A poisoner. A dabbler in the dark arts. A murderess. Catherine de Medici (Samantha Morton/Liv Hill), Queen of France in the 16th Century, has a reputation for being a deadly, devious ruler in Starz‘s The Serpent Queen.
This twisty drama takes a deeper look at the royal, a mathematician and polyglot, who in her time was called “the most powerful woman in Europe.” It’s a fresh, edgy take (including raucous rock riffs; and costumes that give a nod to avant-garde couture fashion) and is based on the nonfiction book by Leonie Frida, Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France.
Morton addresses the “serpent” moniker in the title: “From a very early age she’s had to play the long game, knowing that she has to survive,” says the actress, who appears in all the episodes, but takes over the main role from Hill about halfway through the series. “Some of the things she had to do to protect people, and France, Europe, and the world were fascinating.” She knew the moment to strike, and when to slither away to safety.
The eight episodes begin with the young, orphaned Italian Catherine being married off to a French prince, Henry, by her uncle Pope Clement (Charles Dance). She falls in love, but there’s the little matter of Henry’s older mistress Diane de Poitiers (Ludivine Sagnier).
“Catherine has to produce an heir, which is very difficult,” says Hill. Without a child, specifically a son, she could be tossed out. But Catherine does not give up. “Her whole life she’s been emotionally and physically abused. She’s alert and always wary of people. The show explores black magic and her relationship towards that. Playing the scenes, I remember the director telling me, ‘You totally believe you have these special powers.’ Had she not believed she was special, she would not have been as resilient and brave.”
Check out the full video interview above for more on the remarkable royal from Morton and Hill.
The Serpent Queen, Series Premiere, Sunday, September 11, 8/7c, Starz