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!
1536 – Catherine de’ Medici by Corneille de Lyon
c. 1540 Catherine de’ Medici by the workshop of Santi di Tito
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.
1547 – Catherine de’ Medici by François Clouet from the Bibliothèque numérique en histoire des sciences et des techniques.
1555 – Catherine de’ Medici
Said to be Catherine de Medici before she was widowed in 1559.
c. 1560 – Catherine de Medici by François Clouet
But what most onscreen portrayals go for is 100% widow’s weeds, often very exaggeratedly so.
Between 1559 & 1572 – Catherine de’ Medici by François Clouet
after 1560 – Catherine de Medici based on the Clouet drawing
So let’s dive in and see how far from history these Catherines deviate!
Jeanne Grumbach in Queen Margaret aka La Reine Margot (1914)
That’s got to be Catherine in the center, wearing black & heart-shaped cap.
Josephine Crowell in Intolerance (1916)
Her ruff is far too clown-like.
Blanche Bernis in The Tournament aka Le Tournoi Dans la Cité (1928)
A pretty silent-film look!
Marguerite Moreno in The Pearls of the Crown aka Les Perles de la Couronne (1937)
One of those epic French history films, this follows pearls passed down through history, & apparently Catherine de’ Medici has them as an adult…
Paulette Élambert in The Pearls of the Crown aka Les Perles de la Couronne (1937)
…and as a child in an uncredited role. Is that supposed to be the pearls on her ridiculous hat?
Françoise Rosay in La Reine Margot (1954)
Ooo, that cap in sheer black is very much like the historical images!
Germaine Dermoz in If Paris Were Told to Us aka Si Paris Nous Etait Conté (1956)
Another epic French history film, Catherine de’ Medici supposedly appears as a child in this one too (played by Claude Sylvain), but I can’t find any images.
Marisa Pavan in Diane (1956)
Finally a younger Catherine! This is her wedding day to Henry, & she gets alllll the bling.
MOAR BLING. Click through the review because this gown is fan-freakin-tastic.
Her arms are encrusted with jewels! She is The Queen & don’t you forget it!
Maria Mériko in “L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise,” La Caméra Explore le Temps (1960)
This TV series recreated key moments in French history. We’re back to widow’s weeds, with bonus wired side flappy bits.
Very flashy, but the shape looks rather early 17th century.
Apparently, Catherine de’ Medic is a cigar-smoking bad-ass.
Alice Sapritch in La Reine Margot (1961)
All I could find from this TV movie. Bad hat!
Pamela Brown in “Mission to Paris,” Sir Francis Drake (1962)
In one episode of this series about Sir Francis Drake, he visits the French court. Catherine’s dress looks fine, but that style doesn’t go with a ruff. And while I’m glad her hood is relatively flat & has an actual fabric hood, WTF is that fabric?
Isa Miranda in Hardi Pardaillan! (1963)
A swashbuckling flick set during the reign of Catherine’s son Henri III. Why is she so blonde?
Rosy Varte in “Nostradamus ou le Prophète en Son Pays,” Le Tribunal de l’Impossible (1968)
All I could find from another TV series that recreated moments from French history. I sense very ’60s makeup & hair.
Margaretta Scott in “Shadow in the Sun,” Elizabeth R (1971)
The third episode of this series begins with Queen Elizabeth I of England & her court in mourning for the Protestants murdered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. Then the story heads to the French court, where Catherine de’ Medici schemes to get her son François, Duke of Anjou, to marry Elizabeth.
I love the silver-accented gown in general, though the fabric is a bit odd for the period. The hood could be better, it looks like a chunk of cardboard swathed with a veil.
The France portion of this film is pretty short, IIRC, so Catherine’s role is small. But the hat is not good.
Maria Mériko in La Dame de Monsoreau (1971)
A TV miniseries based on the Dumas novel. I hate the headgear & the weak-ass ruff.
