It’s somewhat difficult to talk about character development on a show as inconsistent as the CW’s Reign. Particularly in the first season, the show was a complete mess. I’m not even talking about the historical liberties taken with events and costumes. The writing was terrible. It was ridiculously fast-paced, jumping from plot point to plot point sometimes within the same episode, shipping everyone with everyone even when it made no sense, and just generally being reminiscent of a bad high school drama, complete with prom dresses, set in 16th-century France.
Beginning in the second season things started to stabilize and settle and develop into actual, coherent storylines. It was still melodramatic, entertaining, and bingeable, but the characters started to settle into themselves, and relationships became much less haphazard. Anyway, for all its faults, I don’t think I will ever enjoy a portrayal of Mary Queen of Scots more than I do Adelaide Kane’s.
It’s funny, because Adelaide Kane looks nothing like the real Mary Stuart, who famously had auburn hair and hazel eyes. But I love the way Adelaide Kane portrays her, and I think Reign did a spectacular job building her character from young, naive girl to powerful, self-assured queen. She has so many wonderful moments of strength throughout the show, even amidst harrowing moments of vulnerability. Reign‘s Queen of Scots is brimming with all kinds of emotion, and Adelaide does a superb job portraying all the layers of this fascinating historical figure.
The show relies heavily on Mary’s loving relationship with Francis, but also on her adversary-turned-ally relationship with his mother, Catherine d’Medici. There’s various subplots involving her ladies-in-waiting, and there’s even a love affair with Louis, Prince of Bourbon (played spectacularly by Sean Teale, I am FOREVER a Mary/Louis shipper). I still think the show should have gone full on AU/fantasy, but even within the limitations of history Mary is allowed to be a badass.
Mary Queen of Scots cuts a tragic figure. After the death of Francis, her French husband, she returned to Scotland and married Lord Darnley, with whom she had a very fraught relationship. After Darnley’s conspiracy with protestant lords led to Mary’s beloved private secretary David Rizzio being stabbed to death in front of her, the marriage fell apart. Darnley was then killed in an explosion many suspect was orchestrated by Mary and Lord Bothwell, either her lover or her rapist, depending on which historical account you read.
Mary then married Bothwell, resulting in a deeply unpopular marriage amongst the Scottish populace, leading to her imprisonment by the Scots on an island, where she miscarried twins. She was then forced to abdicate in favor of her and Darnley’s one-year-old son (whom she never saw again), while Bothwell was driven to exile. Though she managed to escape and flee to England, she was then imprisoned by her cousin Queen Elizabeth for about twenty years, until her execution for apparent treason.
Reign follows the overall historical trajectory of Mary’s life, including her tragic end, surprisingly accurately (with many, many liberties taken along the way). It’s no wonder they chose Mary for this historical drama, since her life was so rich, fascinating, and tragic. Regardless of Mary’s real intentions, the show portrays her as a highly sympathetic figure, a girl besieged on many sides, trying simply to do her best for her country while maintaining some personal happiness along the way.
Regardless of how the show turned out (the final season was a rushed mess), I think it gave us a great character in its portrayal of Mary Queen of Scots.