'Reign': More 'Marie Antoinette,' less 'The Tudors'
After keeping her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, in custody for more than 18 years, Britain's Queen Elizabeth I became convinced Mary was plotting against her and lopped off the 44-year-old's head in 1587.
Mary's wasn't the longest of lives, but it was an eventful one, and the excitement started young.
On Thursday, Oct. 17, The CW premieres "Reign," a fanciful look at the teenage Mary ( Adelaide Kane) and her rocky road to power.
If you're expecting a dreary docudrama or even something as somewhat historically accurate as "The Tudors," you may be disappointed. "Reign" takes its cue from movies such as "First Knight" and the 2006 version of "Marie Antoinette" in playing fast and loose with costuming and language and throwing modern music in the soundtrack.
Executive producers are Laurie McCarthy ( "Ghost Whisperer") and Frank Siracusa ( "Beauty and the Beast").
As the story opens, the headstrong Mary arrives in France with her ladies-in-waiting - Greer ( Celina Sinden), Kenna ( Caitlin Stasey), Lola ( Anna Popplewell) and Aylee ( Jenessa Grant) - to formalize her arranged engagement (and political liaison) to Francis ( Toby Regbo), the Dauphin of France and heir to the throne.
Complicating the situation is Francis' strong-willed royal mother, Catherine ( Megan Follows), and her adviser, Nostradamus, along with the handsome, roguish Sebastian ( Torrance Coombs), aka Bash, Francis' illegitimate half brother (a character drawn from imagination, not history).
"We're taking a little bit of creative license," explains Kane, a poised, self-possessed 23-year-old, during an interview with Zap2it in a hotel lounge in Beverly Hills as part of a press event. "You know what, it's all in good fun. We're not the History channel. We want to make the show fun and relatable. It looks great. That's all we're doing."
And since the lives of women have changed dramatically in many ways since the Elizabethan era, Kane hopes some of that comes through.
"I'm hoping we can bring up some pertinent and relevant social themes as well. I would very much like to see the whole notion of women as property [explored].
"We're already touching on that and other issues, like female sexuality in those times, the whole virgin thing, mistresses versus marriage versus what kind of freedom young women had, especially young noblewomen, not to mention royalty, love and lovemaking."
While Kane is eager to dig into some big issues, the porcelain-skinned Regbo is thoroughly enjoying all the benefits of being a not-quite-yet-king.
"What are the benefits of not being a king?" he says, in the same hotel lounge. "You don't have to worry about Toby running the country. You do get to wear quite excellent clothes. It's pretty nice -- silks, suedes, leathers, buckles, belts, stitching, all sort of stuff. Knee-high boots, so you get to waddle around when you walk. The tops flap around."
Anyone who knows Elizabethan-era history -- and if you don't want to know any, you might want to leave now -- is aware that Mary did indeed marry Francis, but his untimely demise cut short their union.
The prospect doesn't faze Regbo, who turns 22 the day after the show premieres.
"He's going to die?" he says, feigning shock. "Everyone's going to die. I'm just going to die a bit earlier. I don't know exactly when, because I don't know what sort of time frame we're shooting the season over, so I don't know when me and Mary will be wed. We will be wed, but I don't know when.
"So yeah, I know I'm going. But then again, they're taking some liberties with history, so maybe when I do go, it'll be in a really interesting way, like I'll get struck by lightning and explode."
For the 30-year-old Coombs, who had a role in "The Tudors" as the ill-fated Thomas Culpepper (a courtier of Henry VII who was caught dallying with Queen Catherine and was beheaded), it's just another day in doublets and hose.
"Dumb luck," he says during his turn at the table. "It's exciting. Obviously I've had some fun with some period drama in the past. It's always something I've been drawn to. There's something about the clothes fitting a little tighter, pulling your shoulders back and giving you a little bit of a manly air."
As an entirely fictional character, Coombs has no idea where Bash will go.
"Historically, I don't exist," he says. "They could kill me off tomorrow. They could kill me next episode, or they could keep me alive, and I could outlive everybody."
Also, as the bastard son of a king, Bash falls outside the societal hierarchy.
"While he's a good guy at heart," says Coombs, "he's there for his friends and wants to do the right thing, there's a darkness to him, where he'd like to bring the whole system down."