Tag Archives: historical television

Screening History: "The White Queen" (2013)

When I first watched The White Queen way back in 2013, I’m afraid I wasn’t much of a fan. While I love costume dramas, there just seemed to be something missing from this one, which seemed oddly bloodless compared to Showtime’s The Tudors. However, having recently finished The Crown and feeling myself in need of some royal soap opera, I decided to turn back to it.

I’m glad I did.

The series definitely benefits from a re-watch. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a truly great series, either as a costume drama or as simply drama, it does its job well. It has characters that are easy to either care about or hate (Rebecca Ferguson and Amanda Hale are particularly fine). The story, while uneven, is compelling. And it has some gorgeous scenery and costumes to look at. The ingredients for a delicious costume drama are all there; they just don’t always hold together well.

The White Queen begins when Elizabeth Woodville (Rivers), daughter of a Lancastrian supporter, puts herself and her two sons in the pathway of the victorious Edward IV (Max Irons). After she meets him, the two find that they fall in love, marry, and ultimately raise a fine brood of children. Unfortunately, all of this unfolds against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses, which leads, inevitably, to violence, bloodshed, and heartbreak.

While the story begins with Elizabeth, her tale is also interwoven with two other powerful women with their own dynastic ambitions: Anne Neville, daughter of the Kingmaker Richard Neville, and Margaret Beaufort, a scion of the Lancastrians who, driven by what she believes to be God’s will, does everything in her power to ensure that her young son Henry Tudor ascends to the throne as the last viable Lancastrian heir.

There’s no question that The White Queen succeeds when it focuses almost exclusively on these female characters (which is fitting, since that is precisely why Gregory wrote the books in the way that she did). Rebecca Ferguson is captivating as Woodville, ably conveying both her iron will and her vulnerability and her passion. Amanda Hale is her opposite number, and she really brings out the religious zealot part of Margaret’s character. I was also pleasantly surprised how well Fay Marsay did as Anne Neville, bringing to the character a steely ruthlessness that one doesn’t always associated with this queen. Between the three of them, these three women make the show, and it’s worth watching just for them alone.

The men are an altogether more mixed back, particularly Max Irons. He’s pretty enough, but he just doesn’t have the weight or the charisma to play a king like Edward IV, and his shortcomings are all the more glaring when he’s shown with Ferguson. That being said, the actors portraying both George and Richard (David Oakes and Aneurian Barnard) deserve special mention as standing out. I was particularly impressed with Barnard’s rather sensitive portrayal of Richard, arguably the most vilified of any English king. And, of course, credit must be given to James Frain, who has truly established himself as uniquely able to bring to life villainous yet oddly compelling villains (he is also known for his portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in The Tudors and Franklin Mott in True Blood).

The writing and plot are at times quite uneven, and the series only really seems to find its footing after the halfway point. Part of this stems from the fact that Edward dies, and so the drama benefits from no longer being distracted by how bad Max Irons is. Strangely enough, I think that the series would have benefited from having two half seasons rather than a single season often. The time jumps seem very contrived for the most part, and since the characters aren’t seen to age. The bigger problem is that these time jumps also short-circuit character development, so that we don’t really get to see the most important characters changing over time.

The White Queen also suffers from a very limited budget. This is far more noticeable in the few battle scenes, which feel very paltry in comparison to the lushness of the interior scenes and the costumes. In fact, as I watched the series I had to wonder why they didn’t simply jettison them altogether, or at the least choose one to focus on. As it is, the only battlefield death that has even a modicum of emotional impact is Richard’s at Bosworth, though even that is rather undercut by the choppy editing. Nevertheless, there is something powerful about the image of Margaret standing triumphant on the battlefield with her son, her years of scheming and manipulating and bloodshed having finally born fruit.

All in all, The White Queen is a very serviceable costume drama. While it doesn’t quite reach what I feel to be the stellar quality of The Tudors (which it clearly takes for a model) nor the grittiness of Game of Thrones (with which it was clearly designed to compete), it still deserves praise for its attempt. Like Gregory’s novels, the series shows us the substantial role that women have in the making of history. While history books might be full of the great battles between men, with all of their blood and “glory” and “heroism,” in reality it is in the drawing rooms and bedchambers that the fates of nations are decided. In that sense, it’s actually rather a good thing that the series chose to forsake the conventions of the epic–with its grand vistas, its cluttered battlefields, its daring acts of bravery–to focus instead on the power of the domestic.

