‘The Serpent Queen’ Is a Fun Departure From the Usual Starz Period Dramas
Starz’s The Serpent Queen is a dramatic reimagining of the reign of the French Queen Catherine de’ Medici starring living legend Samantha Morton. The network is known for its period dramas, and as someone who has watched almost all of them, The Serpent Queen manages to feel like a fun departure.
While the “talking to the screen” way of storytelling has always been a popular way to break the fourth wall in films of all genres, Fleabag really shook it up to a new degree. We’ve seen the aftermath of that in everything from Enola Holmes to the new adaptation of Persuasion. Despite it not being well received in the latter, right now, The Serpent Queen is doing it right.
The premise is that we are right before the coronation of Queen Regent Catherine de’ Medici’s second son, Charles IX and, and she needs a new maid and is going through all the servants. She ends up attaching to a young Black servent named Rahima. Catherine tells Rahima the story of her ascension, from an orphaned girl from a wealthy commoner family to Queen, despite being labeled as unattractive.
What makes this interesting is that, unlike a lot of noblewomen we follow throughout these historical dramas, Catherine is a morally grey figure. They don’t need to worry about her likability or putting her in some irrational conflict with a woman for no reason. Even her historical rival, Diane de Poitiers (played by Ludivine Sagnier), gets moments of compassion from the narrative.
For Morton, she found an attraction to the darkness of the character of Catherine. She told Vogue earlier in September,
“She’s almost vilified in history as this very dark figure, and she did do some very brutal things in her life. But I think that when men have made tough decisions throughout history, whether [as] the ruler of an army or a country, they’re often glorified. But when women did the same thing, they were called witches, or harridans, or whores of Babylon. I loved the fact that she was so fiercely intelligent. For me, it was really interesting to play this kind of kingpin character that is often reserved for men; this incredibly powerful woman who has vulnerabilities and flaws and all these facets that made her so complex and interesting. That’s what always stretches you as an actor.”
Often, with these dramas, they want to take a figure either already well known or connected to big historical figures and center the morality around that person. Yet, The Serpent Queen, much like The Borgias, manages to play with historical accuracy and villainy of the figures while also highlighting their humanity. You can root for them, but you don’t have to agree with their actions. They’ve also avoided turning Catherine into some #girlboss because there are ways for women to be powerful without putting them in the middle of combat while pregnant just because.
I’m tired of being beaten down with the same era of Tudor Royals over and over again. With Becoming Elizabeth having come and gone without getting renewed, there is a fatigue there (and they should have made it about Mary I anyway). We need to focus on some more complex figures and move away from the British royals.
(featured image: Starz)
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