TV Review: The Serpent Queen (Series 1)

Samantha Morton and Liv Hill are huge amounts of fun as Catherine de’ Medici in the raucous romp that is The Serpent Queen

“I learned the hard way, you must never underestimate an enemy”

Borrowing from the influence of The Great (which I really need to get round to watching), The Serpent Queen shakes up Renaissance history by reimaging the life of Catherine de’ Medici. Created by Justin Haythe and based on the 2004 book Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda, it adopts that bracingly contemporary look at historical life – particularly for women (qv Becoming Elizabeth) – that is endlessly refreshing.

Using a flashback device, the series sees Catherine recounting her earlier years to her new maid Rahima, the heard-earned lessons gleaned over the decades apparently relevant to any court. Liv Hill plays Catherine as a teenager, plucked at the age of 14 from the Florentine convent where she’d been raised and married into the French Valois court to drum up bags of dowry and heirs. The reality though is more dealing with mistresses, miscarriages and misogyny.

It’s all entertainingly done, particularly with a shimmeringly good supporting cast to hand (Ludivine Sagnier’s Diane de Poitiers, Charles Dance’s Pope Clement VII, Adam Garcia’s Sebastio to name but a few). Being married to the second son of the King of France means she’s only an alleged poisoning away from the throne and watching the manipulations, machinations and downright betrayals that go on is properly thrilling stuff.

Morton does eventually take over in the past, but her present-day scenes are the ones that really resonate, as a slow-burning plot to deal with a conspiracy involving Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I is threaded throughout each episode. Sennia Nanua’s playful Rahima is great as Catherine’s maid, a plaything who dares to dream of being inspired by the master manipulator that is her mistress. Highly entertaining, a brilliant soundtrack and stunning opening credits.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *