA summer press tour Tuesday in Los Angeles, the cast and creator defended the decision to emphasize romantic drama over historical accuracy.
“There are many things that happened that never made it onto the pages of history and I also wondered what did they really wear when they aren’t getting their pictures painted,” said showrunner Laurie McCarthy. “So you can take creative license.”
“It’s entertainment. It’s not the History Channel,” added Adelaide Kane, who plays Mary. The Australian actress wondered, “How many teenage girls do you know who are obsessed with history?”
“I, for one, am grateful for a certain amount of creative license,” said Coombs, “because historically I don’t exist.”
Though Mary and Francis’s actual marriage was arranged when they were children, rather than an epic love story, McCarthy defends her choice to turn their relationship into a love triangle. “At its core, the show is a love story. In fact, it’s a couple of love stories. It’s [also] a love story of a mother for her son. And because we’re dramatizing Mary’s life, we’re telling what was a love story historically.” She believes that the king and queen really did fall in love. “Francis and Mary, they do wed. From all accounts, they were very close…. The layer that we’re adding onto it is that Francis had grave political objections to wed not a girl, but her country, to take on a nation’s problems.” She admitted, “I’m not sure that Francis had those objections.”
McCarthy emphasized that her goal is emotional truth, rather than a documentary of actual events. In the series, Mary has a group of ladies-in-waiting whose behavior resembles a high school clique. “The girls who came to court with Mary were known as the four Marys. There are great question marks in history. Were they all named Mary? Were they called Marie? That’s what the French called ladies in waiting.” She added, “I think if you take that architecture of a time that’s so extraordinarily dramatic, and rather than leaping up in a different direction, you sort of dig into it and ask what did that really feel like, that’s where our show lives.”
McCarthy also defended the portrayal of what a reporter dubbed “Hunky Nostradamus.” “He really was at court. He really was an adviser of Catherine’s.” The showrunner said she auditioned actors who were in their fifties, but, “Roscoe DeSoto came in and I was like, ‘That’s Nostradamus.’ It’s a television show. We took some liberties. I think it’s my job to tell stories persuasively. We cast people who were right for the story we wanted to tell.”
As for the show’s pop score, “It is a soundtrack. It’s not the music the characters are hearing,” said McCarthy. “There will be contemporary music. It will be great. The Lumineers scored a song, and they’ll continue to stay involved…. Most of the music has a Celtic feel to it. But it’s to transport you emotionally, not to disconnect you with what’s happening on the screen.”
“Reign” premieres Thursday, October 10, at 9/8c on The CW.