The Serpent Queen Review

It is a truth universally acknowledged that for most of human history a woman in a seat of power has had a precarious position. She is either beloved (i.e. the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II) or reviled as a temptress and viewed as unworthy of the title (i.e. Cleopatra).

The new Starz eight-episode miniseries, The Serpent Queen, tells the story of Catherine de Medici. Based on the book Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, by Leonie Frieda, the first episode tells the story of the French Queen. Played by Samantha Morton, she tells her story to Rahima (Sennia Nanua), a servant girl who has been sent to bring the Queen her dinner. Through backstory, we learn about the young Catherine (Liv Hill) and her traumatic path to the throne.

What I like is that so far, is the younger Catherine breaks the fourth wall. She is also cheeky, intelligent, and driven. As an adult, she is also not above using underhanded methods to retain power.

So far, I have mixed feelings about the series. It’s compelling but has yet to completely suck me in as a viewer. As a character, Catherine breaks the mold in an unsettling way that makes me curious, but also sends warning signs to my brain. This woman is not one to be ignored to taken lightly.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

The Serpent Queen airs on Starz on Sunday at 9PM.

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Flashback Friday: Feud (2017)

For every great movie, there is a great behind-the-scenes story.

The F/X 2017 miniseries Feud tells the story of the making of the 1962 movie, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Playing the film’s leads are Susan Sarandon (Bette Davis) and Jessica Lange (Joan Crawford). Manipulating the actors while directing the film is Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina).

As the series goes on, it becomes more apparent that the feud between Davis and Crawford has been partially manufactured by the press and the male heads of the movie studio as they play the aging actresses against one another.

Wow. Though I’ve never seen the film that the series is based on, I might be tempted to watch it. Lange, Sarandon, and Molina are fantastic in their roles. One of the points that were made was that while men are allowed to age, a woman has a shelf life. Once she is on the figurative shelf, she is automatically replaced by a younger model. The number of older women that are still allowed to be active is often limited and pitted against one another because G-d forbid a woman of a certain age is active and vital as her male counterpart.

Like other Ryan Murphy-headed projects, there is a message built into the story. There is also a subtle level of campiness that allows the audience to laugh while observing that the superficial bullshit that is the backbone of the narrative is still alive and well today.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Anatomy of a Scandal: A Novel Book Review

There is no such thing as a perfect life. There are ups and downs, good times, and bad times. What matters is that we appreciate the good times and weather the bad times.

Anatomy of a Scandal: A Novel, by Sarah Vaughan, was published in 2018. Sophie Whitehouse has it all: two healthy and happy children, a solid marriage, and a comfortable life. Everything she knows is shattered by two major revelations. The first is that her politician husband, James, has just confessed to having an affair with a younger female employee. The second is that he is accused of raping the woman whom he has been sleeping with. Sophie appears to be standing by her man, but she is quietly questioning if he is telling the truth.

Holy shit, this book is good. My first exposure to Anatomy of a Scandal was the Netflix miniseries that was released earlier this year. As expected, there are changes between the novel and the screenplay. What I loved about the narrative is that it is the women whose voices we hear. Though James is at the center of the scandal, his perspective is secondary. In another writer’s hands, James would be the main character and the women around him would be reduced to a stereotype. What Vaughan has wisely done is make all of her characters thoroughly human while giving a spotlight to those who have been ignored in the past.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Anatomy of a Scandal: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey Review

For many of us, religion is a very important part of our daily lives. But there is a distinct line between believing in a higher power and using that belief to enrich your own needs.

Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey is a new Netflix four-part miniseries. It tells the story of the FLDS and the group’s infamous leader, Warren Jeffs. Known for being polygamous and practicing a strict adaptation of Mormonism, Jeff was arrested for marrying young, underage girls and having sexual relations with them. Interviewing former members of the FLDS, law enforcement, media, etc, a picture is painted of a man who instead of representing his heavenly creator, twisted religious doctrine to fit his own needs.

As I got further into this program, my stomach kept turning and I kept getting angrier. I am not a religious person, but I respect a lay leader who in turn respects their congregation and the doctrines of their faith. What I do not like is using their power and status to take advantage of those who trust them.

What struck me was the strength of the women who survived the ordeal and have thrived in what they would previously called the “gentile” world. It’s more than coming out of it and living a normal life, it’s having the strength to tell their story to strangers who might judge them in a negative manner.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey is available for streaming on Netflix.


Obi-Wan Kenobi Review

When the original Star Wars film, A New Hope, premiered in 1977, no one could have foreseen the narrative junctions that have come out of this one movie.

