Monday, March 28, 2011

The Borgias Sneak Preview Review

I saw the first episodes of The Borgias last week, courtesy of a Showtime screener.   The series is a worthy successor of HBO's Rome and Showtime's The Tudors, by which I mean vibrant with great acting, lusty scenes, and a keen eye for historical detail, if not quite literal historical chronology.

The Borgias in question and on the screen are the family headed by Rodrigo (Jeremy Irons, always rewarding to see), who became Pope Alexander VI in 1492, the same year, of course, that Columbus reached the New World.  This plays a role in the story, since Rodrigo is Spanish, and Columbus sailed across the Atlantic funded by Queen Isabella of Spain.  Her desire, after Columbus's return, was to Christianize the New World, and this fits right into Rodrigo's schemes.

Also on hand are the beautiful and already beguiling Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), barely a teenager at this point in the story (and a few years older here as a character than she was at the time in real life), and her brothers Cesare (strong role for François Arnaud) and Juan (David Oakes), each more or less willing to kill for their father.  There's treachery, passion, loyalty, jealously, hatred and love flashing around every corner, in every scene, with a series of unexpected (or expected, if you know your history) murders and near-murders in every episode.  Poison and knives are the weapons of choice, and the team that prevails usually does so because they have the best assassin.

There's also no shortage of torrential prejudice in the story, which makes for a compelling narrative, accurate history, and a reminder about how far or maybe not we've come in our own time.  Marrano Jews (Jewish people who escaped the Spanish Inquisition by pretending to be Christian but secretly practiced their Jewish faith) play a significant part in this story, as Rodrigo's opponents whisper that he is Marrano, a serious charge to be make about a Pope.  Muslims (or Moors, in the parlance back then) are on hand - distrusted and exploited.  And women are clearly second-class citizens, with the partial exception of Lucrezia at this point, though even she is used for her father's political purposes and forced to bend to his will.

A nest of highly attractive people and vipers, and highly recommended.

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The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book
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