The CW ran a semi-biographical period drama called Reign from 2013 to 2017. Based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, the series takes place mostly in France but then moves to Scotland and England as Mary grows older and Elizabeth I becomes a threat. Though rooted in history, the story takes many liberties and even incorporates fantasy and supernatural elements.
Some viewers enjoyed this unpredictability, while others thought it was too far-fetched. Still, the show stays reasonably close to the events of Mary’s real life. Unfortunately, the series was canceled just a week before season 3 wrapped production. As a result, the ending was rushed but still provided a degree of closure. Some fans may have been left hanging, but there are plenty of other great female-led period dramas to watch.
Updated on Match 25h, 2021 by Svetlana Sterlin: Reign remains popular among its devoted fanbase, and it’s clear that period dramas – especially female-led ones – are only gaining traction. Female empowerment has never been more important, and it’s shows like Reign that champion gender equality and female leadership. Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship in the later seasons comments (perhaps inadvertently) on the way women are often pitted against each other in a world ruled by men. Here are five more historical dramas with similar tones, messages, and dramatic aspects to Reign.
15 Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Based on Jane Austen’s celebrated novel, Pride & Prejudice tells the story of Elizabeth Bennett and her family. Her mother wishes for her and her sisters to marry well, while Elizabeth is intent on creating her own life for herself.
However, when Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy, she finds her destiny entangled in his. His friend Mr. Bingley is interested in marrying Elizabeth’s oldest and most sensible sister, Jane. Elizabeth soon finds that she can’t stand Mr. Darcy, even though she doesn’t know anything about him.
14 Farewell, My Queen (2012)
Set in the early days of the French Revolution, this film offers a close look into Marie Antoinette’s relationships with the people around her. Agatha-Sidonie Laborde is one of the queen’s readers, which gains her a unique insight into the historical figure’s private life.
For those who enjoyed watching Mary’s friendship with her ladies in Reign, this movie is a great choice. Marie Antoinette is very close with the Duchess of Polignac and has an intriguing relationship with her reader.
13 Jane Eyre (2006/2011)
Another period drama set on the moors, Jane Eyre is based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel of the same name. Jane is a governess who moves to Thornfield Hall to work for an enigmatic Mr. Rochester.
Like the castles Mary inhabits in Reign, Thornfield is a mysterious and eerie setting in which a woman might lose herself. Jane soon finds herself sufficiently haunted by the strange characters that fill the halls of Thornfield, but perhaps Rochester is the scariest of them all. Even as they’re drawn towards one another, Jane seems to know less and less about him.
12 Testament Of Youth (2014)
By the end of Reign, it feels like Mary is a woman who has lost everything. Testament of Youth is also about a woman who has lost everything, and it’s also based on a true story.
Vera Brittain has ambitious goals for herself, much to the chagrin of her conservative father. She goes to college and starts a career when the war begins and her fiancé and brother are sent away. She waits in painful trepidation and gives up her career to become a nurse, both hoping and dreading seeing one of them in the hospitals.
11 Atonement (2007)
Atonement is known for its stylistic aesthetic, excellent use of sound, and innovative cinematography. Like Reign, the primary setting is shrouded in mystery and secrecy, which leads to a terrible mistake on the part of a young girl.
Cecelia Tallis is hesitant about pursuing a relationship with the family’s groundsman, Robbie Turner, but before she can make up her mind, her younger sister Briony accuses him of a terrible crime and he’s sent away to serve in the war. Meanwhile, Briony grows up and begins to understand what she has done, while Cecelia cuts off all ties from her.
10 Mary Queen Of Scots (2018)
A 2018 film starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, Mary Queen Of Scots picks up much later in Mary’s life than Reign does. Here, Mary returns to Scotland to claim her throne, while in the series, Mary has just left for France.
This film is a great option for viewers who are interested in Mary’s life in Scotland, which the series doesn’t have enough time to explore. Still, the film takes certain liberties to put its own stamp on it, just like the series.
9 Marie Antoinette (2006)
Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette is another exploration of a female monarch in a time when society didn’t want females to lead or rule. Kirsten Dunst portrays the Australian archduchess who is ushered into a marriage with a French royal.
But the young woman isn’t ready to accept the responsibilities that come with being a royal. She feels pressure to give birth to an heir but continually fails to do so, as the public’s attitude towards her plummets even further. She is described as childish and playful and by no means ready to take her role seriously or understand the gravity of a revolt.
8 The Duchess (2008)
Though not particularly well-favored by critics, this Keira Knightley period drama still won an Academy Award. Georgiana is a duchess who marries the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) at the age of 17.
She quickly discovers that he doesn’t love or respect her, and only wants her to bear a son. Georgiana finds ways to repeatedly earn – and lose – the aristocracy’s respect, while both she and her husband publicly engage in romantic affairs.
7 Anna Karenina (2012)
Another Keira Knightley movie, Anna Karenina is based on Leo Tolstoy’s epic Russian novel. The events are fictitious, but still very much reflective of 19th-century attitudes towards women of high standing.
Anna is an aristocrat who is married and shares a son with Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), but is essentially exiled when she begins an affair with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Joy). However, her brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) receives sympathy when his much more public affair becomes known.
6 Cursed (2020 – )
A retelling of the Arthurian legend, Cursed is a Netflix original series that premiered in July 2020. With elements of fantasy, adventure, and historical fiction, the series puts a young woman named Nimue (Katherine Langford) into the spotlight.
She is Fey, possessing an ability to tap into ancient magic. This, along with the Sword of Power, gives her a lot more authority than she realizes or wants.
5 Medici (2016 – 2019)
Medici was a popular series starring Richard Madden, Daniel Sharman, and one of Reign‘s own stars, Toby Regbo. The show is based on the real House of Medici, an Italian family that rose to power in the 15th century through their banking business.
The series ran from 2016 to 2019, focusing on the family’s rise to power amid the tumultuous social upheavals of medieval Italy. The events are set not long before Mary’s reign in France and Scotland.
4 The Tudors (2007 – 2010)
For viewers who enjoyed seeing Elizabeth I rise to power in Reign, The Tudors is a series that explores her family’s history. Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin, and so they share the surname, Tudor.
The Emmy Award-winning series focuses on the early years of Henry VIII’s reign in England. The king was also famous for his many wives, which the series also explores.
3 The Virgin Queen (2005)
This four-part BBC miniseries is a detailed look into Elizabeth I’s life as the Queen of England. Anne-Marie Duff stars as the queen, whose story begins as a fearful young princess.
Later, the series explores her affair with Robert Dudley, who is portrayed by Tom Hardy. Reign doesn’t have time to fully explore the life of Elizabeth since Mary is the main character, but for fans who are interested in her story, The Virgin Queen is an excellent choice.
2 Outlander (2014 – )
Outlander is based on Diana Gabaldon’s book series of the same name. Currently at five seasons, with a sixth one on the way, this is one of the most popular period dramas currently on the small screen.
Claire is a former war nurse reunited with her husband in 1945 when suddenly she is thrust back in time to 1743. Here she meets James Fraser, and her heart is torn in two, not unlike Mary’s initial indecision between Francis and Bash.
1 The Crown (2016 – )
Lastly, The Crown is a Netflix series that follows the reign of Elizabeth II. It begins with her ascent to the throne at the age of 25 in the 1940s and progresses to modern times.
One of the most popular and critically acclaimed Netflix originals, The Crown examines the ways in which the queen’s earlier years shaped her future – and the future of England.
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