The new DisneyPlus miniseries, Obi-Wan Kenobi, premiered on Friday. Ten years after the events of Revenge of the Sith (2005) the Jedi appear to have been wiped out. But a few have survived in hiding. The Empire sends The Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend) to find those that are still alive. One of the Inquisitor’s lieutenants, Inquisitor Reva, Third Sister (Moses Ingram) is intent on locating one Jedi in particular: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). His former Padawan, Anakin Skywalker (now known as Darth Vader) is eager to see his former master again

While living under another name, Obi-Wan is keeping an eye on Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely). But Luke’s Uncle and guardian, Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) would prefer that his nephew remains in the dark. Meanwhile, on Alderaan, Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) is kidnapped. Her parents turn to Obi-Wan to rescue their daughter.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is amazing. After watching both The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, I thought nothing would top them. I was wrong. My eyes were glued to the screen the entire time. There were multiple easter eggs (if you know where to look), many mouth drops, and quite a few expletives. I am already hooked and ready for the rest of the series.

It would be easy to make another soulless sequel. But it is not. It is full of so much love and respect for the material that it radiates from the screen. McGregor is back in perfect form, with the obligatory changes since the last time we saw the character. He is starting to become the grizzled old man who has come to terms with what was and will never be again. But there is still a little bit of hope, just enough to inspire him to pick up the lightsaber one last time.

Do I recommend it? 100% yes. Don’t be surprised if the program makes the cut for “best of” lists in December.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is available for streaming on DisneyPlus. New episodes premiere on Friday.

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Throwback Thursday: The White Queen (2013)

Women have always been the power behind the throne. But for all of that power, we are still fighting for the right to be acknowledged as leaders.

The 2013 Starz ten-part miniseries, The White Queen, takes place during the War of the Roses in 15th century England. The prequel to The White Princess, the series follows three women who all vie for the throne. The first woman is Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), whose marriage to Edward IV (Max Irons), is not exactly welcomed with open arms. The second is Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale), the matriarch of the future Tudor dynasty. The third woman is Anne Neville (Faye Marsay).

As each woman battles it out for her right to the crown, the country is thrown into a bloody battle. Someone is going to walk away the winner, but not before lives are lost and history is forever changed.

The series was and still is, intriguing. Obviously, being an American, this subject was not part of the curriculum while I was in school. While the casting is spot on and I love that the women are front and center, I found that the ending lagged a little bit. Other than that, it is thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Throwback Thursday: Aristocrats (1999)

When we think of members of the British aristocracy. The pageantry, the press, the fancy clothes, the titles, etc. But, the question is, do we really know them or do we think we know them?

The 1999 six-part miniseries, Aristocrats, followed the lives of four sisters who have been born into the highest levels of 18th-century British life. Caroline (Serena Gordon), Emily (Geraldine Sommerville), Louisa (Anne-Marie Duff), and Sarah (Jodhi May), are the daughters of 3rd Duke and Duchess of Richmond (a pre-Downton Abbey Julian Fellows and Katherine Wogan). The series follows these sisters as they grow from girls to women and deal with what life has thrown at them.

I enjoyed this series. What I think made it interesting was that even though the main characters come from a certain stratum of society and live in a way that is specific to both their era and class, they are human. Each woman in her own right is full of life, love, contradictions, missteps, etc.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Flashback Friday: The Royal House of Windsor (2017)

The image of royalty is that of fine clothes, jewels, titles, and opportunities that the average person does not have. But anyone looking closely would see that that experience is far more complicated than what the media portrays.

The Netflix six-part miniseries, The Royal House of Windsor, aired back in 2017. It tells the story of the British royal family starting during World War I and ending in the present day. Going into great detail, it reveals the family trauma, the scars, and the behind-the-scenes drama that is only that is generally kept from the public.

I liked this series. Adding onto what is already known, it is a deep dive into the Windsors and reveals the humanity underneath the press and the imagery that is created by the PR machine. It’s that humanity that allows us to see them as someone we can relate to as opposed to someone who is the image of far-away perfection.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Alias Grace Review

The accusation of insanity can be vague. Depending on the circumstances, it can be used correctly or an easy excuse when a viable reason cannot be found.

The 2017 Netflix miniseries, Alias Grace is based on the Margaret Atwood book of the same name. Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) is a young woman in 19th century Canada who has been found guilty of killing her employer, Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin). After languishing in prison for fifteen years, she is being analyzed by Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) to determine if the verdict can be removed due to insanity.

First of all, I have a problem with the all too common use of the word “insanity”. We live in a world in which mental health is both real and diminished in importance compared to physical health. By doing so, it lessens the experiences of those who live with it every day.

That being said, I really enjoyed this series. It is never quite clear if Grace had a hand in Nancy’s murder. But like that ambiguousness, it kept me engaged and wanting to know if the truth would ever be revealed. It also spoke to the idea of class and who has certain rights and who doesn’t.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Alias Grace is available for streaming on Netflix.

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