Alida Valli in “Le Tumulte d’Amboise,” Les Grandes Conjurations (1978)
Yet another French history TV series (I guess they were docu-dramas, & I usually skip those, but whatever, I found these little pix, so here ya go).
Maria Mériko in “La Guerre des Trois Henri,” Les Grandes Conjurations (1978)
Mériko reprising the role in an even worse hat. I can only hope it’s supposed to be a “night cap” (though it appears a poor execution of that too).
Dominique Blanchar in Le Chevalier de Pardaillan (1988)
This seems to be a similar story as Hardi Pardaillan!, but with even worse headgear & a heavy hand at the makeup.
Sara Bertelà in Cellini: A Violent Life aka Cellini: Una Vita Scellerata (1990)
I actually found this biopic of sculptor Benvenuto Cellini online & watched enough to know that it was very “art house.” When Cellini comes to court, Catherine is newly married, so this is a rare portrayal of her as not-a-widow. I bet this costume is inspired by a miniature of her from the early 17th century.
Virna Lisi in Queen Margot aka La Reine Margot (1994)
One of the most well-known portrayals of Catherine de’ Medici, here she’s the schemer-in-chief.
While she’s mostly in black, at least she’s not wearing the cliched hat. The veils & huge flat ruff work well enough to give her an evil image.
Amanda Plummer in Nostradamus (1994)
Yay, a non-widow Catherine! The dress isn’t bad.
Ooof, but this one is weird.
Yekaterina Vasilyeva in Queen Margot aka Koroleva Margo (1996) and Grafinya de Monsoro (1997)
This is the best image I can find of Catherine de’ Medici in these two consecutive Russian TV series. The gown looks OK, & parts of that headgear could work, but I think it’s poorly assembled.
Marie-Christine Barrault in Saint-Germain ou la Négociation (2003)
I tried to watch this online & couldn’t follow it — something about political negotiations during the French Wars of Religion. Catherine de’ Medici plays a major role however.
While she’s widowed, she’s given a burgundy gown, a gold-edged ruff, & a black & burgundy cap. Nice change for once!
Kerry Fox in Nostradamus (2006)
Can’t find anything else from this TV movie. It was on the Discovery Channel so maybe it was more docu-drama? Definitely low-budget — they couldn’t even afford a shitty hat, just got a head necklace!
Rosa Novell in La Dame de Monsoreau (2008)
I think the production values for this TV movie of the Dumas novel are pretty good, but I can’t find bigger pix.
Françoise Remont in Rose et Noir (2009)
Catherine de’ Medici has a tiny role in this comedy, & you can barely see her in the promo poster. I’m just being a completionist here!
Hannelore Hoger in Henri IV (2010)
Another movie about Marguerite & Henri IV with, as Kendra said, “good-enough” costuming. Looks like that’s a black sheer-ish wired cap, so fine by me.
Evelina Meghnagi in The Princess of Montpensier aka La Princesse de Montpensier (2010)
Yeah, yeah, I should be pleased that she isn’t wearing a stupid hat, but all that gold stuff around her neck looks like she’s trying to be Mr. T.
Megan Follows in Reign (2013-17)
Hate all you want, Megan Follows as Catherine de’ Medici was the best part of this series.
She was like a PG-rated version of Game of Thrones‘ Cersei Lannister — scheming, killing, & happy as hell to do it. And she wore the least offensive, most vaguely historical stuff on the show (not actually period, obvs).
Don’t get me wrong, I love Samantha Morton, but I think she got the short end of the stick script-wise in this series.
Her costumes tended to be better though.
Liv Hill was amazing in the first couple episodes! I wish the season had given her more time.
But she got more of the ridiculously non-period costumes.
Gaia Girace in Diane de Poitiers aka The King’s Favorite (2022)
This behind-the-scenes pic hints at what’s coming soon in France & who knows when for the rest of us!
Who’s your favorite Catherine de’ Medici in TV or movies?