The Borgias

The Borgias - 101 - The Poisoned Chalice

I didn't enjoy this much. That's not to say it was bad but it didn't engage me at all.

It's tough to present a historical drama about nasty people. First you need to educate your audience about all the new language, morality and way of life. And then you have to persuade them to care about a family of selfish, greedy people. Now this is possible of course. Mad Men won much acclaim with an ensemble of selfish people and though I haven't seen it yet The Sopranos obviously got people to care about a crime family.

I thought the historical part of the show was ok. If you weren't familiar with how Popes were elected or the influence they had over the City of Rome then this two-part premiere gave you a full picture. We were also left in no doubt about how Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) became Pope or how he intended to keep the job.

However there was a moral centre missing from all vote rigging and murdering. Rodrigo bribes his way to become Pope, murders to stray there, abandons his wife, sleeps with another woman, pushes his son around and then frames his main rival. So we no he's a bad guy. But the guy he was framing, Giuliano Della Rovere, was trying to murder him, so there's not much to admire there. Most of the other Cardinals were either bought off or too weak willed to stand up to what was presented as obvious corruption. Even the Cardinal's chief scholar gives in to his master's demands. There seemed to be no one standing up for Christianity let alone basic decency or meritocracy. It is difficult to care too much about corruption when everyone is at it.

The main plot points surrounded the creepy looking assasin Michelotto Corella who for some reason seemed happy to switch sides to the Borgias at the first offer of money. This all happened far too quickly with Corella far too trusting of his new employers for apparently no good reason. The dialogue was clunky at times with Cardinals racing to accuse Rodrigo of simony and then meekly backing down when surely the damage had been done. Or a slew of double meaning metaphors about life, dinner and monkeys all thrown together. The best moment for me was Rodrigo's sudden look of profound confusion when he was actually crowned Pope. The enormity of the role seemed to be sinking in and then the moment was ruined as Rodrigo literally explained each of his emotions in the next scene.  

I did like a couple of things. Although he seemed to be camping it up a bit by the end, Jeremy Irons does a fine job as Rodrigo, effortlessly convincing from the start. I liked his assertion that Rome needed power right now, thus he would make a good Pope. We needed a lot more of that sort of self-justification to help us understand these characters. I thought Lucrezia was constructed well as an innocent and silly young girl. You can easily imagine how such power from a young age could corrupt her going forward.

As with Camelot, I will keep watching and if the show starts to grab me I will write again. If you like the period then this is worth checking out because unlike Camelot it is played as history and did that part well.




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