Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Borgias (Sky 1)

A little after the event, here's a quick review of The Borgias I wrote for Orange.

Even with my limited grasp of Renaissance history, it seems obvious the dark doings of the notorious Borgia family should make good telly. Add to that the talents of writer/director Neil Jordan (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game), and we had to be on to a winner. Didn't we?

Well, for anyone expecting a glossy hurricane of sex and violence, the first episode of this nine-parter might have come as a bit of a shock. Instead of bloody excesses, we had the clandestine pigeon-based politicking required to make sure that family patriarch Rodrigo (Jeremy Irons) was elected as pope.

With a ponderous pace and distinct lack of humour, the opening hour definitely dragged until very close to the end, when Rodrigo’s son and lieutenant Cesare (Francois Arnaud) foiled an assassination attempt and hired the would-be murderer (the excellent Sean Harris) to work for the Borgias instead.

After that tentative start, things got a bit more debauched in episode two, as a rival cardinal attempted to depose Rodrigo for his affair with a new mistress (Lotte Verbeek).

Here we began to see the kind of intrigue many might have been hoping for, as Rodrigo manipulated the law and Cesare took an altogether more direct approach to protect the family’s position.

The cast was an interesting mix of new and familiar faces: as you'd expect, old smoothie Irons oozes louche decadence as the head of the family, while our own Holliday Grainger might be on the verge of a breakthrough as his notorious daughter Lucrezia.

The drama was also beautifully shot, as you'd expect from a film-maker of Jordan's experience, although the Hungarian locations didn't really seem to do justice to how splendid you'd imagine Rome to have looked in those days.

The US channel Showtime co-produced The Borgias as a follow-up to The Tudors, so we should know the mix of history and dramatic licence we're in for. And while the series might have historians spitting out their claret, the developing intrigue in these first two episodes makes it look like another keeper from Sky Atlantic.

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