RIP Mary, Queen of Scots.
The Reign series finale ended with the beheading of fierce, determined Mary (Adelaide Kane), who gave up her throne to her son, James, and then imprisoned for nearly two decades by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I (Rachel Skarsten).
Before that, Mary and paramour Lord Bothwell (Adam Croasdell) tracked down her infant son, who had been kidnapped by her husband, King Darnley (Will Kemp). As retribution, and future protection, Mary ordered the murder of Darnley. But Bothwell’s plans to blow up Darnley’s hideout failed and he was forced to kill him by hand. Unfortunately, Mary’s privy councillors discovered the plot and arrested both her and Bothwell.
History tells us that Mary fled to England, where she was kept confined by Elizabeth until Mary was beheaded for plotting against her cousin.
Reign creator Laurie McCarthy talked to Yahoo TV about some of the tweaks they made to the historical timeline, Mary’s big decision to murder her husband, and the surprising cameo at the end of the finale.
It was great to see Toby Regbo come back as Francis, and to see Francis and Mary share a lovely moment together after her death.
That footage was shot before Toby left the series. We shot it knowing that the series would end with her death and knowing that underneath it all, this was a love story, and knowing where her life was going to go — she had this idyllic existence when she was younger, and then duty was really going to take over, and then she was going to go into not one, but another marriage beyond Francis, and they were going to be incredibly painful.
The marriage to Darnley was not going to be a happy one, and the marriage we didn’t get to show but we hinted at, with Bothwell, was going to be short-lived. Ultimately, I would say it was a mistake she could’ve avoided, but still a mistake.
Why end with Mary and Francis together?
I would like to think that for any of us, when you’re in a final moment like that, your mind can take you to a happier place. I feel like the happiest time of her life was when she was with him. That is the person who in her darkest hours she wanted at her side. So, I wanted to give her that at the end. And Toby Regbo was gracious enough to agree to film that before he left the show.
In history, it’s unclear if Mary actually played a part in Darnley’s death. Why did you decide to have her make the choice?
We wanted her to be proactive. I think there are a number of different books on the topic, and some of them indicate pretty strongly that she had to know what was going on. So, we went with that version of history.
Throughout the series, Mary has always strived to be good and decent and moral. So, this is a dark turn for her.
She really had very little choice. One of the things that we dramatize was the struggle for whoever had power over the heir. The kidnapping of the child was a fabrication. But the truth of the matter is, what we saw play out in Scotland is what Elizabeth kept referring to England — once you wed and you’re a woman, even if you’re the rightful heir to the throne, people will look to the king to vest their political chips in.
We wanted to create a dynamic that she was justified in playing that role in his death, and that she had very little choice. It wasn’t just her welfare, but the welfare of her child.
There’s quite a bit of talk in the finale about women in power — Knox tells Mary that he’ll bow to no woman, Elizabeth makes a big speech about her power. It feels very relevant to current events. How much did you want to connect the finale to the current political climate?
I would say that, in some ways, little has changed at the very top. I’m sad that it’s relevant, is probably the best answer to that.
Did you intend to draw those parallels?
I think the parallels exist. As we laid out the dynamic of the time, the fact that they resonate still is meaningful for all of us. We weren’t trying to make a big political statement. We were really trying to explain and justify some of the actions our lead character took.
What do you hope the fans walk away from the finale feeling?
I hope they feel the sadness of her life but also the exhilaration of the journey. What was fascinating to me about the show was how bizarre their lives are — the lives of monarchs, the lives of royals at the time was so foreign. They really did not live like other people.
There were things that we heard from historians we couldn’t even put in the show. One that always stood out to me — and I thought, how could you ever portray this? — was the fact that the peasants really looked up to the royals because they were nearly a foot taller than them. That was because royals and people at court ate protein, and peasants did not. They didn’t grow to the same height. So, they really looked at these people like they were gods.
The foreign quality of their life that was really unrelatable was fascinating to me. The phrase I kept using about the show was, I want to see what their life was like on an 11 o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday. Not on a day when they were getting their portraits done, and not on a day when they were going to war or making some declaration. They were just these people living in this community, in a house that wasn’t even really their own home.
Early on, I felt like it was Mary going to a boarding school with her friends. And then it became a city-state, which is what those castles really were. They didn’t have privacy and were beholden to so many rules. So, I wanted people to go on that journey and feel that escapism and lushness of that life, but also the confines of it, which I felt like gave the series stakes.
And if they would like to step back and contemplate the difficulty of women in power, I would, of course, as a feminist, love that as well.
Did you take anything from the set as a memento?
You know, what I really wanted but didn’t get was a pair of great riding boots. Because the guys had such great boots on the show. But the people in Toronto sent me from the set, a portrait from the set. So that was my takeaway.
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