Why viewers keep tuning in to royal dramas, according to 'The Serpent Queen' star Samantha Morton

Miguel Dumaual, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 05 2022 08:16 PM | Updated as of Oct 11 2022 06:11 PM

Award-winning actress Samantha Morton portrays Catherine de Medici in ‘The Serpent Queen,’ set to premiere October 7 in the Philippines on Lionsgate Play in partnership with PLDT Home. PLDT Home

Twice a queen now on screen, Samantha Morton has a deep understanding of why viewers are drawn to dramatizations of the lives of royals, both past and present, including her latest character.

The award-winning actress, who once portrayed Mary, Queen of Scots in the 2007 film “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” is now seen as Catherine de Medici, Queen of France in the 16th century, in the series “The Serpent Queen.”

“I think because it’s about power,” Morton told ABS-CBN News, when asked why she thinks viewers continue to tune in to royal dramas. “It’s looking at how the other half lived.”

“I personally don’t understand the fascination with contemporary royals. I don’t understand that at all, other than people have very tough lives, predominantly, globally. It’s not easy for many people. So when they watch these other worlds, they can escape, thinking about, ‘Oh, if I had that, if I had no problems…’,” she said.

Catherine, however, is unique in that she was not born into royalty, Morton explained.

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“She is the daughter of a shopkeeper who married into the royal family. She was not royal, and then she was the longest ruler in France. So this is what’s really exciting and interesting about ‘The Serpent Queen,’” she said.

Set to premiere in the Philippines on October 7 via Lionsgate Play in partnership with PLDT Home, “The Serpent Queen” chronicles Catherine de Medici’s rise to power, from her betrothal to King Henry II to her cunning ways — including her use of poison, hence the title — that ensured her survival amid constant threats to her life.

The eight-episode series sees Morton, as well as Liv Hill as the young Catherine, addressing the viewers directly as she navigates becoming royalty and, later, her reign as queen.

“I think breaking the fourth wall helps because you get to see the inner Catherine,” Morton said. “So much of Catherine has to be very poker-faced, because she’s playing a very long game of chess in order to survive.”

“A lot of she shows to other people is quite still, but then when I turn to the camera, that’s the inner Catherine. I found that really exciting. You get to see the inner voice,” she added.

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Often described as scheming and influential in the politics of France during her reign and those of her sons, Catherine, in the series, bares her fears and truth when she addresses the viewer.

“It’s when she’s talking to the audience she’s telling the truth. Everybody wants to kill her in Italy because of her family name. When she arrives in France, nobody likes her. She’s Italian. They just want her dead. So for Catherine, everything is about survival. She can die any moment,” Morton said.

Aside from breaking the fourth wall, “The Serpent Queen” also sets out to give a modern treatment to the queen’s story, through its choice of soundtrack and contemporary language used in some scenes, among others.

“I think there are so many shows out there that seem to offer as a costume drama or a take on a queen or a princess. To me, they’re quite a lot, and I’m very fussy about what roles I play,” Morton said.

“What I loved about this is is, yes, it is very beautiful — the costumes are very beautiful, we’re filming in the real chateaus in France that Catherine lived in and it was very, very incredible — but the showrunner (Justin Haythe) and the producer (Erwin Stoff) wanted to connect with a modern audience. So the language is very contemporary. It isn’t like Shakespeare. It’s like you can really understand,” she explained.

Liv Hill as the young Catherine de Medici and Alex Heath as the young Henry II in ‘The Serpent Queen,’ which premieres October 7 in the Philippines via Lionsgate Play in partnership with PLDT Home. PLDT Home

Referring to the choice of camera angles that are “not afraid” to get close to characters, primarily Catherine, Morton added: “You feel like you’re with these people going through everything. It doesn’t matter that they’re in gowns. They can be in a pair of jeans or a t-shirt. You’re watching people go through very dramatic events.”

That drama, in part, centers on Catherine becoming jaded when it comes to love at a young age — and opting to wield fear to protect herself and her reign as queen. As the series’ tagline goes: “It’s safer to be feared than to be loved.”

“I think for women of that time, for Catherine, it’s much safer to be feared than to be loved,” Morton said, agreeing with the tagline. “I think for women globally, there’s oppression and we can be treated pretty badly just because of our gender.”

“I think, certainly, in those times, medieval times, this was bad. It’s better that people are afraid of her and maybe think twice about wanting to harm her.”