In the future, I plan to watch both The White Princess, which chronicles the courtship and reign of Elizabeth of York (Woodville’s daughter, played by the inimitable Judy Comer), as well as the Spanish Princess, about the youthful exploits of the woman who would go down in history as one of the two most famous of Henry VIII’s wives, Katherine of Aragon.

Screening History: "The Crown" (Season 3)

Anyone who knows me even passingly well knows that I have been in love with Netflix’s The Crown from the moment that it premiered. Part of this stems from my own avowed monarchical tendencies and my fascination with the institution, but another comes from the stars chosen to play the characters, the writing, and the sumptuous costume and set design. I’ve thus been waiting impatiently for the day when the third season would at last see the light of day and now, having finished the entire third season, I’m ready to share some of my thoughts about it.

To start with the most obvious: the aging up of the characters. There still seems to be a great deal of disagreement among the series’ fans whether this was a good move or not and whether it might not have been better to simply keep the cast and age them artificially. While it did take some getting used to, I found that as the series progressed I grew more and more used to Colman and company as the Royal Family, until it was hard for me to remember that there had been other people playing these characters. Colman is simply amazing as Elizabeth, a woman verging on middle age who gradually realizes just how much she has sacrificed for the Crown and the country, and the rest of the cast accomplishes something similar. I was particularly pleased with the casting of Josh O’Connor as Charles, who turns in one of the season’s breakout performances.

As fantastic as the central cast is, however, the guest stars are no less resplendent and captivating. While I’m not a huge fan of Edward III/David (given his Nazi sympathies), I have to admit that Derek Jacobi really manages to capture a sense of faded grandeur and exquisite tragedy. On the other end of the spectrum, Charles Dance as Louis Mountbatten threatens to carry off the whole season, since I can think of no one better to play that sort of man, a creature of a bygone world that remains determined to mold this one to his own designs.

Some critics have dinged this season for paying too much attention to the other characters in Elizabeth’s orbit, and there is truth to that argument. Charles at last starts to come into his own, and Philip (as was the case with previous seasons as well) has at least one episode where he’s the focal point. Both father and son have to contend with the fact that their masculinity is going to be perpetually called into question because neither of them is the queen. So long as she lives, they remain subsidiary. While each of them manages to make peace with this phenomenon, the series makes it clear that it isn’t an easy process, that each of them must make sacrifices–some of them quite heart-wrenching–for the good of the Crown.

But to me, that’s precisely the point. The series isn’t called “The Queen”; it’s called “The Crown.” This season, more than the two that preceded it, really explores the effects of that institution on the people who are forced to labor under its aegis. Though this takes its most burdensome toll on Elizabeth, there’s no question that it also has consequences for Philip, Charles and, of course, Margaret. I’ll admit I was a little dubious about casting Helena Bonham Carter, if only because her stardom (at least until before Colman’s Oscar) blazes so much more brightly than anyone else in the cast. However, it ends up being the perfect casting, as she too must confront the reality that it is her elder sister who will always occupy the throne while she, the dazzling personality, must play second fiddle. In the end, she has to shoulder the heavy burden of eternally being aware of her secondary status.

Though it might just be me, I also found that this season was even more emotionally fraught than the previous ones. Time and again, we see the emotional toll that life as a royal takes. There’s a scene near the very end, in which Elizabeth and Margaret are conversing after the latter’s failed suicide attempt. Each of them comes to realize how necessary they are to the other. For Elizabeth, Margaret is the sister that she loves dearly and without whom she cannot imagine living; for Margaret, Elizabeth is not just a sister, she’s the embodiment of the nation. As she reminds her elder sister, she must go on, even when the rest of them cannot. Given that Margaret would eventually predecease her sister, this commentary is both poignant and profound, a reminder of just how rich The Crown’s mythologizing of Elizabeth has been and continues to be.

The third season of The Crown is one of those seasons of television that seems to simply dazzle and sparkle, so well-polished is it. Throughout, Elizabeth emerges as a woman solemnly committed to her duties as a monarch, as a symbol in which her people can invest their emotional and patriotic energies. Say what you will about the institution, but if nothing else it does provide a measure of temporal and political stability even in times of tremendous change.

