Having recapped The Serpent Queen, which purports to tell Catherine de’ Medici’s life story from her point of view, I wondered about how she’s been portrayed in movies and TV shows before this. There were a few I recalled immediately, but when I started searching, I found tons more — but very little that focuses on Catherine’s own life. She shows up as a character in flicks based on La Reine Margot, the fictionalized version of Margaret of Valois’s reign written by Alexandre Dumas. He wrote a couple other novels set around the same time, such as La Dame de Monsoreau, and when those are filmed, Catherine often appears too. Then she turns up in films or TV about Nostradamus, who Catherine had appointed as court physician under her son, King Charles IX. And, of course, she tends to show up in relation to Diane de Poitiers, Mary Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I of England, all of whom were contemporaries. It does seem that The Serpent Queen is the first onscreen portrayal to show her whole life story and to focus wholly on Catherine de’ Medici. Too bad it wasn’t more historically accurate, either in plot or costume!
All she seems to get in other portrayals are “Catherine as an old widow.” Which, sure, that’s the end of her life’s story, but look at all the period images of her before then!
Those first two seem to have influenced the casting of Liv Hill as Young Catherine in The Serpent Queen, even if the earlier costuming wasn’t inspired by these portraits. While the headgear was usually terrible, there were some costumes worn by Samantha Morton as Adult Catherine that bear a faint resemblance to these middle images.
But what most onscreen portrayals go for is 100% widow’s weeds, often very exaggeratedly so.
So let’s dive in and see how far from history these Catherines deviate!
Jeanne Grumbach in Queen Margaret aka La Reine Margot (1914)
Josephine Crowell in Intolerance (1916)
Blanche Bernis in The Tournament aka Le Tournoi Dans la Cité (1928)
Marguerite Moreno in The Pearls of the Crown aka Les Perles de la Couronne (1937)
Paulette Élambert in The Pearls of the Crown aka Les Perles de la Couronne (1937)
Françoise Rosay in La Reine Margot (1954)
Germaine Dermoz in If Paris Were Told to Us aka Si Paris Nous Etait Conté (1956)
Marisa Pavan in Diane (1956)
Maria Mériko in “L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise,” La Caméra Explore le Temps (1960)
Léa Padovani in La Princesse de Clèves (1961)
Alice Sapritch in La Reine Margot (1961)
Pamela Brown in “Mission to Paris,” Sir Francis Drake (1962)
Isa Miranda in Hardi Pardaillan! (1963)
Rosy Varte in “Nostradamus ou le Prophète en Son Pays,” Le Tribunal de l’Impossible (1968)
Margaretta Scott in “Shadow in the Sun,” Elizabeth R (1971)
Katherine Kath in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
Maria Mériko in La Dame de Monsoreau (1971)
Alida Valli in “Le Tumulte d’Amboise,” Les Grandes Conjurations (1978)
Maria Mériko in “La Guerre des Trois Henri,” Les Grandes Conjurations (1978)
Dominique Blanchar in Le Chevalier de Pardaillan (1988)
Sara Bertelà in Cellini: A Violent Life aka Cellini: Una Vita Scellerata (1990)
Virna Lisi in Queen Margot aka La Reine Margot (1994)
Amanda Plummer in Nostradamus (1994)
Yekaterina Vasilyeva in Queen Margot aka Koroleva Margo (1996) and Grafinya de Monsoro (1997)
Marie-Christine Barrault in Saint-Germain ou la Négociation (2003)
Kerry Fox in Nostradamus (2006)
Rosa Novell in La Dame de Monsoreau (2008)
Françoise Remont in Rose et Noir (2009)
Hannelore Hoger in Henri IV (2010)
Evelina Meghnagi in The Princess of Montpensier aka La Princesse de Montpensier (2010)
Megan Follows in Reign (2013-17)
Samantha Morton in The Serpent Queen (2022-)
Liv Hill in The Serpent Queen (2022)
Gaia Girace in Diane de Poitiers aka The King’s Favorite (2022)
Who’s your favorite Catherine de’ Medici in TV or movies?