The Serpent Queen's Catherine de Medici Will Be a Very "Modern" Antiheroine

On the heels of the success of The White Queen, The White Princess, and The Spanish Princess, Starz has greenlit yet another royal drama—this time, set in the 16th century court of France. Here's what we know so far about The Serpent Queen, an edgy historical drama which "puts a contemporary spin" on the story of Catherine de Medici’s rise to power.

An experienced team is steering the ship.

Writer Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road, A Cure for Wellness) will write and executive produce the eight-episode series. "Writing Catherine and her story has been truly exciting as she is a very complex leading character who becomes a skilled ruler, battling extraordinary political and personal odds throughout her reign,” Haythe said, per the Hollywood Reporter. “She is a Queen who defies convention, as she relies upon her intellect, her unusual entourage and a ready supply of black magic inspiring, centuries later, the Evil Queen of fairy tales.”

Haythe will be joined by Stacie Passon (We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Dickinson), who will direct multiple episodes, including the series premiere.

"The Serpent Queen may be the most cunning account of one of the most influential women ever to wear a crown that Starz has told,” said Starz head of originals Christina Davis. “We are thrilled to be working with such an incredibly talented team who will give this series a modern voice among a sensational historical backdrop.”

Actress Samantha Morton will play Catherine de Medici.

Morton is best-known for her roles in Minority Report, Harlots, and The Walking Dead. She'll play the central role of the ruthless Catherine de Medici, who defied the odds to became one of the most powerful and longest-serving rulers in French history.

Leonie Frieda's Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France serves as the source material for The Serpent Queen.

The series will employ flashbacks to tell the story of a young Catherine (Liv Hill), who marries into the court at just 16 years old, only to be confronted with a devastating truth – her new husband is in love with an older woman, Diane de Poitiers (Ludivine Sagnier). It will then follow her throughout her life, chronicling her unlikely rise to power through wit and cunning.

Per the official Starz synopsis, Catherine must now navigate a situation in which her own future is uncertain. She "must quickly learn who she can trust - both within her personal entourage of courtiers and the members of the royal court - while outmaneuvering anyone who underestimates her determination to survive at any cost."

Photo credit: Courtesy of Starz
Photo credit: Courtesy of Starz

Morton's Catherine will be a very "modern" antiheroine.

During a panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, creator Justin Haythe and Morton reflected on the gender dynamics of The Serpent Queen, and the show's depiction of the black arts and witchcraft. "[Catherine] didn't care about the customs of the day, because the customs of the day were so crazy," Haythe said. "The idea that God picked one person to rule, because he had a crown?" In light of the extreme religious beliefs that govern the court, Haythe added, Catherine's use of witchcraft becomes a "pragmatic" option.

The panelists also noted that some sources say that Catherine was the inspiration for the evil witch in Snow White.

"History writes women as 'devil women', or evil, just for being incredibly clever and astute," Morton added. "She's certainly pushing the envelope in regards to fulfilling her destiny, and just listening to her gut." Asked if Catherine is evil, Haythe responded that she's "defined by heartbreak... and heartbreak can be evil from a certain angle."

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