Speaking of which, there’s a central irony to The Crown that I personally find absolutely fascinating. A key tension has always been the extent to which Elizabeth can ever be truly known as a person, given how much of an iron grip she, and the Palace, have always maintained over her image. In casting stars such as Claire Foya and Colman, the series aims, I would argue, to demystify her a bit, to reveal the human behind the mask. However, in the very act of using stars–even ones as seemingly unglamourous as Colman–to portray these characters, the series actually remystifies them. What’s more, the series is also very self-conscious of the role of popular media, particularly television, and the ways in which they have shaped not only the way that the people understand the royals, but also how the royals understand their subjects, and themselves.

I truly enjoyed this season of The Crown. It feels as if the series has truly begun to mature. While it’s still unclear just how far they intend to extend the timeline–whether, for example, they plan on exploring some of the same territory as Morgan examined with his film The Queen–we still should feel very fortunate that we had four seasons of some of the best royal drama on television.

Discovering the Wonder and Pleasures of Historical Television

At the recent Film and History Conference, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing the renowned Tom Gunning deliver a compelling talk about the nature of wonder and cinema.  There was something charming and delightful about his obvious love of early cinema, a period that isn’t as sexy as, say, contemporary blockbuster film but which, perhaps surprisingly, shares a great deal in common with it.  While I would love to write about that issue, today I want to think through another set of issues that Gunning’s talk raised for me, namely, is there wonder to be found in television?  If there is, how does it differ from its big-screen counterpart?

At first, I wasn’t sure that it does.  Television seems to work on very different logics—aesthetic, industrial, and political—from film, or at least it used to (though this point is, obviously, debatable, considering the long and intertwined history of the two media).  Then I began to think about historical drama television in particular, as well as recent discourses of quality and complexity (raised by such scholars as Jason Mittell), and I began to think that yes, television (and in particular, historical television), can offer us a particular type of wonder.

In her stunning essay on the Hollywood historical epic (which I highly recommend reading, even if you’re not particularly interested in that genre), Vivian Sobchack compellingly argues that these larger than life films offer spectators a means of being in time, of negotiating a particular way of experiencing ourselves as historical beings.  While the immersiveness and extravagance of a widescreen or CGI spectacle are largely out of the realm of even the most cutting-edge and high-end of TV drama (even Game of Thrones saves its CGI luxuriance for especially important moments), there are other pleasures of television that I think can engender in contemporary spectators a sense of wonder and sense of being-in-time.

There has long been a sense of immediacy to television, situated as it is within our homes, and to some this might suggest that television acts to tame some of the wilder excesses and pleasures offered by the epic film (one of the subjects of my dissertation).  At the same time, however, television also taps into a similar wellspring of libidinal energy and, as Amy Villarejo and Michele Aaron have recently pointed out in their work on the queerness of television, there is something increasingly promiscuous about the act of television viewing.  In an age of DVR and time-shifting, we in the audience are now invited to not only take part in the unfolding of the events of the historical past, but also to actually control how those events happen.

There is, however, still something of a resistance to seeing television in particular as capable of either conveying any sort of historical truth or engendering in audiences a sense of historical experience similar to that of, say, the epic (one of the most high-profile ways of representing past historical moments in the cinema).  Whereas epic films typically last upwards of 3 hours or more that one must watch all at once in a theater (if one wants to get the complete aesthetic experience), television’s narratives are stretched across several episodes (typically 10 in the case of cable, where most historical dramas go to live).  Whereas epics typically utilize all of the technological affordances of the cinema—widescreen technologies, long shots, casts of thousands, technological wizardry—television must make do with mostly indoor settings (though there are exceptions), as well as cheaper special effects.

And yet.  And yet I find myself increasingly drawn to the world of history brought to life on television, and not just because that is where decent storytelling has taken up residence.  Instead, it has something to do with the intermingled pleasure and embodied experience of watching television.  If epic films about the past engulf us as spectators, television history much more explicitly invites us to become a part of the workings of the past, through its evocation of the familiar genres of television, the family melodrama, the soap opera, the costume/heritage drama.  It is a mistake, I think, to dismiss these series as just more fluffy/soapy forays into the aesthetics of the past.  Instead, I would argue, they ask contemporary spectators to take a stance, to engage in exactly the types of unbridled sexual excess that makes so many series, from Rome to Game of Thrones.  I would even extend this to the violence on display on such series as Spartacus, as we as spectators are invited to understand the intertwining of sex, violence, and power in a world that is not our own yet is also a hyperbolized version of our own fraught sexual social world.

