The Borgias were a powerful Italian family that gained its greatest power in Italy in the 15th century (more precisely, the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century). They were not of Italian origin but from Spain, more precisely Valencia. By unscrupulous control of the church and the state itself, as well as bribery, corruption, debauchery, fornication and other personal intrigues, they earned an infamous reputation as the worst family in history. However, it did not all start with Pope Alexander VI, but Borgia’s crimes span four generations, from Pope Calictus III (who was also good to his successors), through the aforementioned Pope Alexander VI, to his children, the infamous Caesar. and Lucretius. Unlike various cruel murderers in human history, who killed for pleasure or political power, the Borgias also killed out of love for money. That fact really justifies the title of the first criminal family, unique in history.
Italy in 1492. The renaissance is flourishing and it is reaching its peak. Milan is the capital of trade, and its wealth finances artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci. In Florence, the Medici family rules the world of banking, guided by the advice of the cunning but very intelligent Nicola Machiavelli. Far from the more or less organized city-states of Milan and Florence, the weaker and more dysfunctional Rome is sinking deeper and deeper into ruin. Pope Innocent VIII dies. The struggle of the cardinal for his successor begins in the Church, where a couple of names stand out, among others Giuliano Della Rover (Colm Feore) and Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons). Due to the efficiency and quick reaction of his eldest son Cesar (François Arnaud), Borgia was elected the next pope and named Alexander VI.
He is not an ordinary pope, he is a pope with children from a marriage with a former courtesan named Vanoca Cataneo (Joanne Whalley), he has three children who do not have an official father, but he will do everything to be recognized. The Pope’s enemies sprout like mushrooms after the rain, especially among the cardinals, while his relationship with Cardinal Della Rovere takes on a fatal hostile tone, and the family must protect itself and maintain its power, no matter what needs to be done – the goal justifies the means. family by persuading his eldest son (although Cesare does not want to) to become a cardinal to succeed him one day, and honoring his other son Juan (David Oakes) with the title of papal leader, while his daughter Lucretia (Holliday Grainger) arranges marriage to a member of the most powerful Italian Sforza families.
However, all this is not even close enough to protect the family because the ambitions are sometimes too strong, and children rarely fulfill the wishes of their parents the way they want. In the sea of upcoming problems, his beautiful mistress Julia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek) gives him a little relief, and another woman, Katerina Sforca (Gina McKee), becomes his real obsession, but not in the domain of his mistress, but as one of the Pope’s fiercest and most dangerous enemies.
The creator of the series is Irish director, screenwriter and producer Neil Jordan, known for the films: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) with Tom Cruise, biographical drama Michael Collins (1996) with Liam Neeson, Breakfast on Pluto (2005 ), Byzantium (2012)…. He mostly writes screenplays for his films and his topics are mostly related to the family, the relationship of parents with their children and the like. He often tells stories in Ireland, but Borgia couldn’t. Although it was mostly filmed in Ireland, Hungary, and a little in Canada. Of course, the series is based on true and mostly accurate historical events, so it represents a portrait of the Borgia family. Minor details, such as the names of some supporting characters, have been changed, and for a more intriguing plot, a couple of fictional characters have been added that did not harm the series, and the critics were sympathetic. Also, for more attention and more intrigue and interest, the series gave more space to allegations and gossip that the Borgia family was both patriotic (it is thought that Cesare killed his own brother Juan) and incestuous (the relationship between Cesare and Lucrezia). These allegations have never been confirmed or there has been any evidence for that, but I understand why the creators of the series went in that direction and focused the series on those relationships because, after all, that is what keeps viewers in front of small screens.
A review of the cast should start with the most resounding name in the series, the character who plays the pope, but I will make an exception this time and start with a review of the character who stole the whole show. It is a young Canadian actor of French origin, Francois Arno, who plays Cesar Borgia, the pope’s eldest son. Cesare was known for his cruelty, his sadism in killing, his unlimited ambition, his intelligence and insight. He was also an excellent military leader and he always wanted to be that, and not to be a cardinal as his father demanded of him. In the Cesare series, he is presented as a role model for anyone who wants to gain and retain power. The emperor’s eliminations of the enemy and his ruthlessness towards them were done very effectively and take up a lot of space in the series. All this I have enumerated was brilliantly acted out by the aforementioned Canadian actor who, in my opinion, carries the entire series on his back. His persuasiveness and his involvement in the character goes to such an extent that, although you do not agree with any of his actions, you cannot help but be delighted with the way in which he achieves everything as he imagines.
Of course, Jeremy Irons is more than a great choice for the character of the Pope and is completely equal to the character of his son in the film, both in character and acting, in terms of quality. Although this pope was proclaimed and known for the title of the worst pope in the history of the papacy, the fact is that he united Italy three centuries before the formal unification. He was also called the “antichrist” because he accepted the Jews after the persecution from Spain in 1492. He is believed to have been much wiser and with more virtues than there are known morbid details from his life. In the series, he is Cesare, and Cesare is him. Irons played his character perfectly, as befits an acting legend like him, with great expressions that are familiar to an actor of this caliber and with great dialogues and monologues that can embarrass some much younger and great actors who would not even approach his performance. . One of the veterans, an actor of great splendor in his acting, with a fatally attractive accent without which this series could not pass.
The infamous pope’s daughter is played by young English actress Holiday Granger, known for her roles in the films Jane Eyre (2011) and Anna Karenina (2012). She has yet to pursue an acting career. No woman in history is more blackened or crucified than Lucrezia Borgia, the character she plays. She is mostly described as a prostitute, prostitute and poisoner. It seems that she was only a weapon in the political games of her father and brother, although the fact that she had a very wide range of lovers and husbands, she even got married three times. Her relationship with her brother was presented incestuously, which was rumored at the time, although there was never any concrete evidence. I already said that she was known as a poisoner. Now, in my opinion, that detail in the series is less well done, only in the third season, and in the finale we get a little outline of that. Her acting is good, but not impressive enough and great for acting as a character of such a historical figure.
I must also mention two supporting characters who delighted me with their performances and have their moments in the series. These are Sean Harris as Micheletto, a loyal servant / murderer of Cesar Borgia, fond of men and irrevocably in love with his master. The other is Julian Blic as Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian historian, diplomat, banker, politician, philosopher and writer. According to him, the expression Machiavellian was created, which literally means ultimate evil / immorality, and refers to Cesare Borgia, with whom Nicolo was fascinated and who served as a model for him in his famous work “The Prince”.
I am aware that many, after reading this review of mine, will be subject to the influence to start watching immediately, but I warn you, if you are not a fan of this topic or you are not interested in political games and sexual intrigue, then you better skip the series. Although, anyone who endures the first episode lasting 90 minutes will surely continue to watch further.
So, the biggest possible recommendation to fans of historical series, but also to those who cannot find something of quality and durability in the sea of hyperproduction that has flooded the channels. This series will definitely stay.