The Serpent Queen, a mini-series adapted from the 2006 best-seller by Leonie Frieda, was recently released to stellar reviews on the American television channel Starz and on the StarzPlay platform (available in France from Amazon Prime and Canal+ Séries). The show pays tribute to Catherine de Medici, who was queen and, eventually, regent of the kingdom of France. The deep and powerful British actress, Samantha Morton, plays Catherine, called black widow of Henry II. French actress, Ludivine Sagnier, plays the king’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, a role she was offered in the spring of 2021 “without an audition, but after an exciting exchange with the producer and creator of the series” Justin Haythe.
Ludivine Sagnier became familiar in the United States in the hit series Lupin, playing star, Omar Sy’s, long suffering wife and mother to their son, Raoul. She is also known for her appearances in various films by François Ozon, including 8 Women and Swimming Pool. The French actress is now making American productions: she is currently filming the series Franklin by Michael Douglas and will appear next year in Napoleon, the latest film by Ridley Scott (both are Apple productions). “I don’t need to go to Hollywood because Hollywood is coming to France,” she jokes.
These three historical projects followed each other “by chance, as if my wish to make films in costume had been granted,” confides the actress, grateful for these “extraordinary proposals” that she accepts “with closed eyes.” Sagnier says the work of costume designer, Karen Muller Serreau, whose work on The Serpent Queen shows her evident “genius to find new ways to illustrate the state of mind of Diane de Poitiers, with a color constraint: the widow was always dressed in black and white, the expression of a deep mix of feelings.”
Ludivine Sagnier says that she immersed herself in the character of Diane de Poitiers “with a real curiosity” by combining an already rich script with the expertise of a historian; she studied up by going through de Poitiers correspondence. “She was always obsessed with the need to remain close to power and to Henry II. I think there was a real love story between them.” Also, she goes on, “She had a certain taste for luxury, and accumulated a lot of property during her life. Hers is a famous case in inheritance law because she passed her wealth to her daughters,” an extreme rarity for the time.
“Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers were both considered Machiavellian,” said Ludivine Sagnier. Often portrayed as cantankerous and cruel, the first has finally been rehabilitated by modern history and is now seen in a more human light. The second is described by Sagnier as “a determined and voluntary woman, a survivor of a period when women had very few rights and were deprived of everything if they were not a little aggressive. Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers managed to rise to power by the strength of their intelligence and strategy, and I admire that.” Sagnier goes on to state that, “The series is very authentic, and the dialogues are extremely tasty.” The result, she says, is a show that is “intelligent, spicy and offbeat.” One that is sure to be a crowd pleaser this fall.
This article was originally published in French on our sister publication, French Morning, and was written by French Morning contributor, Marie-Eléonore Noiré.