To experience the wonder of television is, in a sense, to give ourselves up to the jouissance of a different viewing experience of film.  This is not to say that one is better than the other, nor to suggest that there is not a relationship.  After all, part of what gives series like Rome and Spartacus their cultural capital is their reliance upon tropes and idioms expressed in their cinematic counterparts.  Nevertheless, as history becomes ever more prominent on our television screens, we would do well to consider what types of pleasures and wonders historical television offers us.  At the same time as we find ourselves drawn into the fraught worlds of politics, power, and violence, we must always be aware of our being in time.  We must always remain conscious of both our being in the past and our being in the present.  And that awareness, it seems to me, is one of the greatest of pleasures.

“Outlander” and the Gendered Branding of Starz

There has been quite a lot of buzz surrounding Starz new series Outlander, based on the bestselling series of historical/fantasy/science fiction/romance novels written by Diana Gabaldon (the question of genre is a vexed one where this series is concerned). Anne Helen Petersen of BuzzFeed and Willa Paskin of Slate have both pointed out that the series, unlike other high-end cable productions, actually seems to cater to a female spectator.  This is no small thing in the cable world, which is regularly saturated with fare that, while offering some pleasures to women, is very obviously created for and consumed by an assumed (straight, white, middle-class) audience.  At the same time, however, Starz’s executives and the series’ showrunner have also made it clear that they want to appeal to more than just the female components of the audience, with a concomitant desire to distance this novel from the romance appellation into the more esteemed (and less critically derided term) “great drama.”  Heaven forbid that we have a series that is a straight-up historical romance (one need only look at the critical reception of CW’s Reign or Showtime’s The Tudors to see what happens when a series does that).

And this desire to make a great drama, it seems, poses somewhat of a problem for Starz which, along with Showtime, has always occupied the enormous shadow thrown by the heavyweight HBO.  Few of its original series have lasted more than a season, two notable exceptions being Da Vinci’s Demons and Spartacus (both of which, it should be noted, focus heavily on male exploits and gazes).  For all that Spartacus was a ratings success for the network, it never quite managed to get out of the trap of being largely derided as low-brow, frothy entertainment, due in no small part to its pandering to the perceived lowest common denominator through a great deal of explicit sex and violence.  It would seem, then, that Outlander is Starz’s attempt to harness a presold commodity and, utilizing its own branding efforts, finally break free of its low-culture efforts into the genuine realm of quality TV.

These discussions, particularly the commentary from the executives at the network, also highlight the ways in which TV remains a highly-gendered medium, both in terms of the stories told, as well as in how they are marketed and understood by the executives who approve them.  Almost every major TV series that has gained the distinction of quality–Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Fargo–has focused on the alleged trials and tribulations of white men, and the networks on which they are found, AMC, HBO, FX, have also accrued a reputation for catering to male audiences.  With rare exceptions, it is only when series and networks cater to the fears and anxieties of an assumed male audience that they are able to break away from the low-culture stigma that continues to cling to the medium.  To dare to focus on female subjectivity, still less to make a woman the central character of the drama, threatens to alienate male audiences in a way that focusing on a male character does not, it seems, run the same risk of alienating female spectators.  As we continue into the alleged golden age of TV, it’s worth noting that, in that age, it is men who, at all levels, get to call the shots.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Starz, in its attempt to solidify its brand identity and create a competitor for Game of Thrones, has decided to cater to this male audience, especially by making such public statements about its desire to draw in those same viewers.  This is, of course, no surprise, considering the desperation with which Starz wants to reach the same level of cultural esteem of its competitors.  What better way to do that than to try to cater to both the built-in female audience for Gabaldon’s work and also the allegedly pickier male viewers that certainly won’t tune in to watch a woman’s story, no matter how compellingly or lushly told.  Now, if there were boobs and political intrigue involved (Game of Thrones style), then presumably they would.

What makes Starz an especially interesting case, however, is the way in which it also utilizes history as a means of granting to itself the gravitas necessary to elevate itself to the upper echelons of premium cable programming.  The representation of history itself has a vexed relationship to quality and to masculinity–one of the key ways in which historical films and TV series are denigrated by the critical public is by branding them melodramatic, a sinister and sly way of denigrating femininity–so it should come as no surprise that Starz has attempted to beef up the first few episodes of Outlander by focusing more on the politics and scheming, in addition to the aforementioned emphasis on female subjectivity.

