Starz’s The Snake Queen tries to be the big one, but ends up just fine | TV/streaming

The problems, punctuated by Morton and Hill’s reptiles to the camera, quickly pile up. First, she can’t seem to get pregnant by Henry (Catherine would end up producing ten children, but not after ten years of sterility); secondly, Henry seems to be in love with Diane de Poitiers (Ludivine Sagnier), a mother figure who is twice as old. Diane and Catherine quickly form a rivalry, some of the most compelling parts of the series come as the two slip into each other’s orbits trying to find the thing that will bring the other down.

And yet, like the other women on the show, they are united by their shared oppression of the beastly, rude, lecherous men around them. Henry hardly reaches the convincing levels of “The Great’s” King Peter – that’s the job for that Colm Meaney‘s King Francis, who blusters and shouts with convincing pomp – but his power in the face of such emotional impotence makes him a compelling obstacle to Catherine nonetheless. That both Diane and Catherine have to plead for his milquetoast affections, and neither of them gives cause for fear of losing the little status his presence affords them, speaks volumes for “The Serpent Queen’s” view of the pettiness of European court politics.

Unfortunately, when the series deviates from Catherine to focus on the internal conflicts of its supporting cast, “The Serpent Queen” loses momentum. There are a large number of competing forces, whether French, Italian, Catholic, Protestant or otherwise, and even in the first five episodes given to critics, there is a lot to keep up with. Many conflicts feel interchangeable, the politics impenetrable, and the palace intrigue hardly exciting. The show comes to life when Hill (or eventually Morton, as Catherine ages into adulthood in the framing device) struts in to carry out her Machiavellian calculations, but until she does, the show can be a bit dull.

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