After the success of The Tudors, it was only a matter of time before Showtime cracked open the history books for another sexy historical drama. Even more scandalous than the House of Tudor was the House of Borgia; the latter is the subject of Showtime’s latest offering.
The Borgias were an Italian noble family of Spanish ancestry that rose to power in the late 15th century. On their list of accused crimes: adultery, simony, theft, rape, bribery, incest, and murder. Not too shabby for a family whose patriarch gained the highest perch in all of Renaissance-era Europe: the Papacy.
The Borgias is the brainchild of Neil Jordan, the writer/director behind The Crying Game. It is a well-dressed historical drama, with lush costumes and sets befitting noble courts. Jeremy Irons brings considerable heft to a cast of (mostly unknowns) as Rodrigo Borgia/Alexander VI. It looks like François Arnaud, who plays Rodrigo’s son Cesare, will be a major focus, as he ruthlessly acts as Cardinal and consigliere for his father.
The two-hour premier of The Borgias focused on Rodrigo Borgia’s controversial transformation into Pope Alexander VI. The politics of the College of Cardinals, the Borgia clan’s complicated relationships, and Cesare Borgia’s behind-the-scenes machinations also provide grist for the program. It also features the sex and violence that have come to define premium cable dramas; in this case, it doesn’t feel forced.
However, the show is flawed by the Shakespearean reading given to the dialogue – a British accent the stand-in for Italian and Latin intonations. But if you can get beyond that, the show has promise. This period of history is particularly rich – so rich, in fact, that there is another show in development about the same figures. Tom Fontana, who created Oz, does the same for Borgia for France’s CanalPlus. Let’s hope that Fontana brings the same no-holds-barred approach to his version of the Borgia mythology. For now, The Borgias has the advantage of being the first horse out of the gate.
The Borgias airs on Showtime, Sundays at 10pm.