It remains to be seen whether Starz’s experiment in genre-blending will succeed in its desired goals of gathering in a male audience and setting the brand apart from, or at least being able to meaningfully compete with, that already established by HBO.  Even if it fails to draw in the male audience, if it manages to woo the female (and, I might, add, gay male) audience demographic that makes up so much of Gabaldon’s fan base, that should still garner the series’ enough ratings to make the adventure worth it.  Given critical predilection for male-centered dramas (and general dismissal of romance, especially its historical strain), it remains somewhat less certain that it will manage to gather the same accolades (Emmys and whatnot) that have been showered upon its male-drama counterparts.  One need only look at the continually-snubbed The Good Wife to see what happens to series that dare to focus on women rather than men.  Hopefully, however, Outlander will be a game changer in more ways than one.  If we are lucky, we might finally get a top-notch premium cable drama that is not only quality, but also manages to remain tightly and insightfully focused on the historical subjectivities and experience of women.

Opening Credits and the Aesthetics of Television History

Upon recently re-watching the HBO series Rome, I was struck anew at the complex artistry that underlies the opening credits.  While the series itself raises numerous questions about the representation of history within the medium of television, it is the opening credit sequence, more than anything else in the series, that adequately evokes something of the strangeness and alien sensibilities of antiquity.  This also made me think about the function, both aesthetic and ideological, of some of the other popular historical (and pseudo-historical) dramas that have become such an important part of the programming line-ups of premium channels such as HBO.

As I have argued elsewhere, one of the functions of effective historical fiction is to evoke, in some measure, the foreignness and difference of the past, and this is something that the opening titles of Rome do to a greater degree than allowed by the narrative demands of the series itself.  Featuring numerous types of graffiti and a haunting score, Rome’s opening sequence seems to skitter away from any attempts to pinpoint its exact meaning or to fit it neatly into our own expectations for artistic representation.  Holly Haynes has compellingly written that the opening credits, and the series itself, evoke the contradictory pleasures of the exotic and the everyday.  If the visual arts can serve as a barometer of how a given culture conceives of itself, these opening illustrations provide a fragmentary glimpse of a culture whose sensibilities are quite different from our own; not just exotic (with all of the problematic politics that entails), but alien and even, I would argue, uncanny.  By relying on ephemera such as graffiti, these images not only evoke the fragmented nature of our knowledge of antiquity but also allow us to get as a close as we can to a phenomenologically different experience of the distant past.  In that respect, they rely on an aesthetic more akin to Fellini Satyricon than I, Claudius and as such call for a for a nuanced and (drawing on Haynes again) contradictory relationship to Roman history.

The opening credits for The Tudors could not be more different.  Unlike Rome, the sequence has much more of a direct relationship to the material presented, with each of the characters presented, typically with a posture or a prop that suggests their role in the narrative.  While it does not evoke the strangeness of Early Modern culture, these images, as lush as they are, evoke the aesthetics that The Tudors consistently relied on throughout its run.  Just as importantly, they also evoke the ethos of the series’ vision of the past and of history, i.e. a vision characterized by the (sometimes) uncomfortable and pleasurably tight coupling of politics and sexuality, all of which is highlighted by the sensuality of the visual image.

Finally, Game of Thrones.  Yes, I know it’s not technically historical, but both the series and the novels upon which it is based draw extensively from history in our world, both for narrative and for worldview.  In this case, the opening credits (arguably some of the best produced in recent television) provide viewers with an overhead view of the continents of Westeros and Essos.  In creating and relying upon this particular aesthetic, Game of Thrones’ opening credits reveal this series’ investment in a historical consciousness that construes history, both recent and distant, as a convoluted and complex skein of individual events and actions that, while connected, are not governed by any overarching logic.  There may be causality in this world, but there is no explanation.

All of this is not to say that the actual narratives of these series don’t matter; quite the opposite.  However, what I want to suggest is that the opening credits sequence, far from being tangential to the historical vision offered by contemporary historical drama, is actually an essential part of the viewing experience, priming viewers for the vision of the past they will soon encounter and offering a particular viewing position from which to experience history.

