Luckily the show is truly gorgeous, chock full of stony castles, intensely beaded and brocaded modern-looking dresses, mysterious images and even jump scares. There's the delectably creepy ghost girl with the bag over her head, a sudden and bloody death of the nun, and Nostradamus's ethereal and threatening predictions. Notradamus himself adds an excellent element to the show, as his acting is halfway decent and his beard makes him the only handsome character in a world of patchy baby boys. It doesn't hurt that he interacts solely with awesomely evil Queen Catherine, who is totally ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. I KNOW. I squealed with delight when I saw Megan Follows swoop into the pilot. She delightfully chews this script in a most Anne-like manner, devouring all her villainy with perfectly arched eyebrows and delightfully dry insults. I love her. I just want the show to be her, instead of the strange blank that is Mary.
Mostly because Mary is terribly bland. Adelaide Kane has an expressive enough face. It's all wide eyes and full lips and quavery breaths, but she's not using any of her physical assets at all. Instead we're stuck with her childhood friends and even Francis himself telling us that she's willful and clever and beautiful, but the traits aren't ever manifest. Kane just moves from one room to the next, staring at characters and the camera, rarely displaying any thought or consideration of her life. To be fair, Mary does show a desire to make a marriage work, despite having zero chemistry with Francis. She shows a knowledge of her role as Queen, although she only plays that card to try and woo Francis with the security of always having a kingdom.
Mary also shows a remarkable penchant for wandering off, something that I find it difficult to believe. My experience with historical fiction taught me that royals were rarely given space to walk around by themselves, especially in large new castles that aren't their own. Even if fiction is not the best guide for knowledge, it does makes sense that Mary would be guarded in some way, especially since the impetus for sending her to the French court was for her own safety. For someone whose safety is threatened, Mary sure spends a lot of time outside near suspicious woods and perched on top of lonely turrets.
Mary's blandness is not the only flaw. The entire rest of the cast is blurry caricatures of what characters should be like. Her Ladies in Waiting are basically worse copies of Sex in the City tropes. There's the sexpot, and the romantic, the naive one, and the other one. They appear out of nowhere with no explanation, they gasp over Mary and betray her from one moment to the next, and overall make little to no impact. One of them, played by Anna Popplewell, is surprising only because it's dear Susan from the Chronicles of Narnia, but her appearance only adds to the mental dissonance. As the romantic, and as the LiW who gets a brief moment with the love of her heart, she should be owning a juicy storyline. But seeing a childhood starlet all tarted up is unconvincing, and is somehow made even worse when they try to steam up her character. When her boyfriend walks in on her bathing, it's the opposite of titillating. Instead, it's played like they are an old married couple already miles away from being sexually interested in each other, which is not the CW's trademark at all.
The weaknesses and odd tonal choices are heightened by how quickly this thing jumps around. The story refuses to rest long enough for any investment. One second there is impending doom, which is quickly averted in favor of a sudden and incongruous dance sequence, which is then quickly cut to a scene of girls running to spy on a married couple's consummation. Perhaps it's a commentary on the quick attention span of teenagers no matter what era, but it's simply confusing and alienating to any viewer trying to get investing in the soap opera of these characters. It's hard to see what the show is going for when it won't rest long enough to get a look.