The Medici’s may have been the godfather’s of the Renaissance in family terms, but the Borgia’s were The Godfather‘s in the terms of Mario Puzo. A family whose reputation of debauchery, murder, politics and possible incest have gone in to legend. Famous for their infamy they are the perfect historical family to have a show about them with so many stories one can pick and choose from.
The Borgia-family are a Spanish family based in Renaissance Rome. The family head, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, is vying for the popedom and he gets it, becoming Pope Alexander VI. With many trials the family intends to survive the plots and machinations of Rome and it’s hierarchy through murder, scheming and sometimes just by sheer genius.
This show, made by Neil Jordan, is the take on the Borgia family just like he did with the House of Tudor in The Tudors (2007-2010). Unlike the soap opera with not much history taken to make drama, over the top characterisations, not really historical costumes (I’ll always take an issue with that), some faulty casting choices and willing to simplify history for us, the non-historian audience; compared to The Borgias, which has flaws as well, but they aren’t as prominent and are much fewer. Indeed, it’s a massive improvement that is far more enjoyable to watch. Though if one wants to be sarcastic with a cup of wine and some historical knowledge in hand The Tudors is a good one to begin with.
Now The Borgias is a phenomenal show just by the acting alone. They had Derek Jacobi in the first episode, if that is not a good sign then I don’t know what is. The way all pull together and lose themselves in these historical characters is so well done its seamless.
Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia / Pope Alexander VI does what Jeremy Irons does best, making us sympathise with a man who is full of grey shades from the start, with the love for his family and close ones being his purest quality, though its shown in ways that it would be for the times they live in. Also, he pulls off humour in only the best way only Jeremy Irons can, its unexpected and thoroughly British.
François Arnaud as Cesare Borgia at first might seem miscast, seeming a little too soft both in face and acting for the known Machiavellian Prince. He does mumble some of his lines, thought that is more because he is Canadian trying to pull off the Queen’s English. Acting wise he does well for a young man stuck by his own ambitions and his father’s.
Holliday Granger as Lucrezia Borgia is a true find, having both the innocence and inner strength that you need for the role, and what the historical counterpart had it real life. She is the one most affected by her father’s plans, her story showing the hard position women had at the time, but its all done well and the end of it is a bit of a revenge/humiliation fantasy if one has ever been in her position.
David Oakes as Juan Borgia is having the best of time being the most unpredictable of the children. He really is good at these slightly villainous roles and you can clearly see him have a blast with this role. This was one that made me notice him from shows before and after this, he really makes an impression. Arrogant, pompous, hot-headed and sometimes downright mean as well as funny you can see he takes his looks from Rodrigo and his hot-headedness from his mother.
Aidan Alexander as Gioffre Borgia is the most innocent of them all, a child who is too young to take part in the plots and family scheming. There is not much for him to do this season (or any after it if I remember correctly), but he is a good springboard to have all the complicated history of the time explained to us. Joanne Whalley as Vanozza Cattaneo is the mother of Rodrigo’s children and you can see that strength that she has passed on to them. Lotte Verbreek as Giulia Farnese, the mistress of Rodrigo is both beautiful and brains a she helps Lucrezia
There are a lot more side characters and all are played perfectly. They make an impression and those that stay long become fast favourites (in my opinion).
There are very few missteps in this series, but it’s only writing wise, and since the first series is only 9 episodes long they are easily dismissible and not enough to become annoying or even noticeable. Though the worst one for me seems just the character Ursula Bonadeo, you know why she is in the show, but her character is the equivalent of a somewhat flat and annoying, but that is only because of the role she is given. Ruta Gedmintas, the actress playing her, was in The Tudors as Bessy Blout, the mistress of Henry VIII who is only in a couple of episodes and then disappeared, so for her to get a full season appearance in this is good, if only her character wasn’t like it was.
Now to the good things! The costumes and over all production value of this series is beyond compare (just look at the picture above and below) and this was only their first season! Costumes worn as clothes that are historically accurate (for both men and women), the sets and the real-life places run smoothly in to one another and there seems to be no expense spared. If places are used repeatedly then seeing them again is wonderful because they are so real and beautiful to see.
The cinematography is steady and sure, making use of the budget given and making these places seem very real and lived in. I just love the luxury shown in this, from villa’s, to forests, churches and private rooms its like a grand opera on display.
One can describe this show as Game of Thrones, but with less murder, gore, fantasy and memetic scenes. Indeed it premiered in April 11 in 2011, only a couple of weeks before Game of Thrones premiered in April 17, so it to leave a mark on our TV screens is something special. If fantasy was not one’s cup of tea then this drama was a good watch. It seems that Game of Thrones gets looser and nonsensical in some terms as the years went on, this one was cancelled after the third season (Neil Jordan wanted to make four seasons like in The Tudors) and thus one could say it left on a high note. But all that is for later, this first season really is the best kind one can hope for in a historical fiction TV series. There is something for everybody!
Thank you for reading!