Review: “Reign” (CW)

Like most people, I went into the premiere of the CW series Reign with more than a little trepidation.  After all, this network doesn’t have a good reputation as far as the “quality TV” department is concerned.  However, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by what I found, namely:  a decent cast (Megan Fellows threatens to steal the show as the villainous, cunning, yet somewhat sympathetic Catherine de’Medici), acting that wasn’t horrible, and some adherence to the historical record.  Though it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, those who enjoyed The Tudors (I did, for the record) or Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (I enjoyed that too), will probably enjoy Reign.

Before we go any further, let me just say that yes, I realize that the costuming is laughably anachronistic.  But hey, it’s pretty much that way with any historical drama, though admittedly some take at least a little more effort to adhere to a sense of authenticity, even if they don’t adhere to strictly the dress code of the era.  And yes, I also realize that the characters are not acting like men and women of that period would have acted.  All of that said, there are other aspects of the series that make it worth watching and, just perhaps, taking seriously as at least a type of history.

Two things stood out the most in the premiere.  The first of these is the fact that Mary (ably if not superbly played by Adelaide Kane) may be more than a little smitten with the charming, dashing, and dishy Francis (Toby Regbo), but she also has a streak of iron in her that she will definitely need as she struggles to survive in the deceptive and dangerous French court.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a female character that had a little bit of backbone and, furthermore, that she is willing and able to stand up to those who seek to put her down, including Francis.  Though he tells her in no uncertain terms that she is to be seen and not heard, and that his concern for France will always come before his affections for her, she pertly reminds him that she, too, has a country to keep in mind.  While a seemingly insignificant moment, it reveals two things:  one, that the series has at least some awareness of the fact that royals couldn’t just love like everyone else and two, that this Mary might have a bit of spirit and bite to her.

The second thing that stood out in the premiere was the splendidly and sweetly poisonous Catherine, Mary’s scheming mother-in-law.  Having been advised by her pet astrologer Nostradamus that Mary will bring about the death of her beloved son Francis, Catherine makes it her mission to ruin the marriage arranged between the two young royals.  I was prepared to find this Catherine cloying, but instead she threatens to steal the series from its ostensible lead.  Indeed, we cannot help but sympathize with her (at least a little), considering that her husband is openly having an affair with Diane de Poitiers, not to mention any other woman he can get his hands on.  What’s more, her antipathy toward Mary stems at least in part from her conviction that the young Scotswoman will lead to her son’s death.  All in all, she comes across as a woman who knows the place that her society, and her husband, have afforded her and, as such, also knows what she has to do in order to assert what little agency is allowed her.

What emerges from these two women is an indication of how 21st Century American culture conceives of the past and, particularly, the role that women played in that past.  Much as with The Tudors and its successor The Borgias (as well as other countless television historical dramas), Reign asserts that Renaissance women’s only access to power was through their men, i.e. through the marshaling of their sexual desirability to bend men to their will.  While this does of course run the risk of essentalizing these women as nothing more than walking vaginas, I would contend that there is a hidden complexity here, an open acknowledgment of the fact that, unfortunately, patriarchy often forces women to rely on the only weapons that patriarchy lets them have, their cunning and their bodies (and often a combination of the two).  The trick, of course, is how to bring this unfortunate fact to life without merely replicating the mechanisms of that oppression.  At this point, it is far too early to say whether Reign will plumb such complexities—as did The Tudors, at least in its highest and most compelling moments—but it has certainly gotten off to a good start.  There are at least two strong female leads to give the show a center of gravity, which is one of the essential ingredients to a truly and satisfyingly complex portrayal of historical women’s subjectivity.  Don’t worry, though, this feminist media critic will be right there to nail them if they start to betray the promise that they have shown already.

Is Reign historically accurate or even authentic?  Absolutely and unequivocally not.  As is usual with such series, the people are far too pretty and clean to be accurate representations of what life was like in the 16th Century, even for royalty.  There is also the strand of the supernatural that has already reared its head (this could end up working really well or just being corny).  However, to ask those kinds of questions, and to condemn a series or a film for failing to live up to those standards, risks losing sight of exactly those issues I have touched upon in this review.  Sure, Reign might not be “good” history (whatever that means) but, whether we like it or not, it is a type of history, and we as cultural critics and consumers would be well served to ask and interpret exactly what kind of history it is that we are looking at.