It took me awhile to begin to enjoy Showtime's previous project, The Tudors, but after reading Sara Poole's Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance, my interest was piqued in their project, The Borgias. The only other reason I'm watching it is because it's gritty historical fiction. I like sex, blood, and political intrigue. Anything less is essentially watching the nightly news.
As yesterday, this is no essay or review - just some random thoughts I've had while watching the series. A writing exercise - I've not been blogging, and I feel rusty.
In many ways, the smaller cast makes it easier to follow than fan favorite Thrones. Casting seems pretty solid. I've had some hesitation with Jeremy Irons, an amazing actor - he just doesn't convince me as a sex-starved power monger. I still closely associate him with his role as the stoic in Kingdom of Heaven. His demeanor is too cool and calculating for me to embrace that he's just a horny old goat. Otherwise? Of course he does well.
I think it is safe to assume that if I'm not watching something on the History Channel, or Discovery, or NatGeo, that there's going to be some degrees of interpretation in the interest of making the story more interesting. In other words, I approach this less as a history lesson, and more as an entertaining retelling. I did the same with the Tudors, and if you haven't caught any of the series yet - I suggest you do the same.
Sex. Seriously, there's a lot of sex. Almost too much, almost to the point of "really?" This goes a long way towards portraying the corruption and decadence of the Borgia clan - and so be it.
The story line moves adequately - you have to swallow the info dumps inherent in the pilot - comparatively, all pilots seem to kinda stink for that reason - and by the third episode, it is easy to gather the relationships and the motivations.
Lucrezia Borgia, played by Holliday Grainger, does an excellent job at portraying a young girl, full of youth and mischief and naivete, plagued with the worries of what she's experienced... and yet, growing, evolving and clearly a Borgia.
Cesare' Borgia, played by Francois Arnaud... now this is a more complicated characterization. In the beginning of the series, he seemed tougher than he seems by episode 7. I suppose that the harshness of the way that he follows his father's orders in order that Rodrigo may become pope - softens once Cesare' is made a cardinal.
The least convincing characterization, to me, is Juan Borgia. He seems the most ill qualified for any sort of responsibility, much moreso leading the papal armies. He's not even loyal to his own little brother. Though, to be honest, I'm not sure if it's the acting, writing or directing that has him all over the place.
Overall? If you like this sort of thing, even if you only remotely enjoyed The Tudors, you'll enjoy this. There's really no major flaws in anything. The sets and costumes are beautiful. The characters are interesting, and true to themselves, for the most part.
Perhaps it is not as complicated or intriguing as Sopranos or Thrones, but that arguably works in its favor. What's missing is the sympathy for the protagonists, as well (and maybe even accurately) as they seem to be portrayed. They get themselves into bad positions and I don't really feel bad for them.
At this point, I'll continue to watch, and while I know that the outcome will be tragic, I'm still hoping to be surprised somehow. In this, Sara Poole's novel (mentioned above) is superior to the television production.
Borgias Fan Website
Sara Poole's Blog
The Borgias on Showtime